We continue our Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews by looking at the wide receiver position. The grading categories: “Great Shape,” “Good Shape,” and “We’ll See.”
To elaborate on the grades, “We’ll See” means exactly what it means. We have no idea if that position is going to turn out to be a plus due to a lack of proven contributors and questionable depth. At this time, there’s no way to know.
“Good Shape” means known commodities are at the position but there’s still room for this unit to improve. Depth is above average to good, with a player or two having the potential to make an All-C-USA Team.
“Great Shape” means All-C-USA performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth across the board. You obviously want your team to be here.
1. North Texas: Juniors Jalen Guyton, Michael Lawrence and Rico Bussey Jr. return after catching a combined 158 passes for 2,271 yards and 20 touchdowns. UNT will need another deep threat to replace Turner Smiley’s team-high 17.8 yards per catch. Former three-star Jaelon Darden appears to be capable of replacing Smiley after recording 32 catches for 281 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman. Behind Darden is three-star freshmen Greg White, Jyaire Shorter, and Austin Ogunmakin. This is the deepest receiving corps in the conference and with the return of Mason Fine they will be dynamite once again.
2. Marshall: The Herd has arguably the best NFL prospect at receiver in senior Tyre Brady. The former Miami Hurricane has lived up to the hype as he led Marshall in catches (62), yards (942), and yards per catch (15.2) last season. But they’ll need to replace Ryan Yurachek. Marcel Williams and Willie Johnson proved to be solid options as they combined for 77 catches and 962 yards and should give defensive coordinators pause if they think about doubling Brady.
3. Louisiana Tech: Teddy Veal is another receiver in the conference who has the potential to be playing on Sundays. The C-USA Co-Newcomer of the Year had 950 yards and seven touchdowns to go with 74 catches. Rhashid Bonnette is Tech’s deep threat as he has a team-high 17.6 yards per catch among returning receivers. Behind Veal and Bonnette is uncertainty. Kam McKnight and Adrian Hardy are extremely talented though. We’ll see how they respond in bigger roles this season.
4. FAU: Slot receiver Willie Wright and tight end Harrison Bryant are FAU’s most reliable options as they are the only two returning players that had over a 65 percent catch rate with at least 40 targets. Someone will need to replace Kalib Woods’ big play ability though as he averaged 25.8 yards per catch. Insert former four-star recruit and West Virginia receiver Jovon Durante. Durante had 60 catches for 726 yards, with 12.1 yards per catch in two seasons as a Mountaineer and had an excellent spring. Behind Durante is former four-star recruit Desean Holmes and high three-star Nero Nelson from the JUCO ranks. This is an extremely talented group of receivers with high upside.
5. UAB: Virtually every receiver from last year returns as seniors Andre Wilson, Colin Lisa, Ronnie Turner Jr., Xavier Ubosi, Jonathan Haden and Sederian Copeland caught at least 10 passes in 2017. Wilson and Lisa are the headliners as they combined for 1,116 yards on 87 catches for seven touchdowns. This group excels in the intermediate game but lacks an explosive receiver. UAB ranked 114th in Passing IsoPPP, a stat that measures explosive passing plays. JUCO transfers Austin Watkins and Kendall Parham and three-star freshman Kevin Davis, could rise up the depth chart if they can provide a deep threat.
6. Middle Tennessee: Ty Lee made Second Team All C-USA last season and will be the go-to receiver for the Blue Raiders in 2018 now that Richie James is gone. Veterans Patrick Smith and CJ Windham must step up to keep defenses from locking in on Lee as they combined for 55 catches for 703 yards and three touchdowns. Decent, but nothing spectacular. Grad transfer Gatlin Casey comes over from Leigh after catching 122 passes for 1,989 yards and 26 touchdowns in two seasons, and could surpass Windham and Smith as the No. 2 option.
7. FIU: The Panthers fared pretty well without Thomas Owens during the season and that’ll pay off this year. Tony Gaiter IV, Austin Maloney, Darrius Scott, Bryce Singleton, and Shermar Thornton return as guys who stepped up when called on to produce in Owens’ absence. Throw in former three-star recruit, Florida Gators wideout CJ Worton and you’re looking at a talented group that possess high upside.
8. WKU: Lucky Jackson returns as the No. 1 option and the speedster should be more than capable to replace Nacarius Fant’s production. Joining him are former three-star recruits Quin Jernighan, Xavier Lane, and Jacquez Sloan. The trio was solid when called upon as young players last season and now return in bigger roles.
9. Old Dominion: Isaiah Harper and Travis Fulgham give the Monarchs quality options in the passing offense. Harper especially, as he has teased how potent he can be as a receiver. Its now time for the senior to breakout. ODU will need at least one of their former young three-star recruits (Noah Ellison, Scott McCluney, Marcus Joyner or Amari Colbert) to step up though.
10. Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles will turn to a group of sophomores to replace deep threats Korey Robertson and Allenzae Staggers. Quez Watkins has the best potential in this group. He had a great college debut vs Kentucky with 103 yards on four catches but was pretty quiet the rest of the season. Former three-star recruits Jaylond Adams, and Tim Jones had their moments too in 2017 and boast big play potential as well. Under Jay Hopson USM has had no problem creating big plays in the passing offense and that shouldn’t be a problem in 2018. However, consistency from this group is something to watch for.
11. UTSA: Josh Stewart, Kerry Thomas Jr. and Brady Jones were UTSA’s top three receivers in 2017 and they won’t return due to graduation. UTSA signed three highly touted receivers in last year’s class and Tykee Ogle-Kellogg appears ready to contribute after a great spring. Former three-star recruit Marquez McNair had 16 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns last season and could breakout as a senior.
12. Rice: Aaron Cephus averaged 24.9 yards per catch! He only had 25 receptions so that’s rather impressive. Cephus made the All-CUSA Freshman team in 2017 and seeing as how no other receiver finished with over 20 catches, he’s the No. 1 receiver by default.
13. UTEP: Seniors Terry Juniel, Kavika Johnson and Erik Brown return. We’ll see if their potential will be unlocked with a new starting quarterback.
14. Charlotte: The 49ers have routinely had one of the worst passing offenses in the country and this year might not be any different as I don’t see any explosive playmakers in this group. Brad Lambert should consider seeing what incoming three-star recruits Justin Jeffery and Chris Wiggins can provide.