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NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at North Texas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends

With a lot of talent at receiver lost to the NFL, the title for best receiving corps in the conference is up for grabs.

We continue our Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews by looking at the wide receiver & tight end 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.

Great Shape

1. North Texas: Jalen Guyton may be gone, but every other receiver who caught at least 25 passes is back. Headlined by First-Team All-C-USA performer Rico Bussey Jr., North Texas should have a potent passing game yet again. Bussey Jr. led C-USA receivers with 12 receiving touchdowns. Speedy slot receiver Jaelon Darden and possession receiver Michael Lawrence combined for 80 catches and 1,008 yards in 2018. UNT has some good options to replace Guyton’s production too, as former three-star recruits Greg White, Jyaire Shorter and Austin Ogunmakin will now see increased playing time.

2. Rice: Due to a lack of consistency at quarterback, the Owls’ receiving corps couldn’t show how dangerous they were too often. But when they did, they made the most of their opportunities. Junior wideouts Austin Trammell and Aaron Cephus combined for 102 catches, 1,197 yards and eight touchdowns. Tight end Jordan Myers was also a threat, averaging 16.1 yards per catch. Whoever steps up at QB will have a great set of receivers at his disposal.

NCAA Football: Massachusetts at Florida International
Maurice Alexander thrived with the ball in his hands as he had two rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns, and made C-USA First-Team as a punt returner with a conference-best 14.6 yards per return.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

3. FIU: He didn’t win Newcomer of the Year, but Maurice Alexander was a huge revelation for the Panthers last season. After dabbling as a QB, Alexander made the change to receiver full-time in 2018 and blossomed as one of the most explosive players in the conference. Alexander had a team-high 40 catches for 511 yards and six touchdowns. Joining Alexander is Austin Maloney and Bryce Singleton, who both combined for 59 catches and 941 yards with six touchdowns.

4. FAU: After making First-Team All-C-USA last season, Harrison Bryant returns as the best tight end in Conference USA. Bryant recorded 45 catches for a team-high 662 yards and four touchdowns in 2018. Dangerous slot receiver Willie Wright also returns, tallying 46 catches for 449 yards and two touchdowns. The Owls have two great receiving options but could use more reliable threats this season with the departure of Jovon Durante.

5. Middle Tennessee: After years as the No. 2 option behind Richie James, Ty Lee stepped into the role as the lead receiver and produced 71 catches for 897 yards and seven touchdowns. Solid, but I expected more. Lee returns but Patrick Smith and Gatlin Casey are both gone. MTSU doesn’t have a lot of experience returning here but they do have utility man Brad Anderson. Anderson was averaging 12.3 yards per catch before tearing his ACL and returns fully recovered from the injury.

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at North Texas
Quez Watkins is one of the best receivers in C-USA. Losing Watkins would be a huge blow to Southern Miss’ chances for a conference title.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

6. Southern Miss: After flashing potential as a No. 1 receiver in 2017 and 2018, Quez Watkins had a breakout season in 2019 with 72 catches for 889 yards and nine TDs. His numbers could have been much better with consistency at quarterback. Joining Watkins is Tim Jones, Jordan Mitchell, Jaylond Adams, and De’Michael Harris; each receiver had at least 25 receptions last season. Given the experience and bonafide star, Southern Miss could have the best receiving corps in the conference. I say could because Watkins is currently not with the team, as he had some trouble with his academics during the spring and his status entering the 2019 season is up in the air.

Good Shape

7. Louisiana Tech: Adrian Hardy made Second-Team All C-USA after leading C-USA in both receptions (75) and receiving yards (1,145). So why isn’t Tech in “Great Shape” here? I’m really worried about their options behind Hardy. Rhashid Bonnette surprised many by entering the transfer portal and Bonnette was Tech’s deep threat. The next leading receiver is junior Alfred Smith (30 catches for 327 yards and two touchdowns).

8. WKU: Seniors Lucky Jackson and Quin Jernighan provide stability for a position group that ebbed and flowed based on how good the QB play was. Jackson and Jernighan combined for 989 yards on 91 receptions for five touchdowns. Some better stability at QB and these numbers could improve. Jacquez Sloan is also a name to watch, as he averaged a team-high 16 yards per catch.

9. Marshall: Tyre Brady is gone. Marcel Williams too. Now what? Obi Obialo is solid and so is tight end Armani Levias. Both combined for 67 catches with 832 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018. Both will need to elevate their game with Brady no longer commanding double teams.

10. Charlotte: Victor Tucker was the No. 1 option for the 49ers as a freshman and produced some encouraging numbers despite the inconsistency at QB (54 catches for 712 yards and two touchdowns). Fellow sophomore Rico Arnold also had a solid debut, recording 22 catches for 302 yards and a touchdown. Tucker and Arnold will serve as the building blocks for this year’s passing game and could be a star duo by next season.

We’ll See

11. UAB: The Blazers will have only two returning receivers from the 2018 team: Kendall Parham and Austin Watkins. Parham and Watkins combined for 21 catches and 279 yards last season and were used sparingly. Parham is a senior and has breakout potential as his versatility as a potential gadget player could add a new dimension to UAB’s offense.

12. UTEP: The top three targets from last year’s team have departed but senior Keynan Foster does have big play potential. Foster averaged 17.4 yards per catch last season. Foster might be a keeper, but this position still needs an influx of talent.

13. UTSA: A bevy of former three-star recruits are listed on the two-deep but your guess is as good as mine as to who will lead the Roadrunners in receptions this season. Former Kansas State receiver Carlos Strickland could be a player to watch here.

14. Old Dominion: Jonathan Duhart, Travis Fulgham and Isaiah Harper combined for 192 receptions and 2,607 yards. They’re now gone. Replacing that production is going to be awfully tough. Especially when no other returning receiver or tight end for ODU had more than 15 catches in 2018.

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