The Kentucky Wildcats' receiver position has come a very long way in the last three years; arguably further than any other position. The aggregate production hasn't risen much relative to 2012 levels, but there's no mistaken the position is deeper with more quality at the top. Mark Stoops' staff has done an admirable job evaluating and recruiting this position. I think it's fair to say they didn't miss on any of the 2013 receiver signees, and while it's slightly premature, odds look like the 2014 receivers were all solid signees as well. We'll know in a few years if the streak continued for the 2015 receivers.
Cats loaded with options at WR right now, coaches think competition is leading to some amazing grabs.— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) August 18, 2015
Yet, the receiver and tight end corps are young. Last year's leading receiver, Ryan Timmons, returns for his junior season, but none of his comrades have more than a year of game experience (recall Jeff Badet and Alex Montgomery missed 2014 after playing in 2013). Are these young skill players capable of intentionality at all times? On the practice field, in CWS, watching film, and in the classroom when even adults with fewer responsibilities struggle with the same? That's the million dollar question.
Last spring I broke down the total touches, targets, catch rate, and yards per catch for UK's receivers in the 2014 season. My conclusion:
...Unless a significant amount of development occurs on the outside, UK probably won't be known as a consistent home-run hitting team next season. UK will, however, should be dangerous in the backfield, and will be poised to exploit mismatches on linebackers and safeties by the inside receivers along the seams. If safeties have to roll up to negate running backs coming out of the backfield, or slot receivers taking advantage of linebackers, then the outside receivers will definitely have their opportunities to excel.
If practice reports are to be believed, it sounds like the outside receivers are a year ahead of schedule. IF practice reports are to be believed. As you'll see below, there's not a lot of returning production at the outside receiver positions. Let's break it down.
This position loses Javess Blue (who moved to the inside halfway through last season), and Demarco Robinson to graduation. Those two players were UK's second- and third-leading receivers last season. Below is the depth chart published prior to fall camp.
|Projected Depth Chart||Name||Projected Position||2014 Season Stats|
|1||Dorian Baker||X||19 receptions, 199 yards, 1 TD, 19.9 yards/game|
|1||Blake Bone||Z||14 receptions, 194 yards, 2 TDs, 17.6 yards/game
Baker, my personal favorite signee in the 2014 Class, probably starts at X early this season, but I wouldn't put too much stock into starters at the receiver positions. He's got a big frame, and his blocking on the edge displays an eager physicality to his game. He's got a tone of potential, and I look forward to finding out if he nearly doubles his production this season as a sophomore.
Badet will get plenty of snaps himself, and could very well lead the team in receptions this season. Both him and Baker will see a lot of snaps. Practice reports indicate Badet is probably the fastest player on team. He's coming off a series of freak injuries that kept him out of 2014, but all indications suggest he's fully recovered and is ready to contribute.
Bone will give UK more length on the perimeter. He's not someone that will beat defensive backs with his speed, and is more of a possession receiver. He's got great hands, and is a weapon in the red zone. I don't like the red zone Fade play-call 99% of the time, but if you're going to run that play for anybody, Bone would be the guy.
It's the inside receiver positions that return the most production.
|Depth Chart||Name||Projected Position||2014 Season Stats|
|1||Garrett Johnson||H||22 receptions, 271 yards, 2 TDs, 22.6 yards/game|
|2||Ryan Timmons||H||45 receptions, 536 yards, 2 TDs, 44.7 yards/game|
|2||Joey Herrick||Y||8 receptions, 116 yards, 9.7 yards/game|
|3||TV Williams||H||4 receptions, 64 yards, 12.8 yards/game|
This unit will be one of the biggest strengths of the entire offense. It returns two productive players in Johnson and Timmons, an experienced vet in Herrick, and Montgomery who as a freshman in 8 games was rather productive himself.
The big question for this group is if Timmons is ready to make another leap as a junior. Recall, he led the team in receptions last season, and also had a good freshman season. He's improved every season so far, but there were signs - like losing his starting role - last season that development was stalling. That could have been because of injuries or general fatigue, but this season he'll need to lead more than ever.
This is one of the youngest positions on the team. A true freshman and a redshirt freshman will likely both see the field.
|Depth Chart||Name||2014 Season Stats|
Conrad was the crown jewel of the last signing class. UK had to land a tight end, and they got a blue-chipper who by all accounts has the focus of someone far older than his age. Expectations should be measured for the true freshman, but his future is bright.
Long is more of an enigma. He redshirted last season, so we don't know much about him. Patrick Towles recently talked about how raw he was last year, which indicates the coaches liked his frame and potential in high school. Stay tuned.
UK's receivers and tight ends show a lot of promise, but the unit is probably a year away from realizing it's potential. The inside receiver position will probably be a strength this season, but I wouldn't assume the outside receivers are deep threats this year. Tight end will be a very interesting position to watch, and fans should maintain patience. The tight ends may look great at the beginning of the year, but as the season wears on the young men I would suspect their performances to naturally dip.