The production of the tight ends and wide receivers this year will obviously be dependent on who emerges as the starting quarterback and how well that individual (I sure hope itâ€™s an individual leading the way at quarterback and not a rotation of 2 or even 3 QBâ€™sâ€¦) develops. Letâ€™s take a look at the numbers.
Last season the two starting receivers, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley, were almost identical in their statistical production. Davis had the edge in receptions by 1, and in yards by 2. But Shipley had the edge in his receiving average and receiving touchdowns.
Mike Davis: 45 receptions, 609 yards, 13.5 average, 1 touchdown
Jaxon Shipley: 44 receptions, 607 yards, 13.8 average, 3 touchdowns
Though the stats are similar, these players are very different. And the touchdown difference between the two is what sticks out. Sure, itâ€™s only a difference of 2 touchdowns. But with better quarterback play that difference would be greater. (It should also be noted that Shipley did not play in 3 games in the later half of the season). Donâ€™t get me wrong; both are above average route runners. Both understand how to get open against different defensive coverages. Both have good hands, speed, and have the ability to make acrobatic catches. But Shipley is the guy who will emerge as the number one receiver for the Longhornâ€™s offense. He is a big time playmaker, much like his older brother was for the Horns. Heâ€™s physical and fearless when going for the ball. And he has the speed, quickness, and route running ability to be lethal against just about any defense in the Big Twelve. If the quarterback situation pans out then I expect big things from number 8.
Though I do see Shipley as the number 1 receiver, I donâ€™t necessarily think of Davis as the number 2 receiver. I really see it as being more of 1A & 1B in the fall, as far as how many balls each receiver sees coming his way. Davis had a great freshman year but didnâ€™t exactly follow up with quite the year we were all hoping he would have. It wasnâ€™t all his fault, but regardless of the QB situation he seemed to disappear at times and didnâ€™t provide some of the same big play ability that we saw from him his freshman year. When I watch Davis play, I always see him as more of a guy who would thrive as the second wide-out option on any team. I say that based off of the way he plays and his skill set. I wouldnâ€™t call him a possession receiver because he does a decent job running after the catch and has great speed. But I think once Shipley really becomes established as the lead receiver at the beginning of the season Davis will be a great compliment to have lined up on the opposite side of the field.
The depth behind those two isnâ€™t great. Other than Marquis Goodwin, the rest of the receivers are either young, inexperienced, or both. I was sad to see him miss out on winning a medal for our country. But I fully expect Goodwin to bring it this year. He will be a senior and is a guy who Iâ€™ve always liked a lot but Iâ€™ve never understood why he hasnâ€™t had a bigger role in the offense. Granted, he did leave football briefly before returning for the BYU game last season. Ironically last season was his best season when he caught 33 balls for 421 yards and scored 2 receiving touchdowns. But one stat I really loved was that he also had 22 carries (mostly on reverse type plays) for 220 yards. Â Of course I donâ€™t really know what discussions are had between the coaches or what happens in practices, but Iâ€™ve always wondered why Goodwin wasnâ€™t utilized more. He should have been the guy that was used for the role that D.J. Monroe tried. Marquis is just too fast and has too good of vision to not at least get a shot at that. In that role, I think he could have been shown flashes as a â€œPercy Harvinâ€ type player. Maybe freshman Daje Johnson will end up seeing success at that roleâ€¦ But whether Goodwin gets the carries or not, Iâ€™m hoping for a big year out of the senior.
As for the rest of the receivers, itâ€™s anyoneâ€™s guess as to who will step up. When I was younger my favorite player was Roy Williams (when he was a Longhorn. After that we had a bit of a falling out). Because of this Iâ€™ve always wondered when there would be another big, tall receiver that would be a big time player for the Horns. No, Limas Sweed never qualified for that role in my books. But I bring this up because Iâ€™d love to see 6-3 freshman Cayleb Jones or 6-3 Sophomore John Harris step up this year and produce quality minutes. However, they will be competing for playing time along with D.J. Monroe, DeSean Hales (another guy who always disappears when the season starts), Kendall Sanders, Bryant Jackson and whoever else Harsin wants to try at receiver.
The fact that Mack Brown wants to try former WR recruit Miles Onyegbule at tight end gives me a sick feeling in my stomach for the tight end position. Not because I think Onyegbule canâ€™t be a great tight end, but because none of the guys already at that position have taken control of the position. There has been some bad luck at the tight end position in recent years in the form of injuries. Blaine Irby, D.J. Grant, and Trey Graham have all had horrific knee injuries once they got on campus. Regardless, this position has not been a strength of the Longhornâ€™s offense in recent years and has been a frustrating one to figure out.
When I think about the tight ends for the fall the first two names that come to mind are senior D.J. Grant and redshirt freshman M.J. McFarland. Both saw action at wide receiver in high school and both have since been converted to tight ends once they got to the 40 Acres. Other than the UCLA game, D.J. Grant never really showed that he had fully come back from his knee injury and was ready to take control of the position. (By the way, what on earth was that explosion of production D.J. had in the UCLA game? And where did it go?) But he is another year removed from his injury, and as a senior he will have every opportunity to try and take control of the job.
M.J. Mcfarland is in a different place than D.J. Grant. After being converted to Tight End, McFarland was handed a redshirt his first year on campus and didnâ€™t see any playing time on the field in games. But he showed that he had been working hard in practice by having a great day at the Orange and White game this past spring. He will also continue to get many opportunities to lock up the job.
Behind those two guys are unknowns. Seniors Barrett Matthews and Luke Poehlmann, though listed as tight ends, are both mainly used in blocking situations.Â That leaves Trey Graham, former wide receiver Miles Oneybule, former defensive end Greg Daniels, and freshman Caleb Bluiett (currently listed as DE on the Longhorns roster but this kid is a freak athlete and played tight end in high school which is why he may see time at TE in practice) as the guys who will also be fighting for playing time.
Both the receiver and tight end positions are not nearly as strong as they have been in years past. But there is plenty of youth at each position. And as these quarterbacks develop, the receivers and tight ends should continue to develop right along with them. It will be very interesting to see just how much each position is called upon this season, like last season, with the new emphasis to the run game on offense.
Article by Wes Crochet
Follow Wes on Twitter: @WesKCrochet