Monday, August 11, 2008

2008 Opponent Position Preview: Wide Receivers | by Pat

Passers here. Runners here. Here are the catchers.


Darren Mougey. Senior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 32 receptions, 368 yards, 2 TDs.
Vincent Brown. Sophomore. New Starter.
2007 stats: 31 receptions, 349 yards, 2 TDs.

The Aztecs lost their top two receivers to graduation and will break in a pair of new starters. Senior Darren Mougey is one of the tallest receivers the Irish will have to face at 6'6" 230 pounds which will certainly help in the redzone. As a converted quarterback who started six games under center in 2005, he should be well-versed in reading the defense and spotting blitzes. He also started six games at WR so he has experience at his new position as well. 6'0" 175 pound Vincent Brown (right) was right behind Mougey in terms of production last year, finishing fourth on the team in receptions. Back for his sophomore year he should be even more comfortable in the offense and could see more deep balls thrown his way as last season's deep threats graduated. Depth: Junior Mikell Wesley only caught one pass last year, but led the team in kickoff returns and even returned one for a touchdown. It's a safe bet his speed will be put to increased use in the Aztec offense. At 6'4", junior Roberto Wallace is another tall receiver that will see a few passes a game thrown his way.


Greg Matthews. (#22) Junior. Returning Stater.
2007 stats: 39 receptions, 366 yards, 3 TDs.
Junior Hemmingway. Sophomore. New Starter.
2007 stats: 4 receptions, 37 yards, 0 TDs.
Toney Clemons. Sophomore. New Starter.
2007 stats: 1 reception, 5 yards, 0 TDs.

Like San Diego State, Michigan has to replace their two most productive receivers from last year. The shift in offensive philosophy changes the roles and responsibilities of the receivers somewhat, but they will still be used frequently and will need a set of new faces to pick up where last year's leaders left off. Junior Greg Matthews (left) was reasonably productive last season but as the leader of the receivers he will now face the other team's top cover corner. He has the size to be effective at 6'3" 207 pounds and with eight starts under his belt he has the experience to make in instant impact. There are high expectations for sophomore Junior Hemmingway. He made one start last year in addition to playing in ten games. Like Matthews he will be on the outside and work to stretch the defense. Toney Clemons will also start, most likely in the slot position, a key part of Michigan's new offense. Clemons doesn't have much experience but like Hemmingway earned very positive reviews in spring practice. Depth: Freshman Darryl Stonum enrolled early so that he could participate in spring practice. Tall at 6'3" and exceptionally fast, it's only a matter of time until he becomes a potent threat for Michigan. He might not be fully up to speed by the time they face the Irish, but will be a pain in the years to come. Pushing Clemons for playing time at the slot are a trio of shorter, but exceptionally fast freshmen. Terrence Robinson, Martavious Odoms, and Michael Shaw were all recruited with the slot position in mind and at least one of them will see time there early in the season.


Mark Dell. Sophomore. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 20 receptions, 220 yards, 2 TDs.
Deon Curry. Senior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 24 receptions, 200 yards, 1 TD.

Although only a sophomore, Mark Dell (right) is Michigan State's leading returning receiver aside from running back Javon Ringer. An exceptional athlete, Dell will be counted on to replace last year's star Devin Thomas. He was hyped recruit and now that he's the #1 receiver he will be the target of most of Brian Hoyer's passes. Senior Deon Curry started a handful of games last year and at this point is more of a complimentary player. Not overly fast or tall, he will need to produce early if he wants to hold off some of the talented younger players on the roster. Depth: Redshirt freshman B.J. Cunningham had a strong spring and showed an ability to make be effective on jump balls. He will push Curry for playing time from the start. Freshman Fred Smith is being hailed as the next big Spartan receiver star, but even though he's physically ready for college football, there will be some adjustment period. His classmate Keshawn Martin is having a strong start to fall camp and might work his way into the mix as well. Unlike Cunningham, Smith, and Martin, redshirt junior walk-on Blair White has a few college receptions to his name and will provide some experience off the bench.


Greg Orton. (#27) Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 67 receptions, 752 yards, 3 TDs.
Aaron Valentin. Sophomore. New Starter.
2007 stats: At Junior College
Joe Whitest. Senior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 0 receptions, 0 yards, 0 TDs.

Another team that will have to replace departed leaders, Purdue lost four of their five top receivers from last year. Senior Greg Orton (left) is the lone holdover and last year's #3 receiver is the new top target. At 6'3", 200 pounds, he uses his size well to fight for the ball in the air. Not exactly a deep threat, he still is fast enough to help stretch the defense. JUCO transfer Aaron Valentin will help replace the departed Dorien Bryant. His impact will be determined by how fast he can pick up the offense. He was with the team for spring practice so at least he's not starting from scratch. Fifth-year senior Joe Whitest has been mainly a special teams player with only one reception to his name over the past two seasons. Depth: Senior Desmond Tardy caught 10 passes last season and very likely could move into the starting lineup by the ND game, but an injury kept him out of spring practice and set him back a bit in his quest to supplant Valentin or Whitest. Converted quarterback Kevin Smith is a big target at 6'2" 225 pounds and if Whitest can't get the job done, Smith could move into the starting lineup as well.


Richard Sherman. Junior. Returning Stater.
2007 stats: 39 receptions, 651 yards, 4 TDs.
Doug Baldwin. Sophomore. New Starter.
2007 stats: 11 receptions, 93 yards, 0 TDs.

Longtime starters Mark Bradford and Evan Moore have finally graduated, but it was actually junior Richard Sherman (right) who led the Cardinal in receiving yards last season. He will certainly be counted on to produce in 2008 as he's the only returning receiver who caught a touchdown pass in 2007. Sophomore Doug Baldwin is a smaller receiver at 5'11", but he's the second most experienced receiver on the roster. He isn't a speedy deep threat, but will use his quickness to try and shake defenders. Depth: Sophomore walk-on Ryan Whalen is probably next in line for attention from the Stanford QB. He only hauled in one reception last year but that still makes him the third most productive returning receiver. Converted safety Marcus Rance is listed as third string on the depth chart right behind Whalen. Behind Baldwin is fifth year senior and former walk-on Nate Wilcox-Fogel who has yet to catch a pass.


Hakeem Nicks (#26) Junior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 74 receptions, 958 yards, 5 TDs.
Brandon Tate. Senior Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 25 receptions, 479 yards, 5 TDs.
Brooks Foster. RS Junior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 29 receptions, 417 yards, 2 TDs.

The North Carolina receiving corp will be a talented one in 2008. Headlining is junior Hakeem Nicks (left), a returning All-ACC receiver with 22 career starts to his credit. He already breaking school records with two seasons left to play. ND fans might remember his 171 receiving yards against ND as a freshman in 2006. A big, physical receiver he will be one of the better receivers the Irish face. Senior Brandon Tate is a breakaway threat who's 19.16 yards per reception was good for 9th in the nation last season. He also led the ACC in all-purpose yards per game. Redshirt junior Brooks Foster is an experienced player and at 6'3" can be trouble for shorter corners. Depth: An NCAA mistake was corrected and former 5-star WR recruit Dwight Jones has left DII Valdosta State and joined the Tarheel team. At 6'4" 217 pounds he is physically ready to play right away and should definitely make an impact this season assuming he can pick up the offense. Another sizable backup is 6'4" 23o pound junior Kenton Thorton who caught 8 passes last season.


D'Andre Goodwin. Junior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 6 receptions, 29 yards, 0 TDs.
Alvin Logan. RS Freshman. New Starter.
2007 stats: redshirted.

After losing nearly their entire receiving corp, junior D'Andre Goodwin (right) is the leading returning receiver even though he only caught 6 passes last season. He's quick and has potential, but it's going to be a big step up in responsibility for him this season. He's on the smaller side at 6'0" 170 pounds so he won't be able to get away with just muscling defenders. Redshirt freshman Alvin Logan is a bigger receiver at 6'2" and he'll have to not let his inexperience slow him down so he can take some of the attention off Goodwin. Depth: Sophomore Curtis Shaw was switched over to receiver during last season and hauled in four passes. However, he left the team today and isn't expected be a part of the 2008 receiver rotation. Talented freshman Chris Polk is still practicing at running back, but could be switched to receiver if his speed is needed there. Senior Chancellor Young has rejoined the team after focusing on academics the past two seasons. Freshman Devin Augilar, Anthony Boyles, Cody Bruns, Jermaine Kearse, and Vince Taylor are all competing for a shot at catching the ball and it's likely one or two of them will make a move up the depth chart. Augilar and Boyles are actually a year older but failed to qualify for 2007. There is some talent among the young five receivers, but like with all freshman, mastering the playbook will be their biggest challenge.


Derek Kinder. (#20) RS Junior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: out with torn ACL.
Oderick turner. (#31) Junior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 36 receptions, 496 yards, 5 TDs.

Pittsbugh welcomes back Derek Kinder (left), who missed all of 2007 with a ACL injury. In 2006 he was a 1st Team All-Big East player and finished the season with 57 receptions for 847 yards and 6 touchdowns. All that should hold him back from another all-conference year is how well he bounces back from his knee injury. Junior Oderick Turner led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns last season and while he will see the ball less with Kinder back, he should find a bit more room to run now that he's not getting most of the defensive attention. Depth: Junior T.J. Porter was second on the team in yards with 37 receptions for 329 yards. He didn't catch a touchdown pass though and although he had one more reception than Turner, he had 167 fewer receiving yards. Star recruit Jonathan Baldwin may only be a freshman this season, but he's 6'6" 225 pounds with a 40" vertical, so he won't sit on the sidelines for long. Watch out for him in the red zone. Junior Cedric McGee caught 8 passes last season and will provide some experience and special teams support coming off the bench.


Rich Gunnell. Junior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 64 receptions, 931 yards, 7 TDs.
Brandon Robinson. (#41) Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 56 receptions, 793 yards, 5 TDs.

While BC lost a lot of starters from last year's squad, they returned their top two receivers. After only 8 catches his freshman year, junior Rich Gunnel (right) led the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns in 2007. Gunnell isn't tall at 5'11", but is fast enough to be a deep threat and has the experience to continue being a productive receiver even without Matt Ryan. Brandon Robinson is another sub-six footer but has plenty of experience with over 100 career receptions. Like Gunnell he also averaged over 14 yards per reception last year which hints at an ability to get behind the defense. Depth: Junior Clarence Megwa has the physical size to compliment Gunnell and Robinson and in BC's pass-happy offense hauled in 30 receptions, 353 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Sophomore Billy Flutie had a strong spring and Ifeanyi Momah is an interesting option with his 6'6" 225 pound size. 6'3", 196 pound freshman Colin Larmond came in with expectations that he should be able to see the field sooner rather than later.


Tyree Barnes. Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 10 receptions, 168 yards, 1 TD.
Curtis Sharp. Senior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 0 receptions, 0 yards, 0 TDs.

Navy's offense rarely highlights their receivers in the passing game, but they tend to make the most of their opportunities when defenses key too much on the run. Tyree Barnes (left) is a heady veteran who started every game last year and is going to be counted on as a leader of a young corp this season. He has battled knee injuries in the past and now is healthy. Curtis Sharp hasn't recorded a reception yet, but, in contrast to the usual undersized Navy players, he will be one of the biggest wide receivers that the Irish will face at 6'4", 247 pounds. As Navy receivers spend a lot of their time blocking for the running game, he should be extremely effective once he gets his hands on a defender. Depth: Competing with Sharp is senior T.J. Theil who likewise hasn't recorded a collegiate reception. Backing up Barnes is sophomore Mario Washington, a smaller and quicker receiver like so many that have been extremely effective in Navy's offense.


Lavar Lobdell. Junior. New Starter.
2007 stats: 8 receptions, 86 yards, 0 TDs.
Donte Davis. RS Sophomore. New Starter.
2007 stats: out with broken thumb.

Syracuse took a major hit in the off-season when their best returning player, receiver Mike Williams, was kicked out of school. That means the team's leading returning receiver is Lavar Lodbell (right) with only 8 receptions. Lobdell was a highly regarded recruit but hasn't had much production so far for Syracuse. He's 6'3" 200 pounds so at the very least he has the size to fight off defenders and carry tacklers for a few extra yards. Donte Davis missed all of last season with a broken thumb, but he did catch 9 passes his freshman year. Listed at 6'0" 169 pounds he's on the slight side and might have trouble with more physical corners. Depth: Dan Sheeran is the only other receiver with game experience on the roster, but he broke his leg early in fall camp and will be out until November. He likely will be back for the Notre Dame game, but how effective he'll be remains to be seen. Junior Daniel Bailey and senior Bruce Williams were moved to receiver from running back and free safety respectively. Williams was expected to be the starting free safety this year, so that's a sign of the desperation of Syracuse to get more receivers who have at least played somewhere on the field.


Patrick Turner. (#10) Senior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 48 receptions, 569 yards, 3 TDs.
Vidal Hazelton. (#21) Junior. Returning Starter.
2007 stats: 50 receptions, 540 yards, 4 TDs.

Senior Patrick Turner was expected to break out last year but despite a productive season he didn't have the impact many expected. He has all of the tools to be a dominant receiver and even if he doesn't live up to his lofty expectations he still will be an extremely tough receiver to cover. Like Turner, junior Vidal Hazelton is entering his second season as a starter and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him become SC's go-to receiver. Extremely quick and shifty for a 6'3" 210 pounder, Hazelton is coming off a strong spring and could very likely become one of the better receivers in the nation in 2008. Depth: Like at running back, SC is stacked with former 4 and 5 star recruits. Redshirt sophomore David Ausberry (#58) is a big target at 6'4" 225 pounds and started five games last season. As he becomes more comfortable with the offense, he will be harder to keep off the field. Arkansas transfer Damian Williams (#61) kept earning accolades during spring practice and will give the Trojans yet another experienced and speedy receiver. Sophomore Ronald Johnson quickly became SC's deep threat and is the fastest of the Trojan receivers. He only had 7 receptions, but averaged nearly 16 yards per catch. Redshirt sophomore Jordan Cameron is a tall target at 6'5" 220, which makes sense since he was on the basketball team at BYU before transferring to Southern Cal to play football. Brice Butler and D.J. Shoemate are two freshmen with plenty of recruiting accolades but might have to wait their turn.

2008 Opponent Wide Receiver Analysis and Ranking

The first thing I noticed is that Notre Dame isn't facing a single receiver who cracked the thousand yard receiving mark last season. Even more striking, of the 27 starters listed here, only 9 had more receiving yards than John Carlson did on last year's NCAA-worst Irish offense. There just isn't a lot of experience and proven production facing ND this season. The lack of veteran receivers is even more apparent early in the season. In the first five games, ND only will line up against four returning starters. All told there are only four senior receivers who are returning starters.

With the loss of Darrin Walls putting a question mark on how Raeshon McNeil will step into his starting corner spot, no doubt so many inexperienced receivers will make the transition slightly easier. And it's not just about McNeil either. Inexperience among the starters mean the third and fourth receivers for many teams are seeing the field for the first time. As second-string CB Gary Gray is in a similar situation for the Irish, his lack of experience won't be a huge determent as he will be facing many similarly inexperienced receivers.

If the front seven are able to generate some sort of pass rush, the experience and talent of the Irish secondary combined with the inexperience of the opposing receiver could and should lead to an increase over last year's 11 interceptions.

With experience also comes improved blocking skills. As ND looks for ways to slow down the run, the possiblity of weaker run blocking from the receivers is a positive in ND's favor. Likewise, the ability to recognize a blitz and run the correct hot route might be the same kind of issue for opponents in 2008 as it was for ND receivers in 2007.

But while the experience isn't there, there are a number of talented young players with the talent to go from little previous production to royal pain to cover. In this category I would place most of Michigan's WR depth chart, Dell, Cunningham, and Smith from Michigan State, Baldwin from Pitt, Jones from North Carolina, and of course Southern Cal's treasure trove of talent. As with last year, it's likely ND will add a third safety like Sergio Brown or an extra corner like Gary Gray when teams run out multiple receivers. Both Irish players are extremely athletic, but have little experience and will let up a few big plays from time to time.

Looking at the rankings, I think there is a bit of a break from the top three or four teams to the rest below. After that it's a mix of young talent with only a few decent but not spectacular experienced players.

1. Southern Cal - A deep and talented bunch poised to breakout.
2. North Carolina - Nicks headlines an experienced group. Getting Jones eligible is a bonus.
3. Pittsburgh - If Kinder's knee is fully healed, this might be a spot low.
4. Boston College - Not much star power, but nearly everyone is back from last year.
5. Michigan -Matthews and a lot of highly regarded recruits might be underestimated by many.
6. Michigan State - Will need either Dell or one of the talented freshmen to step up.
7. Purdue - Orton is a proven player, but beyond that are a lot of question marks.
8. Stanford - Someone will need to help take the pressure off Sherman.
9. San Diego State - Two new starters, but they did see the ball fairly often last season.
10. Navy - Barnes is the only experienced player back. The new faces will need to acclimate quickly.
11. Washington - Barely any experience at all, but a number of reasonably talented freshmen.
12. Syracuse -Expulsions and injuries have decimated this unit.