Yesterday we discussed our TE’s unit on the roster so let’s stick with pass catchers and discuss the ’18 wide receivers today. This is an area where I think Pitt has taken a big hit over the offseason…. and one that depends almost solely on the caliber of the Quarterback a team has throwing the ball.
It has been since 2014 that we have had a star turn at this position. Tyler Boyd’s production that season was top end with 78 catches for 1,261 yards (16.2 ypc) and 8 TDs. One could make an argument that he did well in 2015 also but when a WR with speed only has a 10.1 ypc average that brings him down to the mortal level – even if he did have 91 catches.
I suppose one could also argue that Jester Weah’s 2016 season was star-quality also with 36 receptions for 870 yards (24.2! ypc) and 10 TDs… and at 39% of Boyd’s 2015 catch total Weah way out produced Boyd in both yards and TDs.
But still not total and real star-quality in my book.
Now we come to this new season. Weah has left after a rather disappointing season for him with 698 yards and only 4 TDs and his WR2, Quadree Henderson, also left early (ill-advised I believe) after doing almost nothing at the position with only 17 catches for 186 yards and 0 TDs.
I’m not pointing a finger directly at those two players for their lack of production as our QB situation was such a mess with poor talent on hand and also, I believe, poor coaching management so it tied the hands of our receivers. With that Weah and Henderson’s swan songs were off-key and lost in the noise of a losing season.
But as happens when some players falter other players step up and shine – and that is what WR Rafael Araujo-Lopes (“Lopes” for this writer) did when he showed up and caught 43 balls for 531 yards (12.2) and a couple of TDs. Again, Lopes’ production would have been higher had we had any sort of decent passer behind center last season.
That was a big jump up from Lopes’ catching only three passes the year before. As the most productive returning receiver we’ll expect big things from this JUCO transfer. He has settled in well and even if his slight size at 5’9″ works against the common pattern for big time receivers I think we’ll see him top our charts again. He’s not the downfield threat that Weah and Boyd were; he’ll play more out of the Slot position, and if Watson can be led to understand that 5-10 yard catch by the Slot receiver, with the possibility of yards after the catch, is twice as good as a normal 5 yard running play we’ll see him used a lot.
Our personnel after Lopes is where it starts to get interesting and in my opinion worrisome. Here are the returning WRs who had catches in 2017:
|Rafael Araujo-Lopes||SR||43 Rec, 531 Yds, 12.3 Avg|
|Aaron Mathews||JR||16 Rec, 189 Yds, 11.8 Avg|
|Maurice Ffrench*||JR||25 Rec, 272 Yds, 10.9 Avg|
That is a sparse lot my friends so that leaves us with the unknowns to look forward to.
Pitt fans like to look at almost any recruit we get and feel that they are really talented, sometimes way more talented, than they actually are. That is normal because as fans we hope for the best… what we are not good at is preparing for the worse… and I do it too sometimes. But what that does is skew our neutral outlook when projecting what might happen out on the field of play. Looking at that short list of returnees is disturbing so let’s turn and look at newcomers (or roster kids who were injured).
Maurice Ffrench has been moved to the Defensive Back position and that leaves us with a total of two players other than Lopes who has played the WR position; Aaron Mathews and Tre Tipton. That Ffrench move may not hold though if we have problems at WR I could see him being moved back on offense because for one he’s the fastest WR on the roster.
Note: Ffrench might have been moved back to WR for 2018 so we’ll keep an eye on that in the spring practices.
I think we have all been waiting for Aaron Mathews to come into his own – he’s a big target at 6’4″ but he’s methodically slower than you’d like in a WR – I look at him as the ‘Mike Shanahan’ type and that is a compliment. Mathews has good hands and is tall enough to high point any targeted passes thrown up that way.
rsJR Tre Tipton is a kid who had some playing time in 2016 but has been injured in both his seasons at Pitt so far – with that he’s unreliable at this point. He’s the makings of a good D1 receiver but hasn’t had the health to show us anything substantial. So who is left?
We’ll most probably see some ‘new’ talent that has been either redshirted or is brand new come into play at WR this season. Because WR is a almost a pure skill position it is where true FR can and do usually play and shine. Yes there is work to be done on downfield blocking techniques and such with any FR but you can plug and play WRs, especially situationally, if they are ready at a young age.
Which brings us to rsSO Ruben Flowers who was a class of 2016 4* recruit with great fanfare when he signed on with Pitt but he is morphing into a bit of a mystery. His only play last season was in six games on special teams and who knows if he’ll crack the lineup this season. But we fans figured we’d see him early and often over the last two years and that hasn’t happened.
What we are going to be doing from now until September is much the same vein- pinning our hopes on WRs who we haven’t seen play yet… and there are a few who could really make an impact. We just talked about Tipton and let’s keep our fingers crossed that he returns at 100% because we need his speed. Flowers we discussed also – but who are the true FR who could come in and make an impact right away?
The first kid we turn our eyes to here is rsFR Michael Smith out of Florida. Now I don’t hold to the belief that every kid who comes from the Sunshine State is automatically better than kids who were recruited elsewhere but Smith looks to be one WR who could shake up the two-deep (or platoons). Here is a bit from his HS bio:
…led the Treasure Coast in every major receiving category with 66 receptions for 1,556 yards (23.6 avg.) and 24 touchdowns…his receiving yardage and TD catches set single-season records for the area…FloridaHSFootball.com All-State Class 8A (first team)…Associated Press Florida All-State Class 8A (second team)
I can get behind a 23.6 ypc average and 24 TDs. We won’t see that from him this season but he’s been on roster and has had Watson’s playbook for a full year so hopefully he’s ready to contribute. Another youngster, true FR Shocky Jacques-Louis is the kid everyone is wondering about in this early offseason.
He is a 3* recruit, another out of Florida, and has the speed and nice size (6’0″ and 170) to make an early impact. When you have a 6′ kid screaming down the sideline or on a post pattern that’s a nice target if your QB has the arm to get the ball to him. What is impressive to me is that as an “ATH” he had so many catches – usually the number of those are cut into by their rushing plays. From his HS bio:
Rated the nation’s No. 26 “athlete” by Rivals…earned status as one of Southwest Florida’s top prospects, ranking No. 6 in The News-Press/Naples Daily News “Big 15”…compiled 65 receptions for 966 yards (14.9 avg.) and scored 13 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Dunbar…had 45 catches for 652 yards (14.5) and six touchdowns as a senior…
For those fans who believe recruiting offer sheets tell the story (I don’t much) then a look at his will make your mouth water – Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan, MSU, Oregon and Tennessee are just some of his 26 offers. My gut tells me if any WR is going to break out into true stardom-level play this season it just may be Jacques-Louis.
Now – I mentioned above about the QB throwing to these kids who this season will be SO Kenny Pickett. One thing I noticed about him when I had a chance to watch that extended practice last spring, and again in his play over the 20017 season, is that he’s accurate and has a quick release on the short-intermediate passing plays.
If we look at his stats from last year we see he completed almost 60% of his passes (59.0) which is a benchmark of good accuracy. But more impressive is that he had a good yards per attempt average of 7.7 and then also good play with a 13.0 yards per completion rate. Not bad at all for a true FR who saw limited playing time.
Pickett will be able to get the ball to these receivers quickly and on target – so we need players on the receiving end who can do something with those shorter passes. Lopes was very good at that last season even though he isn’t all that fast. Quickness is what is needed and I think if we can get that, a solid receiver who can get those all-important yards after the catch, then we’ll be OK.
I’m not jumping up and down about our receivers at this point, a bit nervous about this unit actually – but maybe after seeing how the QB and the WRs interact over spring drills and then into fall camp I’ll be smiling. I hope so anyway…
Here are our roster Wide Receivers: