We continue our positional preview series for West Virginia’s football season with our Mountaineers’ 2020 Wide Receivers preview.
Mountaineers’ 2020 Wide Receivers Preview
2019: Highs and Lows
The 2019 season featured plenty of peaks and valleys for the West Virginia receivers. Of the group, only T.J. Simmons yielded significant snaps in a Mountaineer uniform before last season. Indeed, the Mountaineers replaced about 80% of their 2018 production. As a result, the staff expected inconsistency and growing pains.
The 2019 season certainly featured plenty of those. The staff rode the receiving corps early for their lack of mental and physical toughness. They expected the receivers to block aggressively. At the beginning of the season, several missed critical assignments regularly. They expected the receivers to run crisp routes. In several important scenarios, receivers ran the wrong routes entirely. Head Coach Neal Brown and company expected the receiver to win jump balls and catch passes. The receivers dropped plenty.
That said, the position group developed experience, depth, and skill throughout the course of the season. Sam James, Simmons, Sean Ryan, Ali Jennings, and several others contributed in myriad ways, making some mind-boggling plays and cuts along the way. The veteran Simmons offered a steady, consistent hand, while Sam James led the corps in volume with 69 receptions.
This year, however, the group cannot rely on inexperience as a crutch. Based on various comments from players and staff throughout the off-season, we expect the receivers know this all too well. They have to do better, and they know it. The only contributors from last season’s roster that moved on are George Campbell, whose red zone dominance will be missed, and Tevin Bush, who transferred out midway through the season. Last season, the group tallied 2,697 total snaps, and the returning players combined for 2,352 (over 85%) of them. More importantly, of the returnees, only two saw less than 200 snaps: Winston Wright (198) and Randy Fields (22).
The “First Tier” Preview
The Mountaineers’ first tier of returning receivers includes James, Simmons, Ryan, and Jennings, each of whom tallied more than 300 snaps. James led the way with 652. The group has plenty of experience. They combined for over 1,500 yards and seven touchdowns on nearly 150 receptions. Each brings something special to the table, and the group certainly does not lack in talent.
James looks to lead the receivers for a second consecutive year, as he remains the best vertical threat in this group. Simmons and Ryan, however, will keep it as close as they can, as both combine experience, speed, and ball skills. Jennings was perhaps our favorite from the 2019 recruiting class, and he should continue to mature rapidly through the season. Perhaps the best feature of this year’s first tier receiving group is the fact that only one, Simmons, is a senior. Ryan is a junior, and James and Jennings are both sophomores. Thus, as turbulent as last season may have been, this group has plenty of time to build.
Previewing the Veteran Depth
The Mountaineers’ receiving corps features plenty of depth, too. Isaiah Esdale, Bryce Wheaton, Wright, and Fields each contributed in meaningful ways last season. Fields has the least experience of the bunch, but that is primarily a product of a crowded skill group and not a knock on Fields’ talent.
Because of the value Coach Brown and his staff place on depth, this group is well positioned to make an even bigger impact this season. Unlike last season, even this second tier of receivers returns experience that will prove helpful. Of this group, Wright is the most likely to tally significant starting snaps, primarily because of his skill set as a quicker and smaller wide out.
Previewing the Newcomers
West Virginia also welcomes three freshmen to the mix this season. Sam Brown joins the fray as a coveted four-star receiver. Devell Washington, by many accounts, was vastly underrated as a recruit. The staff clearly thinks highly of Washington. Reese Smith might be the most overlooked of this trio, but his work ethic is second to none. We would expect each of these newcomers to gather a dozen or more snaps through the season. While Brown might offer the most apparent play-making ability, Washington offers something the others don’t, a large 6’4 frame that could make him an ideal possession receiver at critical junctures. The Mountaineers undoubtedly welcome the additional options.