2022 WVU Wide Receivers Preview
We continue our Spring preview series for the West Virginia Mountaineers football team by providing our 2022 WVU wide receivers preview. We have already covered both quarterbacks and running backs. Next, we will cover the offensive line.
The Transfer Portal Taketh
Over the prior couple of years, West Virginia retained most of their young wide receiver talent. This season, however, the transfer portal hit WVU harder than perhaps any other position on the team. Winston Wright, Sean Ryan, Isaiah Esdale, and Sam Brown all entered the portal.
Statistically, this looks like a big loss on the surface. Those four accounted for 119 (52%) of the Mountaineer receivers’ 228 total receptions in 2021. They account for nine (50%) of the receivers’ 18 touchdowns. Finally, they accounted for 1,465 (51%) of the room’s 2,852 receiving yards. Those four, then, accounted for right around half of the wideout production in 2021. Collectively, that is a tough loss.
Is it That Bad, Though?
Fifty percent certainly looks like a lot of production to lose. That said, the most relevant question in our minds when looking at portal losses is whether that production can be replaced adequately. After all, portal losses sometimes amount to addition by subtraction. That does not seem to be the case here. Each of the fleeing receivers added something tangible to the team.
That said, the production can certainly be replaced. In general, one problem the Mountaineers faced over the last two seasons was consistency in this room. Let’s look at Ryan, for example. Over the last two seasons, he had four games with 50 or more receiving yards. On the other hand, he had six games with 20 or fewer yards.
That production represents a microcosm of the room’s trend over these two years. West Virginia has had an abundance of receivers with talent and potential. Like we said, each of the departing receivers adds something tangible to the room. Unfortunately, with that many bodies, we could never predict which one or two would step up any given game. Snap counts were distributed as unevenly as the production.
At the end of the day, most teams rely heavily on two receivers. They may have two other receivers who contribute moderately. Just look at the top five passing offenses in the nation in 2021. This is the trend. As a result, sometimes having too many mouths to feed can be counterproductive. We will find out how true that is next year, but we might find the most productive receivers have even better years as a result.
Production and Potential Remains
In our mind, West Virginia’s top three guys seem fairly certain. Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Sam James, and Kaden Prather all return. All three looked solid last season on catchable balls. James, who suffered through plenty of drops in 2019 and 2020, shook that issue almost entirely last season. Ford-Wheaton dropped a few, but his productivity and target share increased. Prather looked extremely promising as a freshman as well. How they rank from one through three remains anybody’s guess. That said, there are almost certainly going to the WVU’s top three receivers for 2022.
Behind them, Reese Smith also returns as a sure-handed inside receiver who can move the chains consistently. He will likely improve upon his numbers and should have the first opportunity to make the most of the extra snaps and targets to go around. Graeson Malashevich rounds out the returning wideouts on the roster.
New Faces Arrive
Finally, for our 2022 WVU wide receivers preview, we look at the new faces in the room. During the offseason, West Virginia added junior college transfers, Cortez Braham and Jeremiah Aaron. According to 247Sports, Braham represents the sixth-best junior college receiver on the market in the most recent recruiting class. In ten games last season, he caught 32 passes for 723 yards and ten touchdowns. He runs relatively crisp routes, offers sure hands, and possesses plus skills after the catch.
Aaron entered the Class of 2022 as the second-best junior college receiver prospect in the nation. He plays equally effectively on both the inside and the outside. Aaron also offers the Mountaineers an immediate challenge on the return teams. He uses plus awareness to create yards both after the catch and in the return game. Aaron finished last season with 49 receptions, 911 yards, and eight touchdowns. He also averaged nearly 25 yards per kick return and over 20 yards per punt return.
Finally, ESPN four-star recruit Jarel Williams joins the team as the lone high school addition. Williams was a bit of a late bloomer, playing sparingly in his sophomore and junior seasons. In his senior year, however, Williams caught 51 passes for 742 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has good size at 6’3, and he uses a solid technique to separate himself from opposing defenders.
2022 WVU Wide Receivers Preview: What’s Next
We also would not be surprised to see the Mountaineers add a veteran wideout from the transfer portal, particularly if they can find one with multiple years of eligibility remaining to shore up their depth. Indeed, this is where WVU might suffer most. While they had perhaps too much depth last season, they may run into trouble without another body in the room in 2022, particularly if they deal with multiple injuries throughout the season.