2020 Position Previews: Wide Receivers
Dating back a decade, it seems this position group’s performance has been inconsistent. Often, from year to year there has been a wide range in performance in productivity. In 2010 there was little. 2011 was outstanding. 2012 was lean. 2013 was great again. 2015 was lean and a big question. 2016 was outstanding. 2017 was disappointing but 2018 was a quiet success. 2019 was a disappointment. The 2020 group will follow this pattern and be a big surprise.
Let me start by going back a season to 2018.
Here are some figures I saved from 2018.
Aaron Fuller 58 catches, 104 targets, 56%, 874 yards, 4 TD, 15.1 avg, 8.4 YPT
Ty Jones 31 catches, 55 targets, 56%, 491 yards, 6 TD, 15.8 avg, 8.9 YPT
Andre Boccelia 55 catches, 68 targets 81%, 584 yards, 0 TD, 10.6 avg, 8.6 YPT
Even without all-league caliber TE Hunter Bryant for most of the season, the WR play was more than adequate. Both Ty Jones and Aaron Fuller were in the top 11 of WR’s in the conference for average. And based on those who would return for 2019 and had at least 400 yards receiving in 2018, both were two of the top 6 returning WRs. Recall that Aaron Fuller was on several pre-season all-league teams for 2019. And Andre Baccellia was effective as a slot guy. His catch rate of 81% was the highest in the league in 2018.
The poor performance from the wide receiver group last season was mainly due to playing the wrong guys and not playing the best guys.
The first 6.5 games were a joke. Puka Nacua, clearly the best receiver, had barely played until the second half against Arizona. Terrell Bynum, who was the most productive receiver after the Stanford game, played far less snaps than Fuller or Baccellia.
Over the second half of the season, Terrell Bynum and Aaron Fuller played the most snaps.
It’s clear that from the get go, UW was not playing its best players here. The starters should have been Nacua, Bynum and Fuller with either Bynum or Fuller as the slot guy. (Fuller performed well in 2018 on the outside).
UW also had guys in the wrong positions. Andre Bacellia had no business being an outside receiver. His yards per target plummeted from 8.6 down to 5.9. Aaron Fuller should not have been the #1 WR. His yards per target declined from 8.4 to 7.7. His yards per reception in league play declined from 15.9 to 12.6.
Marquis Spiker is one of UW’s highest rated recruits, a high 4-star by the 247 composite. All he did was catch 3 long passes, 2 on 3rd and long for first downs. He should have been at least the 4th option.
One could make the case losing Myles Gaskin hurt the pass game but Salvon Ahmed almost had as many yards while having a higher yards per carry. Ahmed had big games against Cal and Oregon. Him and Newton combined for 16 carries for 92 yards against Stanford. We just quit against Colorado. But I digress.
It’s obvious that we were not playing our best WRs enough and our WR rotation was messed up. Fortunately, we are now looking at a deep and talented group of WR’s that could be as good as anything we’ve had in quite a while.
The starting WRs figure to be Puka Nacua along with Ty Jones and Terrell Bynum. Spiker will factor in as will Austin Osborne, another talented recruit who was underutilized last year.
I have not even mentioned the incoming freshman which includes 6’3 205 Rome Odunze and 6’1 195 Jalen McMillan. These two have turned heads thus far in practice and will definitely play this season.
Rounding out the WR group are Jordan Chin and Taj Davis. Chin was actually productive on a few deep targets.
The WR’s did get less opportunities in 2019, as per play we lined up an average of only 2.2 WR and 1.9 TE. I don’t have 2018 snaps but I assume we lined up more WR’s (relatively) that season due to Hunter Bryant missing 2/3 of the season.
I expect there will be significant improvement in this group. This should be a top 3 group in the league and I’d put it against any other WR group sans USC.
The question I have is can QB play negatively mitigate the upgraded play at this position? If not, hopefully this group will put real pressure on opposing defenses and contribute to improvements in 3rd down, finishing drives and red zone scoring. In addition, the coaches have to figure out how to use the depth here to an advantage.