Wide receiver is one of a few positions where we lose a lot of quality experience. Toney Clemons really stepped it up in the last five games, and Kyle Cefalo and Logan Gray logged a number of snaps between them. Our experience levels going into 2012 are low, besides Paul Richardson. But he can't do it by himself, and even he only had a few good games in 2011. Who will be manning this position come spring practices:
- Dustin Ebner, Sr - Walk-on who has seen some time at receiver, though not in a couple of seasons. He played on special teams some last year, but not after the coaches went to playing starters on those units.
- Makiri Pugh, Sr - Transfer from Georgia that was originally a DB. He switched before the season began, and even after we were decimated there by injuries, he was apparently never a candidate to switch back. Now he's buried on the depth chart at receiver, but he's a good enough athlete that he may work his way into the rotation in the spring. I doubt it lasts when the freshmen come in, but you never know.
- Jarrod Darden, Jr - Here is a guy that may have seen his window of opportunity come and go. He wasn't even on the depth chart for most of the year, and was passed up by a number of younger guys. He never really saw the field before Embree got here, and he doesn't look like he's going to see it now, unless something changes. Maybe it's the injury he suffered as a senior in high school, but he just hasn't looked like a good enough athlete to play at the D1 level, despite being 6'5".
- Paul Richardson, Jr - The star of the remaining receivers. He's a guy that has the ability to be the best player on the field, but he can also still disappear at times. He only had a few good games in 2011 (one of them being a GREAT game). Some of that was because he missed time with an injury and was still working his way back into the groove of things by the time we played Utah, but it's also something we saw in 2010. Hopefully next season we get a consistent performance from him all season, because he can make everyone else on the offense better. He's now the leader of the group and the most experienced split end the Buffs have.
- DaVaughn Thornton, Jr - Perhaps wideout is his position? He's a physically gifted guy who just didn't have the right makeup for tight end. His blocking was inconsistent, and he just didn't have the focus for it. Of course, you need focus for every position in football, so that will still be an issue here. Maybe Coach Kennedy will be able to bring the best out in him. He's not the fastest, but he does have the ability to use his frame to shield the ball away from defenders. He'll get snaps in the spring, but again, it will be interesting to see how much progress he has made by the time the freshmen arrive.
- Alex Turbow, Jr - Walk-on
- Keenan Canty, So - He didn't see much time until Richardson hurt his knee, then he saw his snaps increase a lot. He had solid games in Paul's place, showing the ability to go over the middle despite being a little guy (5'9" 155 lbs) and the ability to get separation. He's quick and has a low center of gravity and got good experience in 2011. He is one of the guys I'm really looking forward to seeing in the spring, because he now has been around the block and we need that at the receiver position.
- Drew Ebner, So - Walk-on, younger brother of Dustin.
- Tyler McCulloch, So - His impact wavered as the season went on, but that happens to freshmen as they get into the meat of their first college semester and the pounding of playing Division-1 football begins to affect them. But he made some good plays when he was given the chance and he seemed to be a pretty instinctive receiver out there. I would like to see how he is developing in the spring. He looked really good on shallow crosses, but I'd like to see a guy with his frame targeted more down the field and in the redzone. I feel like he could run a pretty good fade route, so hopefully they begin to expand the number of routes he can run in the offseason.
- Tommy Papillon, So - Walk-on
- Nelson Spruce, RFr - I'm excited to see what he can bring to the team. He's fast, has long arms and great hands, and was a GREAT high school receiver. He can do it all, and I could see him stepping in and starting opposite Richardson. And we may need it, because we are losing a lot at wideout.
- Austin Vincent, RFr - It is still up in the air as to whether he returns to the team after an incident in the dorm bathrooms, but he's got speed and looked like he might be a candidate to handle returns before the season started. Instead he redshirted and now might not be a Buffalo any more.
Wide receiver is yet another unit where we will need contributions from true freshmen in 2012. Only 7 receivers caught passes in 2011 and three of them are gone. Paul Richardson will be a starter, but everything after that is up in the air. We should get 3 incoming guys, and possibly 4 if we don't foresee any contributions from Pugh and Darden (and I don't). And it would be nice if at least one of them could be ready to play on day 1. My bold prediction is that Nelson Spruce is top 6 on the team in receptions in 2012, and top 3 amongst receivers.