It’s hard to believe it, but we’re only 12 weeks away from the Colorado Buffaloes starting their season on August 31. Anything can happen in those 12 weeks — like, say, a team going from worst in the Pac-12 South to No. 9 in the nation — but it’s still close enough to start getting excited.
It would be easy to look at last year’s roster and wonder where their offensive production will come from in 2018. After their disappointing 2017 season, the Buffs not only lost Phillip Lindsay, but they also graduated leading receivers Shay Fields, Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo. Those three — nicknamed the BlackOutBoyz — combined for 490 catches, 5,896 yards and 40 touchdowns in their prolific careers. All that lost production is part of why Bill Connelly was skeptical about the Buffs’ passing game, and hence why his S&P+ offensive projections for the Buffs are lackluster.
This is where the projections of national reporters and local reporters diverge. National writers like Bill C will see the spreadsheets and recruiting outlooks, but they don’t necessarily see the team on a day-to-day basis or hear talk from the coaches. Those of us who are in Boulder stuck daydreaming about the team on boring summer afternoons are familiar with the players who are poised to break out. If Juwann Winfree broke out as one of the best receivers in the country, national writers would be surprised, but not a single local reporter would so much as blink.
Winfree is the primary reason why this receiving corps is going to be the most excited group on this team. After recovering from a torn ACL, Winfree wasn’t even 100% when he embarrassed a USC cornerback on national TV. At 6’3, 210-lbs., Winfree has a combination of size and speed that is NFL-caliber. He makes the most of that by running sharp routes and bodying up smaller defenders. In what playing time he had last season, he flashed the potential to be a big play threat from anywhere on the field. Another year removed from his knee injury, he could be the star receiver Colorado has missed since Nelson Spruce. These plays might be the norm.
It’s not just Winfree, of course. The Buffs have recruited exceptionally well at receiver and they have a slew of dangerous underclassmen who can step up in a leading role. The most obvious candidate is Laviska Shenault, who was a small sample god in his freshman season. Seemingly every time he was on the field, something spectacular happened (or almost happened). He only had 7 catches all year, but one went for 42 yards and another went for 58; even the incompletions saw him attempt leaping catches in traffic. Shenault is very much an unknown, but he’s clearly a dangerous weapon. He could step into the #2 receiver spot and bust out.
Colorado’s third and fourth receivers will likely be Jay MacIntyre and Kabion Ento, familiar faces but have always been secondary players. You already know J-Mac as a shifty playmaker who should bring consistency and stability to the slot. Ento is a bit more mysterious, but he has a ton of upside. Before redshirting in 2017, Ento became famous on Buffs Twitter for making highlight-reel catches just about every day in practice. If his hands and body control are for real, the Buffs could have three lengthy big play threats on the field at once.
Also, watch out KD Nixon and Jaylon Jackson. Neither had a catch last season — Nixon was a special teamer and Jackson broke his ankle that summer — but they could both be x-factors if given the opportunity. Nixon is electric in space and could be a lethal weapon. Jackson is quick as lightning in the slot and gets open easily. Freshmen Dylan Thomas and Daniel Arias could also see time.
If it seems like the Buffs have too many good receivers, that shouldn’t be a problem. Now that Darrin Chiaverini has more control as offensive coordinator, the Buffs are expected to play at an absurd tempo. If you thought the Buffs were fast with Brian Lindgren calling the shots, just get ready for Chiv trying to turn Steven Montez into Patrick Mahomes. In that tempo, they’ll use their receivers in a platoon system. A set of receivers will play together and come off together after a few plays, then a new set of receivers will fill in for them. Those receivers will stay fresh throughout the game, and ideally by the fourth quarter, they will be able to blow by fatigued defenders.
If last season was frustrating seeing the seniors’ effort fluctuate, you should be ecstatic to see these young receivers compete with each other and try to prove themselves as they attack the defense in waves. With or without Winfree turning into a star, this receiving corps will be a breath of fresh air. After that, they might just break out and be one of the most exciting groups in the Pac-12.