Brendon Lewis can pretty much chuck it up anywhere on the field and there’s a good chance one of CU’s receivers will get their paws on the ball. The talent is plentiful, to say the least.
What I’m probably most excited to witness this fall is the Brendon Lewis to Brenden Rice connection. We saw flashes of Rice’s talent last year, but his opportunity is now to be the top target. Rice caught just six passes in 2020 but two of those were for a touchdown, including a 61-yarder against Utah. His big play propensity can give the Buffs momentum at any moment.
While Rice tops the depth chart at the “Z” wide receiver, either Danial Arias or La’Vontae Shenault will be Lewis’s starter at the “X.” Arias has been a Buffalo since the 2018 season but we’ve yet to see a true breakout year from him. There will be some pressure on Arias to perform once again with Shenault’s raw talent in the picture. One of the big surprises on the depth chart for me was not seeing Shenault in a guaranteed starting spot. He had one of the most consistent seasons of the Buffs’ wide receivers last year but it appears he’s still working to take that next step in 2021. But, it is also likely that CU is putting a high value on Arias’s experience.
Dimitri Stanley will be loaded in the slot in front of Jaylon Jackson and Chase Penry. As one of CU’s most seasoned wideouts, Stanley is poised to be a consistent target for Lewis. The pressure isn’t all on him, however.
“We got a room full of dogs that can all do something with the ball in their hands,” Stanley said. “Whoever’s out there is going to make plays.”
Similar to Arias, Jaylon Jackson has struggled to hit his stride in Boulder. The fourth-year junior hasn’t amassed over 77 receiving yards in his three seasons while stuck behind Colorado’s recent history of talented receivers. At 5-foot-10, Jackson will still be a solid second option in the slot.
True freshman Chase Penry, who joined Stanley as a Cherry Creek High School recruit, became my pick to be the surprise receiver after hearing what Coach Chev had to say.
“He knows how to get open and he’s got football savvy to him,” Chiaverini said. “He understands the game, he understands how to run routes, he knows how to separate and he catches the football.”
We saw a little bit of Montana Lemonious-Craig in 2020 including his lone reception of the year in the Alamo Bowl. Colorado was pretty banged up in that game but the experience of playing in a bowl as a freshman should pay dividends. The talent is certainly there and Chiaverini said Lemonious-Craig has taken the next step this preseason. He’s listed with the two’s on CU’s week one depth chart.
Although Chev said freshman Ty Robinson was dealing with some tightness about midway through August, his strong start to preseason camp turned heads and should give him some playing time. A true freshman out of Eaglecrest High School in Aurora, he’ll have to fight through quite a few receivers to get playing time.
Despite a strong performance in CU’s first preseason scrimmage, second year freshman Keith Miller III was not listed on the week one depth chart. His 6-foot-5 height makes him the tallest CU receiver but with so many talented options, 2021 looks to be another developmental year for him.
On a down note, we wish Maurice Bell a speedy recovery as he’ll miss the entire season with a torn Achilles. Bell started two games at WR last year.
Looking at the tight ends, it’s pretty much Brady Russell and everyone else. Russell enters his fourth season at Colorado and is likely foaming at the mouth after missing most of 2020 with a leg injury. The Buffs entertained a total of 10 tight ends in camp but only four made the week one depth chart. Including Russell, the Buffs’ tight end room features defensive end-turned TE Alec Pell, former UCLA QB Matt Lynch and Caleb Fauria. That’s quite an interesting group but one that has exceeded expectations throughout spring and coming into fall. Russell’s leadership has been crucial in bringing the group along according to Fauria.
“His knowledge for the game is insane,” Fauria said. “He knows everything and he tries to tell us, the young guys, little techniques that he does to help improve our game and take it to the next level.”
Also of note: With Jarek Broussard demanding touches, the Buffs didn’t throw the ball often last year and probably won’t again this year. Colorado was seventh in the Pac-12 in pass attempts compared to second in rush attempts. I don’t see the Buffs drastically reversing their rush-to-pass ratio but based on what I’ve heard from coaches this preseason, it does sound like Lewis’s arm has progressed.