Returning: ERRYBODY (Seriously, way too many names. Use this and scroll to the bottom), George Frazier, Dylan Keeney, Chris Bounds
Departing: Sean Irwin (TE)
Newbies: Maurice Bell, Jaylon Jackson, KD Nixon, Jared Poplawski (TE), Laviska Shenault
WHOO BOY. As good as Phillip Lindsay is, even his herculean effort can’t overshadow the receiver position. This wide receivers group is as good as it gets. Not just in the conference, but in the country. Last year, they were great. And they lose absolutely nobody from that group. They are a year bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, and they add some really nice pieces. Time for some fun.
It’s hard to know where to start with last year’s group, but I guess that the logical place to start would be Shay Fields. The soon to be senior led the Buffs in yards and touchdowns (895 and 9) and has blossomed into a true Pac-12 primary receiver. He has speed, hands, shiftiness, and wins consistently off the line of scrimmage. A big play threat and a possession receiver, Fields is versatile in all senses of the word. He can be a big play threat or a dependable X receiver. It also helps that he is flanked by a big play threat and a dependable X receiver. Devin Ross led the team in catches with 69 (...big number), but more than that, he stretched the field consistently. A passing offense like CU’s needs to keep the defense in multiple levels in order to open up the short and medium passing game. Ross’s consistent game winning speed opened up everyone else. Bryce Bobo also opened up others. He is maybe the best blocking receiver on the team, but his hands aren’t used just for blocking. Bobo has made the SportsCenter Top 10 TWICE with only five of his fingers. When he isn’t making highlight reel, season-catalyzing catches, he is making someone miss. Most of his catches come about 5 or 6 yards away from the LOS, but he never goes down on first contact. His physicality is needed in this group.
There are plenty of other names that need mention. Jay MacIntyre is clutch on 3rd down and works well in the slot. Juwann Winfree is coming back from ACL surgery looking like a linebacker. Kabion Ento had the best spring of all. That’s a fantastic six man rotation, and would be just fine if the corps ended there. But the hits just keep coming.
One of 2016’s most exciting recruits was Johnny Huntley out of Florida. The high three star is a freak athlete and has size to match. In most years, his raw ability would be too enticing to keep off the field. But 2016 was not most years. The depth is such at the position that Huntley was stashed behind all these stars. And that won’t change this year. Huntley may redshirt to take better advantage of his eligibility, but if he doesn’t, add his huge skillset to the mix. AND WE HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED ON THE TRUE FRESHMEN.
Maurice Bell, KD Nixon, Laviska Shenault, and Jaylon Jackson all arrive in Boulder with huge expectations. Bell is a smooth customer out of California. KD is a lightning bug coming out of Texas, with his bull-like teammate Laviska Shenault. Speed freak Jaylon Jackson arrived in January and has a leg up on the other three, but is recovering from a torn ACL. Any of them could see the field at almost any other point in the last 20 years, but next year will be tough. I predict that KD and Laviska will be the first to see the field, as they both are natural special teams players.
Shifting gears to the infrequently-used tight end position. Sean Irwin was an absolute trooper for CU. He took his lumps and basically became a 6th offensive lineman as a tight end. And boy was he good at it. Irwin was a wrecking ball off the edge and made holes for a lot of Phillip Lindsay’s big runs. The problem was, he didn’t get the ball thrown to him a whole lot. His first catch was against Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. He did his job well, but he didn’t get to play receiver very often.
Expect a reshuffling of this position in 2017. TE/DE/Bad Boy George Frazier is first in line to get a shot, and his strength and athleticism will help in the running game. He has had a few crucial drops in recent years, so if he can get his hands right, he will be a big asset. Behind him is likely a combo of Chris Bounds and Dylan Keeney. Bounds will play more in the backfield as an H-back, and is a good combo of blocking and receiving. Keeney has flashed since he got on campus. He has length, speed, and athleticism to be a dynamic receiving weapon, but he can’t get out of the training room long enough to make a lasting impact. If he stays healthy, Keeney will be a big wrench to throw in opposing defense’s plans. Finally, we arrive at true freshman Jared Poplawski. He follows in the mold of Bounds or Irwin, as he is a well-rounded player. Dangerous in the open field or lining up next to a tackle, he can stretch the field and matches up well with linebackers. He may push to see the field early.