West Virginia Football’s Biggest Questions In 2019: No. 4 – Wide Receivers
(Editor’s Note – In our series of stories over the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at each of West Virginia’s top 10 question marks heading into the 2019 football season. After that, we’ll also look at what we consider to be the top 10 strengths of Neal Brown’s first Mountaineer squad.)
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4. Wide receivers – Other than arguably quarterback, West Virginia’s 2019 football team has no bigger holes to fill than at receiver.
Of WVU’s 291 catches and 4,216 receiving yards accumulated in 2018, those who have since departed caught 202 of the passes and amassed 3,147 of the yards. Also gone are 32 of West Virginia’s 38 touchdown receptions.
The Mountaineers knew that 2018 senior receivers David Sills (65 catches for 986 yards with 15 TDs), Gary Jennings (54 catches for 917 yards and 13 TDs) and Dominque Maiden (10 catches for 136 yards and one TD) were headed towards graduation, as was tight end Trevon Wesco (26 catches for 366 yards and one TD). But then Marcus Simms (46 catches for 699 yards and two TDs), who was to be a senior this coming season, ran into some academic issues and decided to declare for the NFL’s supplement draft. He reportedly was not selected in the recent supplemental draft, which took place last Wednesday, and now will be able to sign a free agent contract, joining Sills, Jennings and Wesco in NFL camps.
All that attrition leaves WVU with just two wide receivers who caught more than two passes last year in a Blue & Gold uniform. Juniors T.J. Simmons (28 catches for 341 yards and one TD) and Tevin Bush (14 catches for 209 yards and one TD) are the only veterans who return to the receiving corps.
The Mountaineers will have to fill out the position with a variety of transfers and younger players.
George Campbell (6-4, 183 lbs., Sr.) will certainly get a long look. A grad transfer from Florida State, he enrolled at WVU this summer and has one final season of college eligibility remaining. A five-star recruit coming out of East Lake High School in Lakeland, Florida, he had an injury-plagued career with the Seminoles, which was a big part of the reason he caught just nine passes for 164 yards in his four years in Tallahassee. West Virginia definitely needs him to live up to his previous accolades, as he has size and speed would be a huge help to WVU’s passing attack.
Another transfer who could potentially aid coach Neal Brown’s offense is Sean Ryan (6-3, 198 lbs., Soph.), who comes to WVU from Temple. Unlike Campbell, who, as a grad transfer, is definitely eligible for the Mountaineers this fall, Ryan is a traditional transfer who will need a waiver from the NCAA to be able to participate in game action in 2019. West Virginia officials have expressed optimism that Ryan, who is a native of Brooklyn, will be granted such a waiver, but nothing has been announced yet. As a true freshman last year, Ryan caught 12 passes at Temple for 162 yards, but when Owl coach Geoff Collins left in the offseason to take over at Georgia Tech, Ryan decided to leave as well. He arrived at WVU in May and now hopes to be able to help the Mountaineers this fall. If not, he has a redshirt year available and thus would be a third-year sophomore in 2020.
The remainder of West Virginia’s receiving corps has precious little game experience. Sam James (6-0, 182 lbs., RFr.) and Bryce Wheaton (6-3, 215 lbs., RFr.) saw action in four and one game respectively last year as true freshmen – James even caught two passes, though for just two yards – but both were able to retain their redshirt status because of a new NCAA rule. That pair, plus fellow redshirt freshman Randy Fields (6-1, 196 lbs.), will certainly get opportunities to earn depth chart spots this coming season. In the spring, James showed himself to be potentially a potent deep threat, and he could go a long way in helping replace Sills and Simms in that role. Ricky Johns (6-3, 194 lbs., Soph.) and Isaiah Esdale (6-0, 201 lbs., Jr.) each are a little older , though neither has much game experience. Both did show flashes in the spring.
Added to this group are two scholarship incoming freshmen – Ali Jennings (6-1, 181 lbs.) and Winston Wright (5-10, 167 lbs.) – plus walk-on Graeson Malashevich (5-9, 180 lbs., Fr.), who like Jennings and Wright arrived at WVU in June. Because West Virginia is so shallow in the receiving corps, all three of the newcomers will likely get a a real opportunity to see the field for games this fall.
Add it all up, and that’s a total of 12 receivers. The Mountaineers need at least six and preferably eight or nine of them to be game-ready this coming season. That may not seem like a tall order, but when a group has so little experience, finding even .500 percent who are capable of performing at a high level could be asking a lot.
It’s a whole new season for WVU’s receiving corps, and a whole new set of expectations. Last season Athlon preseason magazine rated the Mountaineer receivers as the best unit in the Big 12, and that group definitely lived up to its hype. Now West Virginia’s receivers enter this season rated No. 8 by Athlon. That’s a considerable fall, but with so many holes to fill, the drop is understandable.
Previously In The Series