Wednesday, August 15, 2007

2007 Opponent Position Preview: Wide Receivers | by Pat

From the guys who throw the ball, to the ones who run the ball, we now arrive at the ones who catch the ball. We're also entering the time of year when depth charts change suddenly and without warning. So if you have anything to add or any errors to point out, please drop a comment.


James Johnson. Junior. 39 receptions, 608 yards, 7 TDs. Returning Starter.
Demaryius Thomas. RS Freshman. Redshirted. New Starter.

After a season in Calvin Johnson's considerable shadow, James Johnson (right) now assumes the role as top Georgia Tech wideout. His 39 receptions in 2006 are highlighted by a 15.6 yards per catch average and a touchdown for every 5.5 catches. He missed the spring with a hamstring injury, but should be at full strength for the ND game. At 6'0" 190 pounds he's not going to tower over defensive backs, but should be an efficient and productive option in the Yellow Jacket offense. Depth: The #2 receiver spot is still up in the air, but the two leading candidates are both taller receivers. 6'3 Greg Smith was Tech's third leading receiver in 2006 (7 catches, 113 yards, 2 TDs), but missed most of the spring with injuries. 6'4, 220-pound Demaryius Thomas, the first of many Tech receivers to be labeled the "next Calvin Johnson", had a strong spring showing and will provide a big target to QB Bennett. After those two, it's a wide open battle with players like the speedy Correy Eearls, walk-on turned punt returner Andrew Smith, and freshman D.J. Donley, who has had a strong debut during fall camp.


Derrick Williams (#26). Junior. 40 receptions, 440 yards, 1 TD. Returning Starter.
Deon Butler (#51). RS Junior. 48 receptions, 637 yards, 2 TDs. Returning Starter.
Jordon Norwood. RS Junior. 45 receptions, 472 yards, 2 TDs. Returning Starter.

Derrick Williams (left) is entering his third year as a starter but the former #1 recruit coming out of high school has yet to have the kind of impact many expected. His pedestrian 11.0 yards per reception average belies his gamebreaker reputation. He definitely is a top notch athlete that warrants attention from the defense, but he's starting to remind me of Steve Breaston, who was always on the verge of breaking out, but never did. Deon Butler was actually the leading receiver last year for Penn State and the former walk-on should remain the top target in 2007. He has enough speed to get open deep, is very consistent, and runs great routes. The third of the Nittany Lion junior trio is Jordan Norwood, a shifty receiver who excels at catches passes on the run and quickly turning upfield. Depth: Adding height to the Williams (6'0"), Butler (5'10"), and Norwood (5'10") rotation, 6'2" 210 pound sophomore Chris Bell will definitely see more passes thrown his way this season. Rounding out the depth chart is 6'3" senior and career backup Terrell Golden.


Mario Manningham (#5). Junior. 38 receptions, 703 yards, 9 TDs. Returning Starter.
Adrian Arrington (#34). Senior. 40 receptions, 544 yards, 8 TDs. Returning Starter.

Only mid-season injuries kept Mario Manningham (right) from an even bigger sophomore season. An impressive 18.5 yards per reception average, no doubt helped by the ND defense, highlighted his breakout year and he should be in line for more of the same in 2007. He's the type of the receiver that seems a lot bigger than his listed 6'0" 180 pounds and will be the best receiver that Notre Dame faces next season. Back from his suspension and stadium running punishment that kept him away from spring practice, Adrian Arrington will be the number two Wolverine receiver out on the field. A tall wideout at 6'3", Arrington shook off two years of little playing time and had a productive debut junior season. If he's not rusty due to his time away from the team, he'll be a strong complement to Manningham. Depth: When Michigan uses a three-receiver set, the #3 guy will be sophomore Greg Matthews. Also 6'3", Matthews has the Michigan coaching staff and fans extremely excited about his potential. Speedy sophomore LaTerryl Savoy has run into a bit of legal trouble which may or may not limit his playing time. That opens the door for a pair of highly recruited freshmen in Toney Clemons and J.R. Hemmingway.


Terry Love. Senior. 18 receptions, 234 yards, 0 TDs. New Starter.
T.J. Williams. Sophomore. 25 receptions, 281 yards, 3 TDs. New Starter.

The Spartans were cleaned out at receiver by graduation, leaving them with one familiar face and a host of newcomers. Terry Love has caught at least 18 passes the last three years, but his yardage totals fell from 430 yards in 2005 to 234 yards in 2006. At 5'11", he's not going to win many jump balls, but he will still likely be the #1 target in 2007. That is, if he can get out of new Coach Dantonio's doghouse; he was listed as 4th string on the first depth chart of fall camp and won't be allowed to report until he clears up some academic issues. Depth: Deon Curry and T.J. Williams (left) are fighting for the other starting spot. Curry only caught one pass last year and Williams -- the leading returning receiver on the team and the Spartan's best chance at a good receiver -- is also in the doghouse. He's not going to be allowed to report to practice until August 27th, which is certainly going to slow his integration into the new offense. Behind those two are 6'2" junior Devin Thomas and senior Carl Grimes, older brother of ND's David. Freshman Mark Dell also has a chance to earn some receptions while Love and Williams are out and already is fighting to be the team's primary punt returner.


Dorien Bryant (#12). Senior. 87 receptions, 1068 yards, 6 TDs. Returning Starter.
Greg Orton. Junior. 56 receptions, 790 yards, 5 TDs. Returning Starter.
Selwyn Lymon (#37). RS Sophomore. 33 receptions, 580 yards, 3 TDs. Returning Starter.

The Purdue passing attack will once again be strong as the Boilermakers return a fleet of talented wideouts. Dorien Bryant (right) led the Big Ten in receiving last year and has over 2,600 career receiving yards. No other receiver on the Irish schedule comes close to his reception and yardage totals from last year. He'll continue to be an extremely fast and elusive weapon and present a challenge for the Irish secondary. Greg Orton is a tall target at 6'3" and while he had a very quiet day against the Irish last year (2 receptions for 35 yards), he finished the season strongly with 276 yards and 3 touchdowns over Purdue's final 3 games. Selmon Lymon is a name most Irish fans won't forget after he set a Notre Dame Stadium record for most receiving yards by an opponent (238). He also tacked on two touchdowns. However, over the next nine games, he only had 218 yards receiving and 1 touchdown. So which Lymon will show up in 2007? It didn't help that he missed all of spring practice after being stabbed outside a nightclub. Depth: Desmond Tardy is a quarterback-turned-receiver and will back up the formidable starting trio as he continues to turn into a solid reserve wideout. Jake Standeford, brother of Big Ten career receptions leader John, is a career backup but has enough time in the system to be a serviceable substitute.


Marcus Everett. Senior. 31 receptions, 450 yards, 5 TDs. Returning Starter.
Joe Cowan. RS Senior. Out with injury. Returning Starter.

Marcus Everett (left) was UCLA's #1 wideout last year, even though running back Chris Markey was the team's leading receiver. That likely will change in 2007 and Everett should supplant Markey as the #1 overall passing target. Like many opposing receivers did last year, Everett's yardage total against the Irish (102 yards) far surpassed his per game average (29 yards). He's not much more than a steady player, but as Irish fans saw last year can be effective if given too much cushion. Joe Cowan was expected to be the team's leading receiver in 2006, but was lost to injury for the season. At 6'4", 220 pounds, the brother of the backup QB Pat Cowan will have a size advantage over the Irish corners. Rebounding fully from season ending injuries is never a sure thing, however. Depth: Brandon Breazell actually was a starter last season in place of the injured Cowan and he was second on the team in touchdown receptions with 4, despite only catching 21 passes. The speedy Breazell is the team's best deep threat (18.5 yards per reception last year), but at 6'0" and a paltry 156 pounds he's smaller than most corners he faces. Another speed merchant is one time Irish recruit Terrance Austin. Entering his sophomore year, Austin should add more receiver responsibilities to his role as the team's punt returner. Finally, backup junior Gavin Ketchum, who checks in at 6'4", 200 pounds, will provide another big body off the bench.


Kevin Challenger. Senior. 47 receptions, 543 yards, 5 TDs. Returning Starter.
Brandon Robinson. Junior. 36 receptions, 490 yards, 1 TD. New Starter.

At only 5'8", Kevin Challenger (right) was the leading receiver for the Eagles last season. He's a dependable option, but not a gamebreaker type. He also missed spring practice with injuries which will slow his familiarity with the new BC offense. Brandon Robinson has the athletic ability to have a solid debut year as a starter after being a third option in 2006. One of the faster players on the team, Robinson's got a lot of potential under the new regime. Depth: Clarence Megwa earned some positive writeups with his performance in spring practice but the 6'1" 210 pound sophomore still is relatively inexperienced after only pulling in 12 receptions last year. Speedy Rich Gunnell did play in all 13 games last year and he can help the Eagles stretch the field, but he only caught 8 passes last year so he'll need to make a major leap to be truly dangerous. 6'5" sophomore Justin Jarvis sounds like a potent redzone threat, but he might not be ready this season. Last but not least, Billy Flutie (Doug's nephew) switched from quarterback to receiver in the spring and showed a knack for getting open. Maybe he'll get a few receptions in 2007.


Patrick Turner (#21). Junior. 29 receptions, 272 yards, 2 TDs. New Starter.
Vidal Hazelton (#63). Sophomore. 1 reception, yards, 0 TDs. New Starter.

The Trojans are in an interesting position. Their roster is loaded with prep All-Americans at wide receiver, but the leading returner only had three more receptions than David Grimes. Will they struggle with inexperience, or step right in and continue the Trojan tradition of dominant receivers? Patrick Turner (left) was the former #1 WR recruit coming out of high school and waited his turn behind Dwayne Jarrett. Big and tall at 6'5" and 220 pounds, he has the skills to be one of the better receivers in college in time. Still, his yards per reception average last year was a lackluster 9.2. That will certainly improve in 2007, but by how much? Sophomore 6'3", 210 pound Vidal Hazelton only had 1 reception last year, but is another former five-star recruit with a world of potential. He could immediately prove to be a dangerous second option to Turner, but again, how will he adapt from rarely used freshman to much needed sophomore? Depth: Another sophomore, David Ausberry, will push Hazelton for playing time and receptions. Like Turner, his calling card is his size at 6'5", 215 pounds and he was named scout team Offensive Player of the Year last season while redshirting. Travon Patterson only had 3 receptions last year, but they went for 63 yards. His outstanding speed will certainly be worked into the mix in 2007. Possibly even faster is redshirt freshman Jamere Holland, who missed last year with a broken collarbone. A high school and USC sprinter, Holland has battled through a number of injuries in his short time on campus, but when healthy will be one of the faster players in college football. Last by not least, Ronald Johnson is the latest five-star recruit on the roster. It will be hard for him to see too much time with the talent ahead of him, but freshman have traditionally been tossed in for a few plays here or there at Southern Cal and Johnson is an exceptional athlete.


O.J. Washington. Senior. 3 receptions, 50 yards, 1 TD. New Starter.
Tyree Barnes. Junior. 6 receptions, 105 yards, 2 TDs. New Starter.

To be a receiver in an option offense is to spend all game blocking and then get one, maybe two, chances to snag a pass and hope to catch the defense off-guard. In that regard it's hard to really judge how good a Navy receiver really is. O.J Washington is the most likely replacement for graduated senior Jason Tomlinson, but at 5'10" 188 pounds doesn't offer the same kind of size. Tyree Barnes (right) is taller at 6'2", 190 pounds and has done a solid job of making the most of his chances. In each of his first two years he's hauled in two touchdowns on only six receptions. Depth: Greg Sudderth is a converted defensive back and at 6'2" 207 pounds is a decent redzone threat at best and sizable blocker at worst. Troy Gloss was mentioned in the quarterback preview, but there is a chance that he could see time as a wide receiver in 2007 as well. Finally, Curtis Sharp has tight end size at 6'4" 239 pounds, but has strictly been a blocker so far in his career.


Chad Hall. Senior. 11 receptions, 105 yards, 1 TD. Returning Starter.
Mark Root. Senior. 16 receptions, 314 yards, 0 TDs. New Starter.

Chad Hall (left) has 22 starts under his belt at halfback, but has been moved to a more hybrid running back/wide receiver position in the new Air Force offense. He will still get to carry the football, but he will also be the primary target for QB Shaun Carney. At 5'8", 180 he's another short and shifty receiver that will likely rely on his route running and quick cuts to get open. Mark Root is the team's leading returning receiver and actually lead the team in receiving yards last season while averaging 19.6 yards per reception. However, he picked up 110 yards of his 314 against the Irish last year in garbage time. Now that defenses will be looking for the pass and not just the run, his per catch average will likely drop. Depth: There isn't much here for obvious reasons. Former cornerback Ty Paffett came out of the spring as a listed starter, but will probably play in a reserve role during the season. Spencer Armstrong was the team's third leading receiver last year, but that's not saying too much. Mike Moffett offers some speed at the position while Sean Quintana and Matt Davis are a set of inexperienced players looking for their first collegiate reception.


Eron Riley. Junior. 32 receptions, 643 yards, 3 TDs. Returning Starter.
Jomar Wright. Senior. 40 receptions, 561 yards, 2 TDs. Returning Starter.

The Blue Devils return a surprisingly deep collection of receivers with all of last year's players back. Eron Riley (right) is the headliner, and his 20.1 yards per reception led the ACC last year in that category. Those kind of numbers indicate an ability to stretch the field and at 6'3" 200 pounds, he's tall as well as fast. 6'1", 200 pound Jomar Wright led the team in receptions, but his game to game numbers were very inconsistent. Big games against Miami, Wake Forest, and Richmond accounted for more than half of his 2006 receptions. Depth: Raphel Chestnut returns after pulling in 39 passes for 375 yards and 2 TDs last year. Adding potential and size to the mix, redshirt freshmen 6'5", 225 pound Jeremy Ringfield and 6'4" 200-pound Sheldon Bell are likely to start to work their way into the receiver rotation.


Evan Moore (#60). RS Senior. 14 receptions, 242 yards, 3 TDs. Returning Starter.
Mark Bradford. RS Senior. 10 receptions, 111 yards, 1 TD. Returning Starter.

Last year wasn't a good year for Stanford's receiving corp as injuries decimated the collection of Cardinal wideouts. Evan Moorewas lost for the year in 2005 due to a dislocated hip. Then he missed a chunk of the 2006 season with a stress fracture in his foot. When healthy, the 6'7" Moore is one of the better red zone threats in the game and a tough matchup for any cornerback on short passes. Mark Bradford (left) was lost to injury for the final 10 games of 2006 after a strong showing against Oregon in the season opener. If he can stay healthy, he's one of the best receivers in the Pac-10 and has gone over the 100 yard receiving mark against ND 2 of the 3 times he has played the Irish. Depth: Filling in for Moore and Bradford while they were out was Richard Sherman. He was only a freshman last year but led the team with 34 receptions for 584 yards and 3 touchdowns with most of the yardage and touchdowns coming during a strong final three games of the season. With a year under his belt and the pressure of being the #1 option gone, he should continue to be a quality target in the Cardinal offense. Second in receptions in 2006 was former walk-on Kelton Lynn, who snagged 19 passes for 254 yards and 2 TDs. A full 22% of his season's yardage and 50% of his touchdowns though came on one play when he caught a 57 yard half-back pass for a touchdown against ND.

2007 Opponent Analysis and Ranking

One of the first things that jumps out at me is that the opponent wide receiver corps this season don't have many headliners. Mario Manningham is the only receiver on the list that is favored to be an All-American. Sure, Dorien Bryant, Derrick Williams, and Patrick Turner all have the talent to wind up there, but outside of Manningham, there is no obvious star, ala Dwayne Jarrett or Calvin Johnson, on the schedule this year. That's the good news.

The bad news is that recent history shows that you don't need to be a shining star to be effective against the Irish. Players like Selwyn Lymon, Marcus Everett, Hakeem Nicks, and Mark Root are hardly every day college football names. Heck, even the official NCAA stats page lists Mark as "Mart" Root. But each one of them pulled in over 100 yards receiving against the Irish in 2006, and they combined to score five touchdowns.

ND's offense this year probably won't have the ability to match teams point for point, so the lower the score, the better for ND. That means the 2007 Irish are going to need a strong secondary in order to help keep teams from jumping out to early sizable leads via quick aerial strikes for touchdowns. And in that regard, there are positive signs that the secondary will be better: Corwin has been constantly stressing the need to prevent the big play, the depth at corner and safety hasn't been this good in a long time, Zibby is healthy now and lighter than last year's heavyweight edition, and David Bruton appears to be the type of rangy centerfielder that ND needs at free safety. (Nedu was a very solid player with a knack for turnovers, but he was really a run-stopping strong safety playing out of position.)

What will be the biggest challenge this year is the receiving depth facing the Irish. I noted the lack of the superstar wideout, but what isn't lacking is team depth. Most teams have the ability to go three and even four wide on ND and still field quality players. Michigan, Purdue, Southern Cal are the obvious cases, but even Stanford, UCLA, and Duke (yes, Duke!) can field a collection of three or more talented and experienced receivers. One thing to watch for is how ND responds to multiple receiver looks from these teams. Will the Irish stay in the base defense, forcing our inexperienced linebackers to show their chops in pass coverage, or will ND frequently go to the nickel package and get one of the promising, yet still inexperienced, underclassmen corners on the field?

Keeping all that in mind, here's my crack at ranking the 12 receiving units that will line up against ND's secondary this season. As always, previous production and experience factor heavily into my rankings. And just like at running back, I don't see too much of a difference between #5 and #9. I think the first four are either proven or so loaded with talent that they are a noticeable step up from the other teams. Michigan State seems to be having some trouble with the receiver position so far, and the Academies just aren't going to have dangerous receiving corps as long as they keep the focus on running the ball.

1. Michigan. A healthy Mario, a talented #2 option in Adrian, and a deep bench.
2. Purdue. Bryant, Orton, and Lymon is a very, very talented trio.
3. Penn State. Another talented and experienced trio in Williams, Butler, and Norwood.
4. USC. Like at running back, loads of talent and potential, but short on production for now.
5. Stanford. This ranking is dependent on Moore and Bradford staying healthy.
6. UCLA. A solid mix of experience, size, and promising youth.
7. Georgia Tech. Johnson is experienced and Thomas has plenty of potential.
8. Duke. A fairly talented duo with some depth. Getting the ball to them will be the challenge.
9. Boston College. A veteran player in Challenger and a collection of average options.
10. Michigan State. An inexperienced group that has been missing vital practice time.
11. Air Force. Chad Hall has some experience, but all were still recruited for the option.
12. Navy. Inexperience combined with a lack of practice working in a passing offense.