The wide receiver position was absolutely loaded last season for the Cincinnati Bearcats. The depth and experience at the position proved to come in handy given that the offense was in the top ten in total yardage by the season's end.
The Bearcats had six seniors at the wide receiver position last season that combined to catch 3,912 yards worth of receptions for a combined 24 touchdowns. That is a whole lot of production given any receiver (or tight end) that wasn't in this group of seniors combined to catch a measly 505 yards for five touchdowns. That means the remaining five guys had 1/8 of the production and, if not for tight end DJ Dowdy's three touchdowns, they would have 1/12 of the scoring production.
The Bearcats are going to have colossal shoes to fill at the wide receiver position and my guess is that the young talent will be good, but not four or more years of college experience good. Let's take a look at the biggest guys leaving the Bearcats, the next guy stepping up, and the newest guy strolling on in.
Shaq Washington - 2015: A-, 2016: N/A
A senior and the undeniable leader of the receiver corps is seeing his way out after his record-breaking season for the Bearcats. Tallying a phenomenal 90 receptions for 982 yards and six touchdowns, he had a breakout season that was seen from miles away by nearly every fan of the Bearcats.
He was Gunner Kiel's favorite target on any down and his small stature, at only 5'9", allowed him to sneak behind the linebackers on curl, crossing, and slant routes time and time again. He finished his career with the Bearcats with 240 receptions for 2,563 yards and 11 touchdowns. That is quite the resume and I am sure his presence will be missed.
Chris Moore - 2015: B, 2016: N/A and Mekale McKay - 2015: C
The two biggest vertical threats in the Bearcat offense last year are also on their way out the door. Moore finished the season with 40 receptions for 870 yards for seven touchdowns that ended up being for an average of 21.8 yards per reception.
Meanwhile, McKay had only 27 receptions but they were for 507 yards and two touchdowns (one was for 88 yards). That makes his average a solid 18.8 average yards per reception. Between them, and fellow senior deep threat Johnny Holton, they accounted for 84 receptions for 1,838 yards and 13 touchdowns. Their combined yards per reception was an astounding 21.8 yards a catch. There is no denying that the Bearcats better find a deep threat this upcoming season and find it quick.
The Rising Underclassmen
There are only three receivers and two tight ends returning from last season that saw any time on the field at all. DJ Dowdy and Tyler Cogswell are returning, but Dowdy is the most notable and the biggest relief for the offense. Playing tight end for the Bearcats for the majority of last season, he tallied a respectable 12 receptions for 104 yards and three touchdowns. However, the rest of the returners aren't exactly as experienced or as polished as Dowdy. The remaining receivers Nate Cole, Tshumbi Johnson, and Khalil Lewis have a combined 26 receptions for 379 yards and one single touchdown. Nate Cole is the most notable returning receiver who saw time and, of those 379 yards combined, he had 262 of them and the single touchdown. Expect Cole to be the leader of a very young and inexperienced receiving corps next season.
Two players who figure to be big-time contributors next season are transfers Avery Peterson and Jamil Kamara, who each were highly recruited out of high school before attending LSU and Virginia, respectively. Both of them have the talent to step up in a big way following the departure of UC's senior receivers and should have an immediate impact on the depleted position.
Recruits Heading In
With National Signing Day just around the corner, the current recruiting class still figures to have a couple additions and subtractions, even at the receiver position. Still, Cincinnati has gone all-out trying to replenish the receiving core with four receivers currently verbally committed.
Tyrin Summers is a nimble, shifty receiver with big playmaking ability. Malick Mbodj is the highest graded of the crop and brings a big body into the class, but also does a great job catching the ball with his hands. Devin Grey is a JUCO recruit who fits somewhere in between Summers and Mbodj with good size and impressive speed/playmaking ability. Marcel Paul, out of Detroit, is a 6'1" prospect who has been clocked running a 4.43 forty-yard dash. For individuals uninformed of the significance of that statistic, he is extremely fast.
Hopefully, the Bearcats can snag a few more big name guys on signing day in February, but this could be more of a rebuild at the position rather than a complete rebuild with the talent stepping in next season.