Any good passing offense has to be able to stretch the field. Simply running short routes and settling for small chunks of yardage through the air may slowly chip away at opposing defenses but those same defenses will make things more difficult if nobody is keeping them honest down field. The Cincinnati Bearcats were not the best passing team in the American Athletic Conference last season but their aerial approach was able to create at least a few big-time plays even if that’s something they’ll need to improve on in 2019.
If there was one player who really excelled at making opposing defenses pay with the deep passing game it was Rashad Medaris. The then junior wide receiver led the Bearcats in yards per reception (18.2) last fall. He also ranked fourth in the conference and 22nd in the country in that metric, which proved that he was one of the better vertical threats going in college football. Medaris’ signature play of the season was easily the 77-yard touchdown reception he produced during UC’s stunning comeback win against Ohio. The Bearcats trailed 24-7 at halftime but Medaris sparked a rally by taking Desmond Ridder’s first pass of the second half all the way to the house. He ultimately finished that game with 104 yards and three receptions, with his touchdown catch obviously accounting for most of that production.
Prior to facing Ohio, Medaris had struggled to find his place in the offense. He had only three receptions in the first three games combined and averaged just 12 yards per catch. Starting with the Ohio game, he became more regularly incorporated into the game plan. That’s not to say he didn’t have some largely empty weeks, but he made up for those by consistently making the most of the targets he received. That included his best stretch of the campaign when he tallied four receptions in three-straight games while compiling 230 combined yards and one of his three touchdowns on the season across consecutive contests against SMU, Navy and USF. During those games he had receptions of 55 yards and 43 yards. As a team, Cincinnati had only six receptions of at least 40 yards all season.
As a player with exceptional boom or bust potential each week, Medaris was not the most targeted player on the roster, but he still finished third on the team in receptions with 26 and because he was so electric once he got the ball in his hands, he managed to accumulate 472 yards, which ranked second on the team behind Kahlil Lewis. Speaking of Lewis, the Bearcats have a new opening for a No. 1 wide receiver now that Lewis has graduated. That means that there are 782 yards, 56 receptions and nine receiving touchdowns up for grabs and that’s if the Bearcats don’t make any strides forward in the passing game. They more than likely will now that Ridder is in his second year as the starter under center. The list of candidates to take up Lewis’ mantle is crowded and became even more competitive this week, but Medaris should certainly be among the top contenders for the job. If he ends up at the top of the depth chart and continues to display an ability to create separation, the Bearcats could have a new star receiver in their midst.