Kentucky receivers are in need of enhanced production and depth. The bad news is that the Cats return just eight starts from the position group in a spring practice that will feature a quarterback competition (all eight belong to junior Tavin Richardson by the way). Four true freshmen receivers saw action a year ago; only Lynn Bowden Jr. showed flashes. The good news is that Dorian Baker and his 1,015 receiving yards return to provide leadership and a deep threat for Eddie Gran’s offense. Let’s dive deeper into the receiver position:
Lost Production from 2017
— For two consecutive seasons Garrett Johnson led the team in receptions. Johnson also finished his Kentucky career with over 2,000 receiving yards which ranks fourth in program history. His innate knack to move the chains on 3rd down will be sorely missed.
— Fellow starters Kayaune Ross and Charles Walker will also need to be replaced. Ross finished the 2017 strong but his bid for an additional year was declined. Walker worked his way from walk-on to starting WR and punt returner. The fan favorite also provided clutch catches in key moments of critical games.
— In total; 65% of WR catches, 64% of receiving yards, and 80% of the position’s touchdown catches have moved on.
Returning Production from 2017
|Lynn Bowden Jr.||17||210|
|Clevan Thomas Jr.||1||4|
— Tavin Richardson is the group’s top returning producer and should remain in his role as a consistent starter.
— Sophomore Lynn Bowden Jr. evolved into an essential role within the Cats’ offense and special teams. Bowden Jr.’s role should see a significant increase in 2018. A rise in production is estimated due to his familiarity with the position (Played QB in high school).
— The three freshmen must show strides: Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps, and Clevan Thomas Jr. 2017 saw far too many “near misses” within this trio. Route execution and increased yards after catch are two obvious developmental essentials.
Incoming Freshmen Receivers
— Kentucky has zero early-enrollee receivers. No impact on spring position competition.
How Important is Dorian Baker’s Return?
— Dorian Baker missed 2017 due to a preseason injury. He was the 27th player in program history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards and brings a wealth of experienced to a receiving unit that returns just 8 combined starts, 48 receptions, 665-yards, and 1 touchdown from a year ago. Baker’s health status, leadership, and complete availability are vital to the team’s success.
Who are the Post-Spring Practice Starters?
Tavin Richardson, Dorian Baker, and Lynn Bowden Jr. should emerge from spring practice as the Cats’ starters; however, Baker’s participation may be limited due to continuing rehabilitation. The smart play could be to limit the 5th year senior’s reps. Richardson and Bowden Jr. need to separate from the pack.
— Tavin Richardson is a prototypical X or outside receiver. He needs to become more consistent within the catching process to increase yards after reception.
— Lynn Bowden Jr. simply demands more repetitions at the receiver position. His transition from ATH/QB to receiver slowly developed a year ago; expect the electric sophomore to fly in 2018.
— Developing the second rotation is important. Here’s where new WR coach Michael Smith will earn his keep. Kentucky dropped from 17 TD receptions in 2016 to just 10 a year ago. This statistical drop can be attributed to Stephen Johnson’s injuries as well as not finding an adept replacement for Jeff Badet. In addition, yards after reception seemed to be significantly lower.
— This is a cycle. UK lacked the WR/QB combination to take the top off opposing defenses which allowed opponents the luxury of lying and waiting on the screen game. In other words, with no to little deep threat, the defense could play closer to the line-of-scrimmage.
— While possessing upper-shelf speed, Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps require detailed progress in executing the complete route tree and catching the football in traffic. Clevan Thomas is more of a possession receiver than speed merchant.
What does all this mean?
An incoming freshman or possibly two may see immediate playing time. However, spring practice offers an opportunity for those on campus to develop and improve under new WR coach Michael Smith. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran must replace the majority of his offense’s receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Last year offered immediate playing time for four true freshmen. Only Lynn Bowden Jr. showed flashes. The other three not so much. Coach Smith’s starters could be Bowden Jr., Baker, and Richardson. The next four-to-six are the players that make or break the position.
Smith has his hands full. Competition will be fierce, as it should be from a position that demands detailed improvement.