Yes, it is football month. My wife and I just returned from a two week vacation. When we left there was merely a whiff of football in the air, a tasteful, small air freshener clipped to a car AC vent. By the time we were driving home the football smell had become overwhelming, eight tree-shaped Black Ices hog-tied around the rearview mirror. You can tell things are ramping up, as at places like ESPN gone are the once-weekly stories about Clemson or Alabama, and in are the daily montage commercials pumping-up the season.
I wanted to take a look at one of Baylor’s strongest 2019 positional units, the wide receivers. In one sense, Baylor loses a lot from 2018: the 946 yards receiving (and 209 yards rushing) of Jalen Hurd. But they return everyone else, including several guys in Denzel Mims and Chris Platt that have a lot of catches in their Baylor career. Baylor doesn’t have another Jalen Hurd on their roster, but they do have many other guys capable of doing great things in their own way.
Baylor, like every college football team, has lots of wide receivers. It is a position that usually attracts a lot of walk-ons so that practices can maintain a steady flow of fresh-legged receivers. So, I am not going to preview all 17 receivers listed on Baylor’s roster. Instead, I’m going to preview the guys likely to make an impact, and give some predictions as to what kind of impact that will be.
A brief look at recent history shows that a receiver depth-chart can be broken down into several pieces. This is superior to just looking at depth charts because, despite both being listed as starters, Denzel Mims and Marques Jones are almost certainly not going to have a similar amount of catches. To begin, you have The First Group, which is the one, two, or maybe three primary guys on a team who will far exceed the targets/yards/catches/etc. of the others. Next, you have the Primary Alternates, who can be either starters or backups who are clearly part of the weekly game-plan, but aren’t targeted at near the same rate as The First Group. Finally, you have the Group of Depth, who usually are only playing due to injury, fatigue, or a unique circumstance. Using this hastily constructed classification system, let’s analyze Baylor’s WR group.
*Note. Baylor’s passing game also includes passes to running backs and tight ends, but this preview will focus on the wide receivers.
Also, small amount of breaking news, redshirt freshman Bralen Taylor, first a TE, then WR, is now listed at DE. In my evaluation of him when he signed out of high school, I noted that this was probably the position he had the most upside at.
The First Group
2018 First Group:
- Jalen Hurd, Sr. 69 catches at 13.7 yards per catch (YPC).
- Denzel Mims, Jr. 55 catches at 14.4 YPC.
In 2018, Jalen Hurd and Denzel Mims accounted for around 50% of both receiving yards and catches by receivers. In Rhule’s first year, 2017, Mims was essentially alone, accounting for about 33% of the team’s receiving yards with nobody even a close second (Chris Platt was there with him until his season-ending injury in Game 4).
2019 First Group:
- Denzel Mims, Sr.
- Tyquan Thornton, So.
Mims is a clear answer. He’s been a top-dog for two seasons now as he enters his senior year, and he becomes the clear #1 with the departure of Jalen Hurd. The decision whether to include a second guy was tough, but Baylor is running a lot more 2 WR sets utilizing either 2 RBs or 2 TEs. Rhule showed a proclivity for playing Thornton, even though he was a 160 pound true freshman, in critical situations all last year, and he led the team with a 17.7 yards per catch. I think his role only continues to expand. He probably won’t be on the hip of Mims’ numbers, but look for Mims to have something like 65 catches while Thornton has closer to 45 or 50.
The Primary Alternates
2018 Primary Alternates:
- Christ Platt, Jr. 36 catches at 14.2 YPC.
- Tyquan Thornton, Fr. 20 catches at 17.7 YPC.
- Marques Jones, Jr. 21 catches at 11.5 YPC.
- Josh Fleeks, Fr. 14 catches at 9.0 YPC.
As one can see, the 2018 Baylor WR corps essentially relied on 6 guys (these 4 + Hurd and Mims). The Primary Alternates play a ton and impact the game weekly, just not at the same rate the First Group guys do. If the first group is splitting 40-50% of the receiving yards between two guys, the primary alternates will get the remaining 50-60%, just split between more people.
Baylor plays in lots of sets, including anything from one wide to five wide (though in 5 wide there are usually only 4 wide receivers along with a RB). These guys will get opportunities in one of two ways: subbing in for The First Group guys, or when Baylor puts more WRs on the field.
2019 Primary Alternates:
- Chris Platt, Sr.
- Marques Jones, Sr.
- Josh Fleeks, So.
- Jared Atkinson, Jr.
I would love to see Platt as a First Group guy this coming year, but he will have to show more consistency catching the ball to do it. Platt has always looked amazing with the ball in his hands, but his catch rate last year was something like 55%, quite bad in comparison to the ~70% of Mims and Hurd. He could really boom if he and Charlie create a deep ball connection, something that was out of sync in 2018. There were many times where Platt would get open deep only for Charlie to get sacked or miss on the throw.
Jones and Fleeks are both vying for the same role, so I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them “won out” and received the majority of their targets. Both are quick, fast athletes who you want to get the ball to underneath, have them make somebody miss and take it to the house.
Atkinson is a bit of a mystery. He actually played more than Mims did when they both were true freshmen in 2016, but has since done little as he has dealt with his mom’s cancer diagnosis and a new staff. He could have 10 catches or 40, there is a lot of variance. He’s always been a really solid athlete, and at 6-3 that is deadly. He’s probably the only guy on the roster who has the physical nature to do what Jalen Hurd did.
The Group of Depth
2018 Group of Depth:
- Pooh Stricklin, Sr. 8 catches at 13.7 YPC.
- RJ Sneed, Fr. 1 catch for 4 yards (redshirt).
- Jared Atkinson, So. No catches (redshirt).
- Gavin Holmes, Fr. No catches (redshirt).
Guys in this group will probably need something to happen for them to get more than handful of catches on the season. There might be an injury or two in a string of games which allows them to get a playing time, or there might not and they’ll primarily contribute on special teams. Or they might force their way into more playing time. This is just my best guess. The reality is that there are only so many catches to go around and, while every guy has talent, usually only six to seven guys receive consistent targets throughout the year.
2019 Group of Depth:
- R.J. Sneed, So.
- Jackson Gleeson, Fr.
- The true freshmen: Yusuf Terry/Peyton Powell/Jaylen Ellis.
I think that in 2019 these guys will be more productive than they were in 2018 due to differing circumstances. The 2018 group was dealing with injuries and redshirts limiting their availability. Because of increased depth, guys like R.J. Sneed and Jackson Gleeson in this category in 2019 will not be redshirting and hopefully will not be injured, meaning that they will be fighting for playing time every week. Expect several of the 2019 guys to have between 5-15 catches.
Sneed actually played a lot as a true freshmen in Rhule’s first year until he broke his leg against Baylor’s near upset of Oklahoma. He was a starting WR in Baylor’s 4 WR package. His two primary obstacles have been Baylor’s increased depth at WR and coming back from that nasty leg break. If he is fully healthy, there’s no reason he can’t displace one of the primary alternates.
Gleeson is a speed demon who didn’t really play as a true freshman. At this point, anything he can do Chris Platt can probably do better, so he is most likely a year away from significantly contributing.
Because of Baylor’s great WR depth, the three true freshmen are all in line for redshirts.
Overall, WR is likely one of Baylor’s strongest positional groups this coming season. Expect a lot of competition to bring out the best among the guys at the top. I’d love to here where y’all agree/disagree in the comments. Thanks for reading!