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2018 (Early) Position Preview – Wide Receivers

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Pictured: Former BYU WR Cody Hoffman dives into the endzone against Tulsa, via lubbockonline.com

The natural progression from the Tight End position group is the Wide Receiver (WR) group. Even with a talented, experienced Senior Quarterback (QB,) a passing game can live or die with what the WR position is able to contribute, and a special talent among the WRs can be a lifeline when QB play is struggling.

WRs have been attributed with some of the best moments in BYU’s football history. Whether it was current Denver Bronco Jordan Leslie, or skyscraper Mitch Mathews possibly rescuing the 2014 and 2015 seasons between the two of them, CFL Hall of Famer Ben Cahoon helping the 1996 team win the Cotton Bowl, Todd Watkins blowing up Boise State with 211 receiving yards, Reno Mahe helping defeat rival Utah despite a recent surgery, Eric Drage as Heisman Trophy Winner Ty Detmer’s favorite target, and the constant argument of who is the best BYU WR of all time: Cody Hoffman or Austin Collie.

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Picutred: Former BYU WR Austin Collie makes a one-handed catch against TCU, via stampedeblue.com

Perhaps more so than any other position group for the offense other than the QB position – which we’ll examine next week – the WR position group saw the biggest drop in production during the Ty Detmer era when compared to the Robert Anae era. In 2017 the WR position group accounted for only 1,685 receiving yards, but that was 67% of the production through the air. This was a decrease in production from even 2016 where the WR position group gained 2,004 receiving yards, accounting for 78% of the passing game. Compare either of these to Anae’s last season as BYU Offensive Coordinator, where receivers gained 3,462 receiving yards and made up nearly 90% of the production through the air and we see about a 50% decrease in production.

With the announcement of the release of previous WR Coach, Ben Cahoon, it is not yet completely clear who will be the WR Coach going into 2018, but we do know that Aaron Roderick, a former BYU WR himself, and a former Utah and SUU Offensive Coordinator (OC,) who also was the QB and WR position coach at Utah, will be the acting as the “Passing Game Coordinator” (PGC) and likely QB coach. Acting as a WR coach at Utah from 2005-2009, Utah did not have a WR top 1,000 yards receiving till David Reed in 2009, though Freddie Brown came close in 2008 at 900 yards. The least productive year for Roderick as a strictly WR coach at Utah came in 2007, when their RB Darrell Mack carried the ball 253 times for 1,204 rushing yards, and QB time was split between Tommy Grady and Junior Brian Johnson, neither of whom was especially impressive that year (they ended the year 9-4 while in the MWC, but got shut out by UNLV 27-0 [!!!] and lost to BYU!) In 2010, Roderick’s first year as co-OC and WR coach, Utah went 10-2 before their bowl game and averaged 41.7 points in each of those wins. WR production, however, was never especially impressive again – and noticeably took a dip when Utah transitioned into the PAC 12 in 2011 and even more so when Roderick became PGC for Utah in 2012. It is worth note that 2012 their starting QB was Freshman Travis Wilson. It wasn’t until 2013 (Roderick’s 2nd year as PGC/WR coach) where Dres Anderson (barely) topped 1,000 receiving yards that the WR really gained much traction. Since then, whether Roderick was OC or strictly a position coach, the WR’s were mediocre at best.

In other words, despite his vast experience he has had a very mixed bag of results – both in general and when specifically looking at WR production.

After the QB positon, the WR position group will be the 2nd biggest question mark that will need to be addressed heading into the 2018 season. While there were flashes of potential among the group, there was little to absolutely no consistency and no single player truly separated himself from the group in 2017. Luckily, it is assumed (but not official) that Fesi Sitake, former Weber State WR Coach and OC will be the new WR coach and he has a very impressive coaching history at Weber State. Hopefully a combination of Fesi’s formula for success combined with most of the major contributors in 2017 returning in 2018, the WR group will end up producing some solid college careers with appropriate development.

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Pictured: Current WR Micah Simon grabs a ball over a San Jose State defender, via twitter.com

Returning starters:

Aleva Hifo (JR.) Hifo lead the WRs in receptions and receiving yards. He was pretty quiet in the beginning of the season, not truly making his mark until Mississippi State (the 7th game of the season) where he caught 5 balls for 77 yards and a TD. His best game was easily against East Carolina, where he caught 9 balls for 148 yards, including a 46 yard reception (all career highs.) Ideally, Hifo would establish himself as the go-to possession receiver among the WRs for his Junior year. Out of high school, Hifo was a 3-star prospect who played on both sides of the ball as a Running Back, WR, and a Defensive Back.

Micah Simon (RS JR.) Simon was perhaps the most explosive WR in 2017, with the longest reception of the team (a 50 yard catch against Wisconsin) and tied Tight End Matt Bushman for the most TD catches on the team (3.) While he averaged only 2 catches per game, he had 4 games where he had a long pass reception of 30 yards or more. Hopefully he’ll continue to develop and turn into a reliable play-making target in 2018. In high school, Simon was a dynamic running QB in Texas, whose team went 12-1 his Senior year.

Talon Shumway (RS JR.) Shumway made a lot of his contribution on medium routes, and averaged a chain-moving 10.28 yards per catch. His best game probably came against Utah, where he caught 3 balls for 36 yards, one going for 20 yards. A 3-star prospect out of high school, and the #1 WR prospect out of the state of Utah in 2013, Shumway was also recruited by Boise State, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Utah, and Utah State.

Neil Pau’u (SO.) A true Freshman in 2017, the younger brother of Linebacker Butch Pau’u began the season and ended the season with a TD catch. His best game may have been against Utah State, where he caught 4 balls (season high) for 26 yards.

Beau Tanner (SR – Transfer.) At one point in the season, Tanner was considered the best deep-threat on the team., whose best moment came against Utah State, when he ran past their defense for a 40 yard TD catch. However, Tanner never caught more than 2 catches in any game all season. A Junior-college transfer, Tanner received offers from Kentucky, Texas Tech, UCLA, and Utah State.

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Pictured: Current BYU WR Aleva Hifo reaches for the endzone against UNLV, via twitter.com

Returning Contributors:

Akile Davis (RS JR.) Davis played in 12 games in 2017, but did not record a catch. A 3-star prospect out of high school, Davis was also recruited by Bowling Green, Indiana, Maryland, San Diego State, Nevada, and Toledo.

Rickey Shumway (RS JR.) Rickey Shumway appeared in 8 games in 2017, but did not record a catch.

Inoke Lotulelei (JR.) The cousin of Star Lotulelei, Inoke appeared in only 1 game last year. Out of high school, Lotulelei was a 3-star prospect who was also recruited by UCLA and Utah.

Taggart Krueger (RS JR.) Krueger did not appear in any games last year. Out of high school Krueger was also recruited by Utah State and Wyoming.

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Pictured: Current BYU WR Inoke Lotulelei reaches for a pass during 2017 Spring Camp, via cougarclub.com

New Faces:

Tariq Buchanan (RS FR.) A dynamic kick returner and WR out of Texas.

Jared Kapisi (RS FR.) Returned from a mission and was on the team in 2017. First team “All-Star” as a WR his Junior and Senior year in high school out of Hawaii.

Chayce Bolli (RS FR.) Bolli was Mr. Texas Football as a Senior in high school.

Sione Finau (FR – RM.) A 3-star prospect out of high school, Finau originally committed to Oregon State. It is possible Finau switches to defense.

Brayden Cosper (New recruit.) A 3-star prospect who received offers from Air Force, Navy, Nevada, and Weber State.

 

For more information about the newest recruits, I encourage you to visit:

http://bluecougarfootball.blogspot.com/2017/12/byu-announces-first-13-members-of-2018.html

which has a comprehensive list of each.

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Pictured: Recently graduated BYU WR Jonah Trinnaman adjusts to make a catch xxx, via vanquishthefoe.com

Key Loses:

Jonah Trinnaman

 

Notes:

  • It is possible that one or two of the names listed could contribute to the kick return game, where Jonah Trinnaman made most of his contributions in 2017. Unless he sees more time as a starter at DB, expect Michael Shelton to resume his role as the primary punt returner.
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Pictured: Current BYU WR Beau Tanner gets his foot in the endzone for a TD against Utah State, via ncaa.com

Projected depth chart:
(compare to https://www.loyalcougars.com/football-roster/depth-chart/)

Possession WR 1 (ZR) – Aleva Hifo
PO WR 2 – Neil Pau’u OR Talon Shumway

Deep Threat WR 1 (XR) – Micah Simon
DT WR 2 – Beau Tanner
DT WR 3 – Tariq Buchanan

Slot Receiver 1 (FR) – Akile Davis
Slot Receiver 2 – Inoke Lotulelei

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Pictured: Former BYU WR Cody Hoffman catches a pass despite pass interference against Georgia Tech, via pinterest.com

Translation/Final thoughts: The starting roles for the WRs will be absolutely wide open. More than any other position, a Freshman or someone who has not made major contributions yet could make a big splash during Spring/Fall camp and unexpectedly become a starter by the beginning of the season. Otherwise, I would expect us to see Aleva Hifo and Micah Simon return as the top two targets, with Hifo being target more often but Simon having the more entertaining highlight reel. Where everyone else falls into place is anyone’s guess. I would not be surprised if Akile Davis cracks the starting rotation as a slot option, with the rest of the receivers seeing time as rotational, situational, or package options.

The years where BYU has a stand-out WR and the years where they don’t are noticeable. Someday, a BYU WR will challenge Austin Collie and Cody Hoffman for the title “Best BYU WR in history” and who can say for sure that it won’t happen anytime soon? As we make our way to BYU’s 2018 Spring Camp, there is nothing but optimism – as it should be.

 

Offensive Previews:
Offensive Line Preview
Tight Ends Preview
Running Backs Preview
Quarterbacks Preview

Defensive Previews:
Defensive Line Preview
Linebackers Preview
Cornerbacks Preview
Safeties Preview

See Also:

Special Teams Preview

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