Fresh starts are exciting and filled with opportunity. The Kentucky receiving corps has been the team’s most critiqued position other than quarterback in recent seasons. 2020 saw the Cats finish last in the SEC’s Total Passing category for the third consecutive season. Going into a new year, a critical question surrounding the pass catchers must be asked: Were the deficiencies in the passing game a product of the scheme or personnel? I’ll refer to my go-phrase with my answer: We’ll see.
By my count, Kentucky has 16 scholarship receivers on its roster. I divided the players into the following four categories in order to better analyze the position: Starters, Veterans, Youngsters, and Rookies. Let’s take a deeper dive.
Josh Ali wisely decided to return to campus for an additional senior season. Ali led the Wildcats with 54 receptions for 473 yards and 1 touchdown in 2020. He averaged 8.1 yards per reception. Ali is a true slot receiver that played all over the place a year ago. He will be joined Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson as the other lock in the starting lineup. Robinson’s explosive play capability will be a refreshing change of pace for the big-play challenged Wildcats. He caught 51 passes for 461 yards and 1 touchdown a year ago and will be an immediate playmaking threat for new offensive coordinator Liam Coen. Ali and Robinson combined for 105 receptions and 934 yards in 2020.
This group is comprised of players that have contributed at some point in their careers. The leader of this category is Allen Dailey. Dailey recorded 14 catches for 139 yards and a score in 2020. He could have easily been listed as a starter but the junior will have to compete for that role in 2021. I fully expect him to succeed. Senior Clevan Thomas caught 1 pass for 3 yards. Isaiah Epps has battled injuries but returned to record 8 receptions for 63 yards. DeMarcus Harris was a regular in the depth chart as a true freshman and had 14 receptions for 87 yards. Akeem Hayes impressed early, but did not factor down the stretch. He did have a touchdown reception and caught 4 passes for 54 yards. Much like Epps, Bryce Oliver struggled to stay healthy but did have 2 catches for 14 yards.
This group combined for 43 receptions and 360 yards. Its 8.37 yards per catch is not an ideal number but could be upped due to an updated scheme. At a minimum, two of the six must make a jump into a starting or regular contributor role. Of the four groups, this one could produce the highest number of potential transfers and will benefit the most from the offensive regime change.
The “Youngsters” are the freshman that redshirted in 2020 or played sparingly last season. Michael “Donut” Drennen registered 3 catches for 26 yards and is followed by pass catchers that didn’t record a reception in 2020: Tae Tae Crumes, Earnest Sanders IV, and Izayah Cummings. Potential and projection are key when analyzing this group. Drennen is expected to be a factor in 2021 and is an explosive playmaker much like Wan’Dale Robinson. Mark Stoops singled out Crumes as a player that had shown noticeable improvement and is one of the fastest players on the team. Earnest Sanders IV is yet to see the field but is a 6’1, 216-pound athlete that showed promise throughout the recruiting process. Cummings played in 2020, but did not catch a pass. The Louisville Male product could benefit the most from a new scheme and a year of offseason work.
The time to show their stuff is now. Winter workouts and spring practice will serve as a tryout period for these receivers. Two or more will be prominent contributors in 2021. Which ones? We’ll see.
This class better not let me down. I’m on record as saying the Class of 2021 pass catchers are the best of my lifetime. And that’s a whole heck of a lot of years. Its led by a pair of 4-stars in Dekel Crowdus and Christian Lewis. 3-star do-it-all athlete Chauncey Magwood is an early enrollee and is a prototypical slot receiver with tons of potential. The steal of the class was Devonte Ross and may be the best of the bunch. This group is talented and have displayed the preferred traits that could translate into playmakers at the collegiate level.
The emergence of Wan’Dale Robinson lessens the need for immediate impact from this foursome. However, don’t be surprised to see early playing time for one or two.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Beau Allen or Joey Gatewood will be the starting quarterback in 2021. All eyes will be on those two as they compete during the offseason and spring practice. If the contest is not settled then, fall camp will serve as a proving ground for the Wildcat’s next starting signal caller. Both will benefit from new offensive coordinator Liam Coen.
New coordinator, schemes and systems are nice; but it will require capable pass catchers to make it all work. Josh Ali and Wan’Dale Robinson are proven entities that will carry the bulk of the pass catching load. They will need help. Allen Dailey has shown toughness and is deserving of an upper hand to be in the starting rotation. But, the pecking order beyond Dailey is completely up in the air. Pun intended.
Change is exciting. Spring practice will be fun. However, 16 receivers on the roster is a big number. I can foresee a few players that are not in the 2-deep exiting the program following spring practice. That’s the nature of college football in 2021. Transfers happen.
The Wildcat’s passing game could soar in 2021 IF it gets above average play from receivers not named Josh Ali, Wan’Dale Robinson, or Allen Dailey. We’ll see.
On a personal note, I’m excited for these players. They will get ample time to prove their worth to the new offensive boss. A fresh start could act as a launching point for some and an indicator that leads to transfer for others.