Welcome to our next installment of the 2022 position previews! Today we’ll be discussing the wide receivers.
This is a group that will be nearly completely rebuilt heading into 2023 - Nate McCollum, Malachi Carter, E.J. Jenkins, Ryan King, and Kalani Norris are all gone. Of the 134 catches by a WR in 2022, only 28 were by a player that will return in 2023 (Malik Rutherford and Leo Blackburn). McCollum and Carter in particular are substantial losses; we weren’t exactly a passing-game powerhouse in 2022 but those two accounted for 43% of total receiving yard production on their own. In addition to replacing player production, this group will also have to contend with the offense learning a new air-raid influenced scheme under new OC Buster Faulkner (and co-OC Chris Weinke) and new WR coach Josh Crawford.
Let’s get into it.
Malik Rutherford - Rutherford finished 2022 with 23 catches for 225 yards working out of the slot. He’s quick, agile, and moves well with the ball in his hands. If Faulker is able to fully explore the potential of an air raid then Rutherford is going to be an excellent go-to receiver with a lot of potential. He was dominant in the spring game and already looks to be a favorite target. For more on Rutherford, check out Ben’s thoughts from a few weeks ago.
Leo Blackburn - Blackburn has been waiting in the wings to make an impact for a while now but injuries have plagued his career thus far. The latest was a torn ACL in March, though word is that he may be able to make it back for the last few weeks of the 2023 season. Whenever he’s healthy, Blackburn looks the part of the big outside threat with a 6’5”, 221 pound frame and 4.4x speed. He’s exactly the type of player that we’ve been sorely missing for years so let’s hope he can see some action late this fall.
Avery Boyd - Boyd has been on the field a solid amount over the past couple years but has yet to record a catch. Like Rutherford though, he made his presence felt in the spring game so the early indication is that he’ll have a role to play in 2023. He’s another classic big, physical outside guy that could be an invaluable deep/jump ball threat.
D.J. Moore, Jamal Haynes, Juju Lewis, Trent Davis, Josh Sexton, James BlackStrain - All of these players were redshirted at some point and have not recorded any statistics yet. Of them, BlackStrain is probably still the most exciting prospect but we still have yet to see what he can really do.
Christian Leary - Leary is transferring in from Alabama where he saw very little playing time. Still, he was a highly-regarded 4* recruit lauded for his speed and athletic ability. It’s hard to make a judgment on his playing time given the WRs he was up against at Bama, but the consensus seems to be that he’s a wealth of untapped potential waiting for an opportunity. He seems primed to work in the slot with Blackburn.
Dominick Blaylock - Blaylock is a former 4* recruit transferring in from UGA. He’s battled some injuries in his career, but he brings good experience to the group. None of his seasons in Athens were stellar by any means, but I think having an older guy around in the room is always a positive when you have such a young/inexperienced group adjusting to a new system and environment.
Chase Lane - Lane comes to us from Texas A&M. Like Blaylock, he’s got a wealth of experience but has dealt with some injuries.
Abdul Janneh - Janneh has probably the best 2022 stat line of all the transfers but he recorded it at FCS Duquesne. Still, he’s an intriguing prospect. He’s another big jump-ball style receiver and I’m always interested in leveraging those any way we can.
Zion Taylor and Eric Singleton Jr. - Taylor and Singleton both come in as 3* recruits from the state of GA.
So Who’s Playing?
First off, I think a lot of guys are gonna get touches this year as Faulker installs his system and figures out what and who works best. It certainly looks like Rutherford is going to be the main man though - he’s got the experience and the right skill set for the offense. I think the trio of former-SEC guys will also get a lot of playing time given their experience and pedigree; Blaylock in particular intrigues me as a guy that could emerge as the leader of the group. Boyd and Janneh should also get in the mix on the outside, and hopefully Blackburn can join them when he’s healthy.
I think those six/seven guys will make up the core and a few of the others may get a few touches here and there; remember that the RBs will likely continue to be heavily used in the passing game - they’re probably going to eat up a lot of the remaining targets.
What do y’all think? Who on this list do you want to see targeted a lot in 2023? Who do you think is going to have the biggest impact? Who’s going to surprise us?