A message from our sponsor:
From the park to the pool and getting back to school, your only necessities are LaRosa’s tasty family recipes! Whether you choose pick up, delivery, or dine in, there’s a delicious LaRosa’s meal waiting for you! Visit us at LAROSAS.com to order now.
“No position has more question marks than wide receiver” has been an evergreen statement during the Mark Stoops era. There have been a few highs — Lynn Bowden and Juice Johnson — to alleviate the pain of the inconsistent play at the position. This year a new addition brings hope, while talented underclassmen are groomed under Liam Coen’s tutelage.
Two Bright Stars
Stoops has never had a 1,000-yard receiver at Kentucky. That may not change in 2021, but Stoops might have Kentucky’s best one-two punch at wide receiver since Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews.
Wan’Dale Robinson returns to his old Kentucky home after shucking corn for two years in Nebraska. He split time at running back and receiver while also acting as the team’s returner to become a finalist for the Hornung Award in consecutive seasons. Now focusing on exclusively running routes out of the slot, Robinson gives Kentucky a much-needed dynamic pass-catching playmaker.
In his first two years of college football Robinson gained 914 yards through the air, grading out at 87.2 and averaging 10 yards per catch. A shifty athlete, Robinson can find holes in defenses, make defenders miss and turn a short pass into a big gain. On targets underneath, he averaged over nine yards after the catch while breaking 11 tackles on 57 receptions.
The biggest benefactor of Wan’Dale’s addition might be Josh Ali. Last year he caught 54 passes, eight more than the rest of UK’s wide receivers combined. To say he was a one-man band in 2020 is an understatement.
Despite being conceivably the only reliable receiving threat, Ali still made defenders miss. Of his 464 receiving yards, 383 were after the catch (82.5%). An exceptional route runner, Ali can work from the outside or in the slot. Like Robinson, he excels at making people miss in the short to intermediate passing game. He also owns hands that can lay claim to one of the most significant receptions in school history, the one before the Belk Bowl game-winner.
WANTED: Deep Threats
Kentucky’s top two targets will butter their bread within the first 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. The missing piece is a big-play wide receiver, something that has been missing since Jeff Badet was a Wildcat. A deep threat extends the defense vertically, giving others more room to operate closer to the line. Kentucky has a few potential candidates to fill the position.
#81 Isaiah Epps — A pleasant surprise downfield as a true freshman, he caught a 28-yard jump ball against Ole Miss in 2017. Consistency has been Epps’ biggest problem, in large part due to injuries. He needed foot surgery in 2019 and missed the entire season, then missed three games with a thumb injury in 2020. If things don’t click quickly for Epps, he could get passed by in his final season at Kentucky.
#86 DeMarcus Harris — A prolific high school athlete, Harris’ concluded his prep career with just shy of 3,000 receiving yards. He brings South Florida speed and a wide frame to the room. As a redshirt freshman he struggled with drops. If he can overcome that hurdle, which appeared to be the case in open practice, No. 86 could become a consistent presence at Kroger Field this fall.
#82 Tae Tae Crumes — The Louisville Butler product was recruited by Vince Marrow to be a burner for the Wildcats. Entering his third season, Crumes feels refreshed in Liam Coen’s offense and is ready to show that he can answer Mark Stoops’ spring challenge.
#13 Earnest Sanders — The last wide receiver standing from Kentucky’s 2020 recruiting class, Sanders has the physique and leaping ability to make difficult contested catches.
#28 Rahsaan Lewis — Relatively unheard of, Lewis stole the show at UK’s open practice with a couple of impressive catches. The son of Ray Lewis, Rahsaan has made great plays in his first full year in Lexington. After a solid spring, the walk-on is making a case to receive significant snaps this fall.
— Eli Gehn (@EliGehnTV) August 7, 2021
#3 Dekel Crowdus — The Big Blue Nation breathed a sigh of relief when Ryan Lemond reported that the injury Crowdus suffered this week will not end his season. Nevertheless, the setback could put the freshman far enough behind the 8-ball to consistently contribute this fall. Depending on how his rehab progresses, his speed still could get him on the field.
#10 Chauncey Magwood — An early enrollee, Magwood’s hard-working mentality impressed coaches at spring practice. A quarterback during his senior high school football season, he had a lot to learn as a slot receiver. By all accounts he’s taking his medicine, primed to play the part of shifty inside receiver once Ali and Robinson finish their time at Kentucky.
#87 Tre’Von Morgan — Kentucky put a premium on speed when recruiting the position in the offseason, with Morgan as the one exception. An enormous, 6-foot-6 target, the Michigan State transfer could develop into a red zone weapon for the Wildcats.
#89 Chris Lewis — Of all the newcomers, Lewis might have the most long-term potential. He has all of the tools — length, strength, speed and hands. Last year he caught 70 passes for 1,235 yards and 19 touchdowns to take his team to the 5A Alabama State Championship Game. A significant recruiting win, he’s performed well against the threes in practice. However, there’s a significant jump in competition to the first team. His future is bright, but this one may be a slow-cooker as he adjusts to the physicality and speed of the SEC.
When diagnosing Kentucky’s previous passing problems, it was hard to pinpoint the exact problem. Obviously, some of it falls on the receivers’ shoulders to create separation and get open. Coen is expected to do a few things to help that problem.
First and foremost, the play-action pass will become a cornerstone of the passing game. Despite Kentucky’s recent rushing success, only 24.75% of the pass plays followed a fake handoff in 2020. The play-action freezes the defense and gives wide receivers more time to get into complex routes. Even though Robinson and Ali will not be primarily used as deep threats, you can dial up a shot to either off the play-action with the hopes that they can break free from their defender for a big gain.
Something You Didn’t Know
Most of Kentucky’s wide receivers aren’t one trick ponies. Many of them played high school hoops. Between Earnest Sanders and Chris Lewis, they could put on a pretty entertaining dunk contest.
— EricGetsBuckets (@freeEGB) November 24, 2019
— EricGetsBuckets (@freeEGB) December 6, 2019
One Big Question
“Does Kentucky have enough weapons?”
Before the season started Izayah Cummings moved to tight end and Michael Drennen joined John Settle’s running backs. As you saw above, half of the wide receivers just joined the team.
Wan’Dale Robinson and Josh Ali can’t catch all of the passes. Coen will get the running backs and tight ends involved to create a more balanced passing attack, but Kentucky needs more than two reliable targets. If one goes down… that’s a worst case scenario I’d rather not think about.
One Bold Prediction
“Wan’Dale Robinson is an All-American, Hornung Award Winner.”
Okay, maybe it’s not that bold of a prediction, but to get where Kentucky wants to go, WR1 needs to live up to the hype… and then some. Exceeding expectations will not be easy. He’ll be at the top of every defense’s scouting report. Still, they can’t hit what they can’t see. Wan’Dale is as elusive as it gets and now he’s finally playing the right position in a scheme where slot receivers excel.