Maryland Football Preview, Position-by-Position: Wide Receivers

Alright folks, we're back in business.

I've crowed for a long time that Maryland has a ton of talent at the skill positions. The talent, depth, and experience at wide receiver is a major reason for that. Not only does Maryland have Torrey Smith - one of the most talented players in the ACC, bar none - they also have another player good enough to be a #1 receiver and two or three backups that I'd feel comfortable throwing out as starters.

Essentially, it's the opposite of the offensive line. That's a pretty strong statement about how bad the OL is, but it's also high praise for the WR corps. Yes, that's kind of sad.

The starters. Not a single WR from last year's group graduated or left the program. While that lends itself to great depth, which we'll touch on momentarily, it also gives the starters an unusual level of familiarity, continuity, and experience to go along with their natural talent. That means that this WR corps is one of the best Maryland could hope for and probably one of the best in the conference.

Torrey Smith is the big fish of the group, and, actually, of Maryland's offense altogether. This will be his second year as the starter at Z, the same WR spot Darrius Heyward-Bey had so much success at. Going on about Smith's talent and productivity is unnecessary; you probably know plenty about him already. After all, he was leading the NCAA in total yardage for much of the year, until Maryland seemingly forgot that he existed for a few games in a row. That, actually, is the crux of what Maryland should be focusing on: getting Smith the ball as much as humanly possible.

He'll get a few touches a game on his kickoff returns anyway. But he's also a deep threat who can stretch the field, as well as an option on short passes or screen plays. Last year, double teams, Maryland's offensive line, and Chris Turner's arm (which was weakened or injured) contributed to the Smith blockade. Hopefully, problems #2 and #3 should be solved this year. If they are, Maryland should be focusing more heavily on Smith's downfield playmaking ability, because it's unmatched on the team.

The options next to Smith aren't slouches, either. In fact, Adrian Cannon - the#2 option and starter at X - is one of the most productive #2 WRs in recent memory. His 44 receptions would be good for #1 on the team most years and was the best for Maryland since at least 1999, which is the last year available for archived stats on the team's website, and quite possibly ever. He's big, physical, and experienced, which makes him a downfield threat and Maryland's best option for a possession receiver.  He was arguably most consistently effective, though, on bubble screens, when his stepback move was all but guaranteed to get him free from his defender and gain another dozen yards or so.

There was no WR more consistent last year than Cannon, and Maryland will need that again. He didn't really have a breakout game but only had fewer than three receptions twice last year (against Middle Tennessee State and Virginia Tech). Smith may be the home-runner hitter of the team, but Cannon may be the safety valve for a young QB like Jamarr Robinson or Danny O'Brien.

The last starter of the group, Ronnie Tyler, has made without a doubt more spectacular catches than anyone else on the team. Unfortunately, it was far too often that the easy catch eluded him, the most prominent example being a dropped ball on a crossing route against James Madison that would've nearly secured a Maryland win. Still, Tyler had 29 catches last year, which is a pretty great number for a #3 receiver, and he's likely one of the best #3 WRs in the conference. He'll be of more importance next year, when Cannon and potentially Smith have moved on, but for now anything better than last year is little more than gravy for an already loaded WR corps.

The backups. The depth here is striking. We're not quite sure which of the group will emerge as starters in the next couple of years to succeed the departing starters, but I'm fairly certain those that do will be well up to the task.

LaQuan Williams might be the backup most likely to receive major playing time should a starter get injured. Williams will always have a place in Maryland lore for his full-extension grab against Rutgers a few years ago, but he has yet to blossom into the starter that he's always had the potential to be. He had 10 catches for 99 yards last year, making him the fourth most productive WR, and his strong showing against FSU toward the end of last year might have bought him some good-will. Williams is the most experienced of the backups, and may be the most fit to become a starter if one of the current Big 3 go down to injury.

If it's not Williams, it might be Quintin McCree. He's Torrey Smith's backup at Z, but was reportedly "neck-and-neck" with Smith toward the end of spring practice. He wasn't all that productive last year - just five catches - but you've probably learned by now that Ralph Friedgen favors players that are great in practice (Jordan Steffy, anyone?).

Past that, the experience evaporates, but the talent level remains. Kevin Dorsey, who is Cannon's primary understudy and the most likely player to succeed him next year, is the next highest on the depth chart, but has a grand total of 3 career catches. It wasn't long ago, though, that he came into the program as a highly ranked four-star WR from Forestville. He hasn't yet seen the playing time that was hoped for when he entered the program, but that seems to be on the horizon; Ralph Friedgen called his competition with Cannon "tremendous" and I wouldn't be surprised to see him surpass either of the two backups mentioned above.

I'd also keep an eye on Kerry Boykins, who was a four-star WR that came into the year the same year as Dorsey. Last year, he had a breakout game against MTSU with two clutch 4th-quarter catches, but his playing time ceased after two drops against Virginia. Before that Virginia game, he seemed like a budding star. He was never given a chance for redemption, so he'll likely be hungry once he sees the field this year. He's supposedly done decently at slot receiver behind LaQuan Williams, and quite honestly has too much talent to leave off the field entirely.

There's plenty of depth past that, but I'd be surprised to see them on the field at this point. Tony Logan will be the punt returner again, but despite his high HS ranking has failed to impress during his time at WR and his name rarely comes up in reports (which makes me think he maybe should've stayed at CB or QB, but that's another matter entirely). Emani Lee-Odai was one of the most watched players of last year's spring practice and appeared poised to grab a starting job, but he fell victim to injury and was never heard from again. There's some talent incoming for the freshmen - Tyrek Cheeseboro and maybe Matt Robinson - but both of those will redshirt barring either a mass of injuries or a huge surprise.

Where to watch. Keep an eye on who emerges out of any potential injuries. The player that emerges out of that as a starter or the most impressive backup will have the inner track on replacing Adrian Cannon next season.

Importance level: medium. Maryland's bottom with this group of receivers is probably average, and their ceiling will depend more on the QB. It's generally easier for a QB to make the WRs look bad than the WRs to make the QB look good. With that in mind, the offense will hinge a lot of places that aren't WR.

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