COLLEGE PARK, MD - SEPTEMBER 05: Vaughn Telemaque #7 of the Miami Hurricanes breaks up a pass in the endzone intended for Kerry Boykins #13 of the Maryland Terrapins during the first half at Byrd Stadium on September 5, 2011 in College Park, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The Prospectus: Don't gasp at Diggs being at the bottom of the depth chart - that's just coach-think, sticking the freshmen at the bottom no matter what. It's almost certain he'll work his way up just fine, possibly to one of the outside spots alongside Dorsey and Boykins, just as he's done at the returner slots. Assuming he does, he'll combine with Dorsey to form a potentially potent combo. Diggs is Diggs and Dorsey, remember, was very good last season and is a sneaky NFL prospect as a senior. He lost a little something after his injury in the middle of the year, but if he gets his rhythm back, he'll provide Maryland with a steady possession option on the outside.
But the rest? Well, remember how last year went. It was Drop City in College Park, and depending on who you ask, that was a big factor in Maryland's lackluster passing stats last year (especially given that it seemed to derail both C.J. Brown's and Danny O'Brien's confidence). The biggest culprit, Ronnie Tyler, is gone (and Quintin McCree didn't help things, either), but Boykins and Leak weren't flawless themselves. (Even Dorsey dropped a few, but he's too good to sit.) Things will be tough enough for Maryland in the air without complicating it by dropping catchable balls; if this year is a repeat of last, there goes the season. That's why there's a decent chance for a young guy like King, Jacobs, or even Etta-Tawo to feature right away along with Diggs. Or perhaps things will sort of work out on their own; drops aren't unlike turnover margin, in that sometimes they reverse course season-to-season. We'll have to wait and see.
The good news is that there's plenty of talent here. Let's start off with Diggs, who everyone should know by now. Considering he's still just a true freshman, there's little he doesn't have in his arsenal: extraordinary explosiveness, elusiveness, and athletic ability; good size; a determined work ethic; and solid, reliable hands. Like any freshman, whether or not he capitalizes on those tools and turns them into production, no one knows. But Lee Hull says that he's come in as good as advertised, and if that's true I have trouble believing he'll do anything but start and be a primary option come Sept. 1.
Dorsey, as mentioned above, is a reliable, proven senior, hopefully one who'll look more like the first four games (6.5 receptions per game) than the final six (3 receptions per game). As a bigger, stronger receiver, he presents a possession option and provides a nice foil for the more dynamic Diggs.
They'll be joined by some combination of Boykins, Leak, and King all of whom present different options. Boykins is the elder of the group, a fifth-year senior who's been around the block. He's a good fit for the slot and fairly versatile, though not exactly proven as a starter-level receiver in the ACC. He was okay last year, with some big games (8 receptions against Temple, 6 receptions and 101 yards against Virginia) but just as often disappeared and/or had a few drops. Leak and King are younger, Leak a true sophomore and King a redshirt freshman. Leak's a natural for the slot, slippery in space with good quickness and top-end speed. He started a few games, but apart from a productive outing against FSU (8 receptions, 1 TD) and a couple of drops, he was pretty much a non-factor. To be expected from a freshman, perhaps, more than a senior, but it's worth noting. King sat out last year and redshirted due to NCAA Clearinghouse issues, but was a highly-regarded recruit who very nearly wound up at LSU. He's a bigger guy more likely to be Dorsey's understudy as the steady possession receiver, which makes it unlikely he'll end up as the third starting receiver in the slot.
Devin Burns and Tyrek Cheeseboro can also be counted upon to feature, giving Maryland seven receiving options. I'd be surprised if any of the other true freshman burnt their redshirts unless they absolutely tear it up in practice, even if only because the numbers don't make sense. Levern Jacobs may be that guy, given that he was around for spring ball, but even then I'd hope he'd maintain that extra year of eligibility.
We'd be remiss if we didn't talk a good bit about the tight ends here, which is probably Maryland's deepest, most experienced, most proven area on the depth chart. Matt Furstenburg was preseason all-ACC and was very reliable last year, and should be a steady Plan B for C.J. Brown all year. Devonte Campbell and Ryan Schlothauer are blockers more than receivers, though Campbell did prove to be one of Brown's lucky targets, catching two touchdown passes last year.
Put it all together, and Maryland has an intriguing collection of receiving options floating around, with some real dynamism in places. The limitations of C.J. Brown and the scheme mean they'll only go vertical occasionally, but they should get the ball in space just fine, and then it's up to them to make things happen. Of that, I have little doubt that Maryland has the pieces to be successful.
Actually, the receivers remind me a bit of the running backs. Maryland's adopting a scheme that should take advantage of the talent and depth in their wide receiver corps - they have the ability to go five-wide with relative confidence, and I expect them to do so both now and in the future. But if they push any farther than two or three at the moment, they'll be testing inexperience and will have some bumps along the way. I'm not worried about the health of the position long-term, but they might be a year or two away from being where Maryland really wants them to be.
The Future: It includes three years of Stefon Diggs, so it's plenty bright. Throw in youngsters like Jacobs, Etta-Tawo, Cheeseboro, King, and Leak, and Maryland has a great base to build upon in the future. Diggs is a feature guy, of course, and they should get a solid #2 guy from that secondary bunch pretty easily, and possibly even more. And then there's another likely feature guy sitting out there in the future in Deon Long, a former four-star who'll be eligible next season after spending this year at Iowa Western C.C. Oh, and don't forget about Daniel Adams, a New Mexico transfer who'll be eligible as a sophomore next year. Sure, the staff lost a chance at a few impact recruits in Paul Harris and Taivon Jacobs, but with the youth and depth they have right now, it's not a huge deal.
Until yesterday, I did have serious concerns about the future of the tight end spot; the top three options are seniors, leaving only Stinebaugh (unproven even as a junior) and Gallo (ditto, except a freshman) remaining for next year, with perhaps Adams (hasn't played a college game) joining them. That's a bit worrisome, short on both depth and experience. But with yesterday's commitment of four-star tight end Andrew Isaacs, I'm a bit relaxed; even if there's still a lack of proven experience, the odds that a starter comes out of that foursome isn't bad.
Anyway, there's a chance of a starting lineup in a few years featuring an experienced Diggs, Long, and King or Leak, with Isaacs on the inside as a tight end; that has the potential to be a very good and very dangerous group.
Optimism: Stefon Diggs, plus experienced talent in the form of Dorsey and Furstenburg and a whole host of promising youngsters. Oh, and Stefon Diggs.
Pessimism: Dorsey, Boykins, and Leak had a nasty case of the drops last year, and could still have it. And while the youngsters may be promising, they're also quite inexperienced - and it can be tough for freshmen to make an early impact at wideout.
Random, Baseless Prediction: Diggs, Dorsey, and Boykins start against W&M and remain the starting trio for the rest of the year, with Leak as the fourth option. Dorsey leads the team in receptions (50ish?), Diggs in yardage (600ish?) and touchdowns (6ish?), while Leak and King quietly impress off the bench. Unfortunately, everyone involved (including Diggs) still suffer through a few untimely drops. Furstenburg, meanwhile, can't back up his all-ACC status, but is a reliable enough option throughout the year for an NFL team to take a flier on him in a late round.
Final Words: I'm optimistic, but only cautiously so. Like much of Maryland's team, you can talk yourself into the wide receivers being good - very good, even. It's not that much of a stretch, after all; Diggs could easily be the next Sammy Watkins, Furstenburg and Dorsey are plenty reliable, and surely at least one more from the glut of wideouts can emerge as well.
But at the same time, it's equally possible for things to go belly-up again, with Diggs struggling with the transition and Maryland left under gunned by their youngsters. I'm confident things will work out in time, but like at running back, it's possible there could be some growing pains immediately. The difference is that the receivers actually have some experience: Dorsey, Furstenburg, and to a lesser extent Boykins will be critical in ensuring those growing pains are as minimal as possible. Like I said earlier, though, even with that experience, I can't help but feel this group is just a year away from being where they need to be.