Good timing, eh? Stefon Diggs was, predictably, named Maryland's team MVP last night, a development that should surprise absolutely no one who watched Maryland play at all this season. Diggs is spectacular, constantly and consistently. He's also a big reason that Maryland's receivers - today's focus in the Season in Review - were one of the Terrapins' brightest spots last season. They may not have been the best or most productive unit on the team, but they're without a doubt the most promising - and not just because of Mr. Diggs, either.
What Went Well: Put it this way: wide receiver was the only group on offense that didn't have something go horribly wrong for it at some point in the season. Quite the opposite, in fact, we thought this group might be loaded coming into the year, and it turned that they were. The receiving corps was stacked from top to bottom with quality and depth, especially of the younger variety. Their numbers were hurt this season for obvious reasons, but they made life on their quarterbacks easier and gave plenty of reason for hope in the future.
Individually, there's no way you can lead with anyone other than the aforementioned Diggs, who needs no introduction. Sometimes when you get elite freshmen like this, they end up disappointing; look, for instance, at Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation's top recruit and ranked higher than Diggs, who ended the season with a grand total of 28 receptions at Missouri. Not so with Diggs, who was everything he was hyped up to be and then some, something that never ceases to amaze me, the jaded and cynical Terrapin. He finished as Maryland's leading receiver, going for 848 yards and six touchdowns on 54 receptions. Of course, there's no way to adequately describe Diggs' season in just numbers and words; he was simply outstanding, beyond description for a lazy blogger like me. Take, for instance, the time he stopped on a dime, motored 25 yards, and Superman-leaped into the end zone against West Virginia. Or when he zig-zagged all over that same 'neer defense 50 yards for a touchdown. Or the time he took on five Virginia defenders and won. Or the time he made an extraordinary one-handed grab against Florida State, absorbed a hit, and held onto the ball.
Sometimes when you get a player as explosive and exciting as Diggs, they end up being rather one-dimensional. But not Stefon. He's a complete package. It isn't just that he can make anything happen when he has the ball in his hands; it's that he can do that, plus has reliable hands that can make impossible catches, plus blocks downfield on running plays, plus be physical and outmuscle defensive backs on shorter routes. There is very little, almost nothing, that Diggs cannot do on a football field. He's a complete receiver right now, with an elite ability to make defenders look silly. And he'll only get better.
But he was quietly surrounded by one of the better collections of young receivers in the conference. Marcus Leak lined up across from him and, despite missing the final five games of the year, emerged as a preferred, reliable target, shunning the drops that plagued him as a freshman. He lacks Diggs' explosiveness and top-end speed, but he's shifty and has great vision, making him very elusive. He was money on screen passes, taking several of them for first downs and nearly housing a 47-yarder against N.C. State. When he's back healthy next year, a Leak-Diggs combo will be fearsome.
Nigel King, too, was a pleasant surprise in the latter half of the season, making a huge reception in the N.C. State game and four - including a fantastic downfield grab - in the season finale against UNC. We always knew King had talent, but it seemed like he didn't get much of a chance to show it until later in the year. That strong performance late is big, because it'll give both the staff and King himself more confidence going into next season.
And having some experienced options wasn't bad, either, as guys like Matt Furstenburg and Kevin Dorsey were counted upon to come up with big receptions at key times, and both occasionally did. This was a unit all about the youngsters, have no doubt, but the older heads were nice to have as well.
Maybe most encouraging of all, though, were the relatively few drops. Last year it was drop city here, but Diggs' sure hands and a more experienced Leak were drastically more reliable. Sure, there were a few cases of butterfingers now and again, but it was nothing like last season, and that's a very encouraging sign.
What Went Wrong: For one, those older heads underperformed a bit, relative to expectations. Matt Furstenburg at tight end was supposed to be readying for a breakout year; instead, he struggled through relative anonymity, catching only 16 balls and two touchdowns. Same for Kevin Dorsey, whose 18 receptions were probably less than he had hoped for in his senior season. They were often relatively invisible.
Obviously, there's a bigger reason for the decreased numbers than just their own performances, and it's who was under center. Inconsistent, inexperienced, and occasionally just plain not-very-good quarterbacks can kill receivers' numbers, which is a shame. This group had the talent to run an air-it-out scheme, but not the quarterback to do so.
Unfortunately, injuries did do some pretty serious damage here, too. Kerry Boykins was sidelined for almost the entire year, robbing Maryland of another experienced option, and Marcus Leak had to miss most of the second half of the season as well. That this unit was so good despite missing two major contributors for long stretches is a testament to their depth and (especially) top-end talent.
The Future: Bright. Absurdly, delightfully, giddily bright. Next year the receivers will include a sophomore Diggs, a junior (and healthy) Marcus Leak, a sophomore King, and a junior Deon Long, who set a host of JuCo records and may be the best JC receiver in the country. Assuming that Long ends up as one of the three starters with Diggs, that's may end up as good a group of starting receivers as anyone in the country, with King as a great #4 and guys like Levern Jacobs and Tyrek Cheeseboro as potential factors beyond that. And it's well-balanced set, given that all of the receivers are relatively complete options with good size and athleticism. This group is going to terrify some secondaries.
The question is going to be how Maryland will get them the ball. Due to the quarterback situation, Mike Locksley was forced to run a run-heavy scheme this season, but doing so again will be a big waste of all the talent out on the edges. Locksley's not only going to have to make a few changes to the scheme, but also make some interesting decisions on who plays at quarterback. But that's a discussion for another day.
More immediately, there's another concern with the unit: who plays tight end? The tight ends who played this season - Furstenburg, Devonte Campbell, and Ryan Schlothauer - are all graduating, leaving only Dave Stinebaugh, who has four career receptions, Daniel Adams, a New Mexico transfer and former receiver who's played two games in his career, and P.J. Gallo, who'll be a redshirt freshman. Andrew Isaacs, a four-star recruit from Connecticut, could factor in early, given the lack of competition around him. (And if the staff wants to really mix things up, they could see if Nigel King looks comfortable there.) There's enough options that things should get solved sooner or later, but it's not going to immediately add to the strength of the receivers proper.
But think about this: assuming Leak and Long are still around after next season, Maryland should go into the Big Ten with a junior Diggs, junior King, and senior Leak and Long, plus whoever else they add in between now and then. Gaaaaaaah.
Final Words: This unit is not just Diggs; there are a lot of other bright spots, including Leak and King. But it's built around Stefon, and he's the reason we're hailing it as fantastic instead of adequate. We suspected Diggs could be a program-changing talent, and right now he's looking exactly like it. But his impact was so great - and will be even greater in the future - because he's not the only one worth noticing. This group is loaded, and defenses won't be able to key in on Diggs lest they leave Leak or Long on an island - a mighty scary prospect for any non-shutdown corner. The offense is going to have a lot of strengths moving ahead, but none will be bigger than the receivers.