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Maryland football lost tons of production at receiver. How can Terps replace it?

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With Maryland's wide receiver depth chart depleted, the Terps have to find catches wherever they can.

Amba Etta-Tawo was targeted on 6.4 percent of Maryland passes in 2014 – the most of any returning Terrapin.
Amba Etta-Tawo was targeted on 6.4 percent of Maryland passes in 2014 – the most of any returning Terrapin.
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Maryland football program had a collection of well-regarded wide receivers with nobody to reliably deliver them the ball. This season, it could have the opposite. Or it could not.

At receiver, the Terrapins are marching into an almost unparalleled abyss in 2015. The top five wideouts on their depth chart, including the top four in quarterback targets, are gone to some combination of the NFL, other college programs or personal struggle. Stefon Diggs, the team's best player by any measure in each of the last three seasons, is already galloping back 60-yard punt returns against professional teams.

2014 Maryland Receivers
Data from SB Nation's Bill Connelly
Player Targets Catches Yards CatchRate YdsPerTarget Target % YdsPerCatch
Stefon Diggs 94 62 792 66.0% 8.4 24.2% 12.8
Deon Long 89 51 575 57.3% 6.5 22.9% 11.3
Marcus Leak 37 20 297 54.1% 8.0 9.5% 14.9
Jacquille Veii 35 16 230 45.7% 6.6 9.0% 14.4
Brandon Ross 23 14 212 60.9% 9.2 5.9% 15.1
Kenneth Goins Jr. 12 7 54 58.3% 4.5 3.1% 7.7
Wes Brown 23 21 198 91.3% 8.6 5.9% 9.4
Amba Etta-Tawo 25 10 222 40.0% 8.9 6.4% 22.2
Juwann Winfree 14 11 158 78.6% 11.3 3.6% 14.4
Derrick Hayward 9 2 25 22.2% 2.8 2.3% 12.5
Daniel Adams 8 2 39 25.0% 4.9 2.1% 19.5
Andrew Isaacs 4 2 3 50.0% 0.8 1.0% 1.5
Albert Reid 7 6 51 85.7% 7.3 1.8% 8.5
P.J. Gallo 3 2 13 66.7% 4.3 0.8% 6.5
DeAndre Lane 1 0 0 0.0% 0.0 0.3% N/A
William Likely 1 0 0 0.0% 0.0 0.3% N/A
Malcolm Culmer 3 1 5 33.3% 1.7 0.8% 5.0
C.J. Brown 1 1 -11 100.0% -11.0 0.3% -11.0
TOTALS 389 228 2,863 58.6% 7.4 100% 12.6

That's the cavalry that comprised Maryland's receiving attack last year. Maryland quarterbacks looked for Diggs on 24 percent of all throws, a ridiculous figure given that Diggs missed 23 percent of Maryland's games. Then Deon Long, then Marcus Leak, then Jacquille Veii. None are around anymore. Long, Leak and Veii wouldn't normally be big losses, except that they've all  left at the same time. Veil had a handful of drops and a dreadful 46 percent catch rate that made his agility close to useless, while Long and Leak didn't play nearly up to their skill levels. There's a credible case to be made that Maryland's second-best receiver in 2014 was actually true freshman Juwann Winfree, whose 79 percent catch rate was easily the best at the position in a smallish sample. Well, he's gone, too. (Prediction: That's going to sting for years.)

Here's the above table, with everyone except returners removed.

2015 Maryland Receivers - All Returners
Data from SB Nation's Bill Connelly
Player Targets Catches Yards CatchRate YdsPerTarget Target % YdsPerCatch
Brandon Ross 23 14 212 60.9% 9.2 5.9% 15.1
Kenneth Goins Jr. 12 7 54 58.3% 4.5 3.1% 7.7
Wes Brown 23 21 198 91.3% 8.6 5.9% 9.4
Amba Etta-Tawo 25 10 222 40.0% 8.9 6.4% 22.2
Derrick Hayward 9 2 25 22.2% 2.8 2.3% 12.5
Andrew Isaacs 4 2 3 50.0% 0.8 1.0% 1.5
P.J. Gallo 3 2 13 66.7% 4.3 0.8% 6.5
DeAndre Lane 1 0 0 0.0% 0.0 0.3% N/A
William Likely 1 0 0 0.0% 0.0 0.3% N/A
Malcolm Culmer 3 1 5 33.3% 1.7 0.8% 5.0
TOTALS 104 59 732 56.7% 7.0 26.7% 12.4
PERCENT OF 2014 26.7% 25.9% 25.6% 26.7%

Give or take depending on the statistic, Maryland has lost effectively 75 percent of its receiving production from last season. Here's a visualization of exactly how much:

How Maryland can make up for what it lost

Brothers Levern and Taivon Jacobs missed last season because of suspension and injury, respectively, and they'll be back and presumably productive. So Maryland isn't quite starting from scratch, but one thing's very clear: The Terps are going to have to take pass-catching wherever they can find it.

That'll mean throwing to tight ends (who were targeted a total of 16 times in 13 games last year), running backs and a group of totally unknown wide receivers. Merely to get back to its cumulative level of production in what wasn't a good throwing attack in 2014, Maryland needs to find about 175 catches and at least 2,100 yards.

D.J. Moore, a four-star true freshman, might work his way into the rotation at receiver. Will Ulmer, a converted three-star quarterback, might do the same. Same for DeAndre Lane, a converted cornerback, or Malcolm Culmer, a junior receiver whose one catch and five yards last year were infinite times more than anyone else just mentioned. At least there's a bit of theoretical upside here, especially when it comes to the ultra-fast Ulmer and the well-regarded Moore.

But there's no certainty, practically not anywhere. Etta-Tawo could grow, and the Jacobs brothers are hugely talented, but neither has played more than a half of football in two seasons. Those are the three best wide receivers on the roster, so you can imagine how questionable things get after that.

Receivers have been a bedrock of stability in turbulent times for Maryland's offense since 2012. When the Terrapins started linebacker Shawn Petty at quarterback in 2012, Diggs and Kevin Dorsey still produced. When Brown struggled between 2013 and 2014, Diggs and a rotating cast of others usually stepped up. Now more than ever, Maryland needs to look outside the classic wide-receiving position for pass-catching help.

There's one obvious place to start: in the backfield, with Wes Brown.

Last season, exactly 750 FBS players were targeted at least 23 times by their teams' quarterbacks. Brown's 91.3 percent catch rate made him the second-most sure-handed pass-catcher in the country, behind Eastern Carolina running back Breon Allen, who caught 97 percent of his targets. That's not a typo: Brown caught a higher percentage of balls thrown to him than Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker, Devin Smith or anybody else – and he did it with C.J. Brown throwing to him! This is a fairly remarkable thing, given that Maryland's offensive line and quarterback ranged from mediocre to terrible.

Yes, it's easier for running backs to catch short passes than it is for wideouts to snare balls deep down the field. But Brown's numbers hold up under any examination. His 9.4 yards per catch aren't huge, but a full 137 players on that list average less yardage per catch than Brown. (One who doesn't is Etta-Tawo, whose 22.2 yards per catch put him in the top eight nationally). Brown's hands were basically glue last year, and he managed relevant yardage totals once he caught the ball. The Terps should throw it to him a ton, because he's the most proven receiver they've got. There's not even a lick of sarcasm in that sentence, which is either exciting or horrifying. No one can know which.