Welcome to our Maryland football positional previews, where the Testudo Times staff previews every positional group ahead of the season. Our series starts with the most anticipated position group: wide receiver.
After a 2021 season that was plagued with injuries yet still saw Maryland finish with the third-best passing attack in the Big Ten (305.7 yards per game), there is a lot of buzz surrounding the Terps’ wide receivers as one of the best groups in the nation. CBS Sports ranked Maryland’s wide receiver room as the third-best in the country behind just USC and Ohio State. With a few key returnees and an influx of new talent — along with the continued development of quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa — the Terps’ passing game has the potential to put up gaudy numbers in 2022.
Maryland’s 2022 wide receiver depth
|Dontay Demus Jr.||Senior||28 Rec, 507 Yds, 3 TDs (5 games)|
|Rakim Jarrett||Junior||62 Rec, 829 Yds, 5 TDs|
|Jacob Copeland||Junior||41 Rec, 642 Yds, 4 TD (with FLA)|
|Jeshaun Jones||Senior (RS)||18 Rec, 224 Yds (6 games)|
|Marcus Fleming||Sophomore (RS)||18 Rec, 197 Yds, 1 TD (6 games)|
|Tai Felton||Sophomore||5 Rec, 51 Yds (5 games)|
|Kai Holloway||Freshman (RS)||N/A|
|Robert Smith||Freshman (RS)||N/A|
|Shaleak Knotts||Freshman||High School (4-star recruit)|
|Perry Fisher||Freshman||High School (3-star recruit)|
|Octavian Smith Jr.||Freshman||High School (4-star recruit)|
|Leon Haughton Jr.||Freshman||High School (3-star recruit)|
|Shane Carroll||Freshman||High School|
|Khalid Jones||Sophomore||Transfer from Shepherd University (Division II)|
At full strength, the Terps’ wideouts are as dynamic as any
Through four games last season, Dontay Demus Jr. had established himself as one of the nation’s most productive wideouts, leading the Big Ten in receiving yards. But, in the Terps’ fifth game against Iowa, Demus suffered a torn ACL on a kickoff return, ending his season and potentially his college career. As he was being carted off, however, Demus proclaimed “I’ll be back!” to his onlooking teammates, and he made good on that promise when he announced his intention to return to Maryland for a fifth year in December. It remains to be seen when Demus will return to full strength, but if he can battle back and be ready in the early weeks of the 2022 season — or even in time for the season opener on Sept. 3 — his presence will certainly make the Terps’ passing game all that more difficult to defend.
“Dontay is ahead of schedule,” head coach Michael Locksley said Tuesday. “There is the expectation that we will see Dontay Demus playing in the first game.”
Demus, when available, is one of the most dangerous receivers in the country, proven by his Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection last season despite only playing four full games.
“He’s a great young man, and I think it’s been very well documented the leadership that he provides. Guys on our team really respect him,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said of Demus. “He’s a tremendous player, but the competitiveness that he brings and the leadership he brings are things that, from a coaching standpoint, is really gonna benefit us.”
Rakim Jarrett led the team in receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns in 2021 and returns for his junior season this fall. Jarrett, a former five-star recruit, was thrust into a role as the team’s top receiver after Demus went down on Oct. 1. He performed well, showing on multiple occasions why a good 2022 season from him could lead to an early departure from Maryland to the NFL Draft. A two-time Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection, Jarrett will have to back up his reputation as one of the conference’s top receivers and is certainly in a position to do so with the collection of talent around him that should open up opportunities. He was included on the 2022 Biletnikoff Award Watch List, given annually to the nation’s best pass-catcher.
Jarrett and Demus were ranked as the ninth-best receiver duo in the country heading into the season by 247Sports.
Just one week after Demus went down with a season-ending injury, Jeshaun Jones went down with a leg injury that brought his 2021 campaign to a close. Jones, who also suffered an ACL tear before the 2019 season, has been a better-than-solid piece for the Terps when healthy and can provide an important boost to the team as a secondary or tertiary option in his senior season. He figures to play a major role in 2022.
Perhaps the most intriguing addition to Maryland’s offense this season is Jacob Copeland, a transfer from Florida. Copeland was the Gators’ leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last season but chose to come to College Park after Florida made a coaching change. In his first game action at Maryland, Copeland was named the Spring Game Most Valuable Player after collecting five receptions for a total of 70 yards. His speed can take the top off a defense and he provides a major threat downfield. If he gels with Tagovailoa and finds himself playing alongside Demus and Jarrett, Maryland will be among the most threatening passing teams in the nation.
A corps of Demus, Jarrett, Jones and Copeland will be Maryland’s primary wide receiver group heading into the 2022 season, but depth is paramount to a football team’s success. Outside of those four, sophomores Tai Felton and Marcus Fleming are the only two returning wideouts that saw any meaningful playing time before last season’s Pinstripe Bowl. They are a part of a talented group of underclassmen that includes four-star freshmen Octavian Smith Jr. and Shaleak Knotts. It’s yet to be seen what their roles will be this fall, but the collection of talent under the command of wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer is as good as any on the Terps’ roster.
With great power comes great responsibility
Nearly 70% of Maryland’s offense came via the pass last season, and with the loss of primary running back Tayon Fleet-Davis, it’s likely that number will rise in 2022. If the passing game doesn’t pan out as expected, Maryland’s offense could find itself struggling to outscore opponents. However, the explosiveness of Maryland’s wide receivers may allow them to hang with some of the top teams in the Big Ten and even knock off a team most see as superior.
“Coach Enos does a fabulous job of filming a game plan where all of them are involved and they all have a chance to be explosive,” Brewer said of the depth of his unit. “That’s what you want in a receiving corps. There’s not just one of them, there’s three or four that can jump up and make plays at any particular time… I think the potential is unlimited with this group.”
There’s no doubt that the group of wide receivers are the most talented and one of the most important on this year’s Maryland football team. This is nothing new, however, as the Terps have consistently recruited and developed elite receivers — most recently highlighted by current NFL stars Stefon Diggs and DJ Moore, who have continued a long lineage of Maryland wideouts in the professional ranks. With productive seasons, Demus, Jarrett and possibly Copeland all have the potential to hear their names called in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Before they get to that point, however, Maryland’s wide receivers will have to prove to the nation why they are considered one of the top groups of pass-catchers in college football. They will no doubt be the focus of each team’s weekly preparation and will most likely see a variety of packages thrown at them in an attempt to put them off their game.
Jarrett expressed his confidence in himself and his teammates to rise up to the challenge. “I think we can be the best in the Big Ten for sure,” he said. “All the pressure that comes with living up to the expectations that other people set… I think it’s definitely a privilege and I like it.”