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Maryland football needs more from its receivers and can probably get it

It’s time for the Terrapins’ receivers to level up.

Wisconsin v Maryland

Heading into last season, the Maryland football team was losing 73 percent of its receptions from the year before. Stefon Diggs was gone, and so, too, were Deon Long, Marcus Leak and the since-returned-but-still-ineligible Jacquille Veii.

Nobody completely picked up that slack. Not that Maryland’s passing game could’ve ever been great last year with its putrid quarterback play, but the Terrapins didn’t have anything even approximating a No. 1 receiver.

This year, that should change. And if it doesn’t, Maryland should have enough quality receivers and incrementally better quarterbacking so that this year’s results are better than last’s. But the Terps still need a couple of things to break right.

Maryland had to replace a lot last year. This year, almost everyone’s back.

These are Maryland’s individual receiving stats from last season:

Player Pos. Ht, Wt Year Targets Catches Yards TD Yds/
Catch Rate Target
Levern Jacobs WR 5'11, 188 JR 62 35 425 3 12.1 6.9 56.5% 17.7%
Taivon Jacobs WR 5'9, 165 SO 49 21 264 2 12.6 5.4 42.9% 14.0%
D.J. Moore WR 5'11, 205 FR 48 25 357 3 14.3 7.4 52.1% 13.7%
Amba Etta-Tawo WR 6'1, 200 JR 39 20 216 0 10.8 5.5 51.3% 11.1%
Avery Edwards TE 6'4, 234 FR 28 14 115 2 8.2 4.1 50.0% 8.0%
Jahrvis Davenport WR 5'9, 193 FR 27 11 154 1 14.0 5.7 40.7% 7.7%
Malcolm Culmer WR 5'11, 185 JR 25 15 221 2 14.7 8.8 60.0% 7.1%
Wes Brown RB 6'0, 210 JR 22 13 89 0 6.9 4.1 59.1% 6.3%
DeAndre Lane WR 5'7, 175 JR 11 9 152 1 16.9 13.8 81.8% 3.1%
Brandon Ross RB 5'10, 210 SR 10 5 17 0 3.4 1.7 50.0% 2.8%
William Likely DB 5'7, 175 JR 7 5 17 0 3.4 2.4 71.4% 2.0%
P.J. Gallo TE 6'2, 250 JR 6 2 9 0 4.5 1.5 33.3% 1.7%
Ty Johnson RB 5'10, 184 FR 5 2 30 0 15.0 6.0 40.0% 1.4%
Derrick Hayward TE 6'5, 240 SO 4 2 10 0 5.0 2.5 50.0% 1.1%
Shane Cockerille FB 6'2, 235 SO 2 2 2 0 1.0 1.0 100.0% 0.6%

The only names on that table that aren’t still on Maryland’s offense are Amba Etta-Tawo (transferred), Brandon Ross (graduated), P.J. Gallo (graduated) and Shane Cockerille (moved to defense). Together, they made up about 17 percent of Maryland’s receiver targets and 16 percent of its receptions, a total of 29.

If I’ve written in this space before that college football is cyclical, I’ve written it 15 times. Maryland’s receiving group is heading into the "up" part of its talent cycle.

There’s plenty of reason to be optimistic that Maryland’s pass-catchers will do a good job this year. Levern Jacobs, when he hasn’t been suspended as in 2014, has always been solid. His little brother, Taivon, is talented enough that when he picked Maryland, he did it over Ohio State. And there’s another guy, who I think is Maryland’s best wideout:

dj d.j. moore

This’ll be D.J. Moore’s sophomore season. You should expect him to be very, very good. Moore is 5’11 and 205 pounds, not very tall and not especially fast for a Power 5 receiver. But he has excellent hands, football sense and build. He has a nose for the ball and route-running skill that could make him nightmarish, and it’d be surprising if Moore didn’t build a lot atop his 48-catch, 357-yard freshman campaign.

Moore and the Jacobs brothers are probably three of Maryland’s top four receivers. The other is likely Teldrick Morgan, a former All-Sun Belt pick at New Mexico State who is transferring to his hometown school and can play immediately as a graduate student. Projecting out how someone from the Sun Belt will do in the Big Ten is a hard job, but Maryland didn’t take Morgan not to use him.

Oh, here is Morgan roasting a cornerback from Florida for a touchdown.

teldrick morgan

I think he can figure something out.

New Maryland receivers coach Chris Beatty has a hard but simple job.

Beatty has already proven himself as a recruiter in his first eight months on the Maryland job. The former Mike London assistant at Virginia has hit the trail running, bagging eight verbal commitments without ever coaching a game.

maryland spring practice chris beatty Alexander Jonesi

If new coordinator Walt Bell’s offense at Maryland looks anything like it did at Arkansas State, Maryland receivers are going to run lots of slants. They’re going to catch lots of screens, and they’re going to block for each other while that’s going on.

The coach Beatty replaces, Keenan McCardell, did a nice job instilling in Maryland’s receivers the importance and technique behind blocking. It’s not a coincidence that some of Maryland’s best plays over the past few years were screen passes to the perimeter, as receivers dating back to Diggs and Long have done a good job clearing the way for their teammates. That’ll have to continue.

The most important things Maryland’s receivers can do are pretty simple, though: get open and don’t drop the ball. Last year’s team completion was a NSFW 47 percent, and plenty of that burden falls on receivers as much as quarterbacks and linemen. Maryland needs its players to run good routes and then catch footballs.

This group will have better stats, because it must.

It is strikingly not likely that Maryland will complete less than half its passes again, or that it’ll go a second straight year without a 500-yard or 40-catch receiver. These things will change, because no amount of pessimism outweighs the unlikelihood of that kind of futility following Maryland for too long. (Wow, we’re tempting fate.)

What Maryland needs is a more comprehensive improvement, though. The Terps’ quarterbacks should be improved, but it’s hard to expect they’ll be all that good on their own. They’ll need receivers who catch all the balls they should and also some they shouldn’t. They’ll need to be picked up, not just not let down.

No guarantees here, but Maryland’s receivers this year should be able to do that, at least to some extent. If they do, this is a far better offense.