D.J. Moore caught 80 of Maryland football’s 172 complete passes last season. He’s off to the NFL now, and without a comparable talent on the roster, the Terps will have to take a more balanced approach to replacing the production he took with him.
The most likely candidates are familiar faces.
The leading man will likely be Taivon Jacobs, who received a sixth year of eligibility after sustaining multiple season-ending injuries in his career. He ate up 28.3 percent of Maryland quarterbacks’ targets last season—Moore had 43.6 percent, for comparison. Jacobs’ 84 targets netted 47 catches for 553 yards and 5 touchdowns, all second on the team to Moore.
“[Moore] was obviously a tremendous player for us,” Durkin told reporters Monday. “How do you replace a guy like that? I don’t know. What I do know is that the way we set up our practices are very competitive. Guys are going to have the opportunity to go do that. You take a guy like Taivon Jacobs who I think just got better and better every week as the season went on—he wants to lay claim to being that guy. He’ll have every right to do that.”
Beyond Jacobs, there is a group of unknowns, albeit talented unknowns. Jahrvis Davenport started to come on a bit at the end of last season, and is the only other returning receiver to have recorded more than a dozen catches last season. Rising junior DJ Turner had an outstanding spring game last year, but that didn’t manifest itself into any significant playing time or many targets. He may be a candidate to see a significant uptick in both playing time and utilization in Matt Canada’s offense. The former three-star receiver was once lauded for his open-field vision and quickness, both skills that could make him supremely dangerous in the new system.
“There’s a lot of guys … DJ Turner, Jahrvis Davenport,” Durkin said. “Then you talk about all the freshmen, incoming freshmen … we have some talented guys. It’s going to be, ‘Go out there and go do it. Put it on the field.’”
At least a half a dozen others have a chance at cracking the rotation.
The rest of Maryland’s receiving corps are all inexperienced; most are young. Other than senior walk-on Michael Cornwell, who’s played in five games across two seasons, no Terps receiver not named Jacobs, Turner or Davenport has played more than one season of college football.
Four of last year’s five freshmen receivers redshirted; only Tahj Capehart saw limited action. Each brings a different skill set to the table, and with solid summers should be able to see at least rotational or situational snaps this season. Rayshad Lewis transferred in from Utah State before last season and is now eligible. He’ll look to recreate his freshman season out west, or at least something resembling his 40 receptions, 476 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s been tremendous for us,” Durkin said of Lewis. “He’s got a great competitiveness about him, he’s got a way about him. The place he came from before, he went out there and played as a true freshman and contributed. That just tells you the type of person he is, just the competitive nature about him. He’s playing at receiver right now but he may play some defense as well. He’ll be out there helping us some way.”
The Terps added four more wideouts in 2018, but only Jeshaun Jones enrolled early, giving him the best shot at making an impact in Year 1. He was involved with both the second and third string offenses, occasionally rotating in with the ones on Monday, and even took a patented Matt Canada jet sweep to the house. Four-star Darryl Jones and three-stars Dontay Demus and Brian Cobbs will each have some catching up to do when they arrive over the summer, but much like last year’s class, each of them brings something different to the table and should be able to find a role because of their differences.
There’s also senior Chris Jones, who’s been in College Park for two years, but missed one season after transferring and another due to injury. He was a one-time three-star DeMatha product headed to Wisconsin in the Class of 2014, but returned home ahead of the 2016 season. At 6’2, he could be a useful outside threat if he’s healthy.
It’s also time to re-familiarize ourselves with Maryland’s tight ends.
It’s okay if you’ve forgotten about people like Avery Edwards, Noah Barnes or Andrew Park, seeing as none of them caught any passes last season. In Walt Bell’s offense, Edwards was almost exclusively used as a blocker, while Barnes played special teams and Park redshirted in 2017.
All that will change in Canada’s scheme.
As a freshman, Edwards led Maryland’s tight ends with 14 catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns, and looked to be the potential tight end of the future. Since then, he’s caught one ball for 23 yards. In Canada’s offense, which has made use of good tight ends everywhere he’s been, Edwards should see a significant increase in action.
“I think if you look at our tight ends over the last few years, they’ve caught a lot of balls and been very involved,” Canada said. “But it goes back to who deserves to play. I think that’s the challenge we’ve given to our players.”
The wild card and potential hybrid of the group is freshman early enrollee Chigoziem Okonkwo. The 6’2, 225-pound tight end will create matchup problems no matter where he lines up, as he’s too agile for a linebacker to effectively cover, but also bigger than most defensive backs. He could be a weapon from the tight end spot, the slot or even out wide from anywhere on the field, particularly in the red zone.
Nobody knows exactly what the Maryland iteration of Canada’s offense will look like, but it will certainly look different and make use of tight ends. Positional competitions will work themselves out leading into and during the season, and luckily for the Terps, there are plenty of capable bodies ready to contribute.