This will be an ongoing series with WVSN’s Cody Nespor and Tom Bragg grading the performance of each position group during the 2020 West Virginia University football season. A new position will be graded each day. We graded the quarterbacks on Tuesday and running backs on Wednesday — today we look at the WVU receivers:
Expectations can be a cruel thing. Coming into this season, the depth and talent of West Virginia’s receiving corpse was expected to be the strength of the Mountaineer offense. Redshirt-sophomore Sam James was expected to build upon his freshman season as the team’s number-one receiver, Bryce Ford-Wheaton was expected to have a breakout campaign and new offensive coordinator/position coach Gerad Parker was expected to fix WVU’s drop problems from 2019. The thing with expectations is, the bigger they are the more disappointing it will be if they are not met.
James regressed badly from 2019, failing to record even half of his receptions or yards (69 receptions and 667 yards in 2019 vs 31 and 300 in 2020). By the end of the season, James had not only lost his starting spot, but was nearly phased out of the offense. In the team’s final three games, he made just five receptions for 58 yards. Ford-Wheaton finished second on the team in yards (416) and touchdowns (three) but fell far short of the breakout season WVU coach Neal Brown had predicted for him. And it was not due to a lack of opportunity. WVU quarterback Jarret Doege threw more deep balls Ford-Wheaton’s way than anybody else but the two rarely connected. Ford-Wheaton’s longest receptions of the season went for 58, 38 and 33, his only receptions of more than 30 yards all season.
And drops still plagued the Mountaineers. Even when depth receivers like Sean Ryan, Isaiah Esdale or Ali Jennings were given chances, drops kept their roles limited. WVU’s only real positive in the receiving room was Winston Wright who led the team in receptions (47) and yards (553). Wright was boom-or-bust this season, however, with two games over 120 yards and five games under 50 yards.
I don’t have a whole lot to add to what Cody said. WVU’s receivers, as a group, failed to meet expectations by a wide margin this season. If forced to play Devil’s Advocate, it’s worth pointing out these guys were not getting many favors from quarterback Jarret Doege when it came to deep balls. Doing direct one for one comparisons with last season’s stats probably isn’t the way I would go here due to all of the COVID scheduling drama, but that can’t hide the fact that WVU’s receivers flat out did not get it done on a consistent basis in 2020.