Mountaineers Could be Loaded at Wide Receiver in 2023
Life for a West Virginia wide receiver has not been an easy one this year. There have been great moments and WVU’s top threat has earned national recognition, but there’s also been criticism, mostly due to too many drops and inconsistency.
Nothing can be done besides getting back to fundamentals for this season, but the program has put heavy emphasis in strengthening the team’s depth at the position for next season and beyond. To that end, head coach Neal Brown and his staff have landed commitments from Rodney Gallagher and Traylon Ray, both 4-star quality player who could help to make any offense more explosive.
So what’s the 2023 depth going to look like at receiver for the Mountaineers?
Currently, Bryce Ford-Wheaton is WVU quarterback JT Daniels’ top option. He stepped into the WR1 role, or X spot in the “Air Raid” system, after the departure of Winston Wright. Ford-Wheaton opened up the season with multiple two touchdown games, granted neither in a win, but has calmed down some since. That’s largely thanks to dealing with more double team matchups and coverage each week than he’s had to battle in the past. Regardless, he’s still having a solid season and has been invited to the East-West Shrine Bowl.
Ford-Wheaton, a redshirt junior, can return next season, and that may mean being able to take his game to another level with more depth around him and another season to build chemistry with Daniels, who can choose to comeback for one last college season because of COVID and all of his prior injuries.
But even if Ford-Wheaton is not back with the Mountaineers, a receiver like Kaden Prather will, as he is only a sophomore. Prather has become one of Daniels’ favorite targets. He has registered 428 yards so far this season after only 175 all of 2021.
Reese Smith, also a sophomore, seems to have untapped potential. He has improved from 124 yards to 175 with games remaining this year, but has not taken the leap he was looking for when he told Brown about seeking a Wes Welker like role this summer, but hasn’t been utilized to the level he seemed to crave. Smith is a typical slot option, but it might be tougher for him to beak through when the incoming freshman get on campus.
Sam James, a senior, is another weapon who could be back in Morgantown in 2023. He is one of the few players still around that was brought in by Brown’s predecessor Dana Holgorsen and serves in a WR2 type of role, but the 2022 season could be it as far as his college career and he will be a loss on and off the field. He has not yet made a decision on if he wants to return and play another year of college football.
Adding in the newcomers
So despite a disappointing season as a team, there’s a chance the WVU offense could see all of its key receivers return except for one and then also witness the continued emergence of running back CJ Donaldson. Whoever is under center for the Mountaineers at quarterback will most certainly have player makers around him just from who is already in the fold. But factoring in the additions of Gallagher and Ray could take Graham Harrell’s offense to another level. Harrell always talks about finding ways to get good players the ball, and he will have a surplus in good players to work with.
WVU OC Graham Harrell Doesn’t Feel ‘Air Raid’ Label Fits His Offense
There’s no guarantee players will make instant impacts their freshman seasons or how they will be used, but both Gallagher and Ray have the speed and ability to extend plays, at least from what they have shown on in high school, that will except any coach and make opponents concerned. It also says something that Ray, in particular as a 4-star prospect, decided to commit to WVU despite Gallagher already being locked up and knowing the depth that could return. He is no intimidated about the negative aspect individually that exists by being part of an offense with other quality receivers and that likes to spread the ball around.
Out of all of the aspects of the Mountaineers that still warrant concern for the future, the receiver position is looking like it should be a great strength to a program trying to build itself back up and climb.