The major concern surrounding the West Virginia football program heading into the 2019 season is not just the “lack of star power”, but the inexperience at the wide receiver position.
With Gary Jennings and David Sills V off to the NFL and Marcus Simms potentially being selected in the NFL’s supplemental draft, that leaves a big question mark as to who will step up to become one of the main targets in the passing game.
My guess? Sam James. Yes, the redshirt freshman Sam James.
Assuming redshirt junior T.J. Simmons picks up his production level as many expect, there will need to be another consistent, yet reliable playmaker. James fits that bill.
In four games last year, he made two catches for two yards, which is nothing to jump up and down about, but he never had the chance to showcase his true speed and ability. The Mountaineers have had some blinding speed at the receiver position over the years, but James is on another level.
During his high school years at Richmond Hill in Georgia, he placed first in the men’s 400 meter with a time of 47.72 and finished fourth in the men’s 800 meter at the 2017 Georgia State championships.
Speed certainly kills, but James is not a one trick pony. He has the ability to make plays of all sorts including the deep ball which we saw him make in the spring game hauling in a 42 yarder from Austin Kendall. Seasoned vet and redshirt senior Hakeem Bailey was in on the coverage.
Now, although I do expect him to emerge as one of the offenses key playmakers, I do not however expect him to be a 1,000 yard guy right off the bat. Not saying it can’t happen, but with the amount of talent that sits in Neal Brown’s pocket at running back, I don’t expect many opportunities for any of the receivers to reach the prestigious 1,000 yard mark in 2019.
It is still extremely early in James’ career to know exactly what type of player he can be, but he has the most potential of the position group to become something special. When you evaluate high school recruits coming out of high school, I always try to think of who each player reminds me of. In the case of Sam James, I had no comparison. He has a unique skill set. Underneath screen, ins, outs, hitches, posts, 50/50 balls, you name it, James can make just about any play possible. He even made Randy Moss’s, “You Got Moss’d” on ESPN during his senior season making an unbelievable touchdown catch.
Randy Moss gives WVU recruit Sam James, state some love. pic.twitter.com/M1G71JRsXT
— Mitch Vingle (@MitchVingle) September 17, 2017
By the time the 2020 season rolls around I would fully expect him to be a candidate to make the All-Big 12 list or at least be honorable mention. He had the opportunity to learn from arguably the best receiving corps West Virginia has ever had from top to bottom and that alone will go a long ways.
“They taught me during practice if I did something wrong, they would say this is what you need to do. You didn’t knock down the DB’s hands and stuff like that, they would just critique me after everything so I could be better.” – James on learning from Sills and Jennings
Back in the spring the coaching staff raved about James’ ability, “He’s a freaking fast guy, he can fly. He’s a full speed guy, all the time. He’s one guy that when you go watch the film, you’re like holy cow this guy can freaking roll.” wide receiver coach Xavier Dye said.
Head coach Neal Brown was extremely pleased with his performance during April’s spring game. “Sam James was productive, he’s a guy that needs to be a playmaker for us. (We’re) obviously young at that position, we lost a lot of production at that position. I’m excited about him, he’s talented, to see him make plays with people in the stands is definitely encouraging.”
So, will James eventually join the long list of elite playmakers to have waltzed through Morgantown and be a high draft pick? Time will tell. That is a topic we can revisit in a couple years. Until then, sit back and watch the Sam James Show.