A former college wide receiver himself, West Virginia head coach Neal Brown knows exactly what he is looking for in his team’s receiving corps.
“We kind of look at four different body types,” Brown said in a report from Friday’s split practice. “We want a guy that’s bigger-framed that has good twitch but really has phenomenal hands. We want a little, make-you-miss guy, and we’d like to have a bigger, physical guy inside who knows how to use his body, and then we’d like to have a long, fast guy – somebody that can take the top off it and really go get the ball.”
With as much depth as the Mountaineers will have at the position this season, seven returners caught more than 10 passes in 2019, Brown and new offensive coordinator/wide receiver coach Gerad Parker should have someone to fit all their needs.
“A lot of them are young, and we’ve got to continue to grow ‘em up,” Brown said. “I think Gerad (Parker) has done a great job with those guys. I think the most depth we have on our football team is at that position.”
On a video call with the media Saturday afternoon, Brown talked about which of his receivers fit which of those body types.
“Obviously, Sam James is a speed guy,” Brown started. “He’s a guy that can run, take the top off of it.”
James led the team last season with 69 receptions and 677 yards while also scoring a pair of touchdowns. He was the only WVU receiver to catch a pass in all 12 games. Playing as just a redshirt-freshman, James struggled at times with consistency and drops.
“Winston Wright’s a guy that can make you miss,” Brown said. “He’s got great initial burst and he can make you miss.”
One of two true freshmen that saw time last season, Wright showcased his speed when he returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against Baylor of Halloween.
Bigger Frame, Good Twitch
“T.J. Simmons is a big, physical kid that has courage to catch the ball across the middle.”
Simmons, along with Louisville transfer Keion Wakefield, will be the only seniors among WVU’s receivers. In 10 games last year Simmons had 455 yards and four touchdowns on 35 receptions.
Knows How to Use His Body
“I think Ali Jennings is a guy that has great body control,” Brown continued. “He really can vertically get off the ball. He really understands how to position his body, kind of like a basketball player, and make difficult plays.”
When injuries and transfers depleted WVU’s receiving depth last season Jennings, the other true freshman, was asked to step up. In the second half of the season, Jennings made 12 receptions for 135 yards.
Long and Fast
“Sean Ryan and Bryce (Ford-Wheaton) are both longer guys that can catch the ball down the field,” Brown said. “Bryce is a little bit faster, probably Sean’s got a little bit more wiggle to him. Both those guys can really stretch it.”
At 6-foot-3, Ryan and Ford Wheaton are two of WVU’s tallest receivers, beat out only by the 6-foot-4 true freshman, Devell Washington.
Ryan was a starting receiver at the beginning of 2019, after transferring in from Temple. An injury forced him to miss a chunk of games in the middle of the schedule. Ryan finished with 219 yards on 19 catches in eight games played.
Ford-Wheaton was another depth receiver who was forced into action as the season went on. He had 12 receptions for 201 yards and two scores.