PULLMAN – The allure of catching passes in the Air Raid offense typically brings in top-end wide receiver talent to Washington State. Already in six years, Mike Leach and his pass-aggressive system have produced six of the school’s top-10 leaders in career receptions, including the top three and five of the top six.
Many of them made their ascents up the receiving charts at the same time. Isiah Myers, Marquess Wilson and Dom Williams in 2012; Williams, Myers and Mayle from 2013-14; Gabe Marks and River Cracraft from 2013-16.
It’s never easy to identify the next player who’ll make a similar run up the receiving leaderboards, but there’s a good chance he’s on campus right now. Flush with talent at all four positions, WSU has a chance to be historically deep at wide receiver in 2018.
As Leach and his staff whittle a group of 12-13 players down to eight, we take a deeper dive into the position and look at how the WR depth chart could shake out this fall:
1. Tay Martin – Tavares Martin Jr.’s suspension against Colorado created an opportunity for the younger Martin, who responded with a four-catch, 78-yard performance against the Buffaloes and scored his first collegiate touchdown. After the game, Leach said the freshman from Houma, Louisiana, had the upside to become the team’s best wideout by the end of the season. And he did. A long strider with basketball hops, Martin returns as pound-for-pound the most talented wideout on the roster.
“He’s a physical, explosive guy and he’s got a little bit of experience,” Leach said Friday. “He’s a talented guy, so we’re just excited to see him continue to develop. And even if he makes a good play here or there, I still think he’s got a lot of upside.”
Martin drew lofty praise from the Cougars’ newest QB after day one of fall camp. Gardner Minshew, when asked about the easiest and most difficult part of his transition to WSU, responded, “I’d say the easiest is throwing to Tay Martin. That’s pretty easy.”
2. Rodrick Fisher – The Spokane native was so eager to learn the Cougars’ schemes and concepts during spring camp he practically lived in Steve Spurrier Jr.’s shadow. When Fisher wasn’t running routes, he was quizzing the outside receivers coach about them. The East Valley grad helped himself out in a major way by arriving early and it could be the reason he fends off a few of his fellow freshmen for a spot in the eight-man rotation.
“He’s a talented, kind of gifted and he’s a little bigger than you think he is,” Spurrier Jr. said in May. “He plays a lot stronger than someone who should still be in high school, so I’m pretty impressed with him.”
3. Drue Jackson – Excitement for the four-star high school prospect out of Texas is justified. Jackson already looks the part of a college receiver and even if he doesn’t crack the rotation, he could be one of the players who benefit from the new NCAA rule that allows redshirting players to appear in four games without burning a year of eligibility.
“Explosive, good hands, still kind of learning things but doesn’t really hesitate out there,” Leach said Saturday of Jackson. “Even on something sloppy, he’ll be explosive, he’ll be strong, he’ll be powerful.”
4. Brandon Gray – It’ll be a tough task for the 6-foot-5, 190-pound Gray to beat out any of the three players listed ahead of him, but his length and vertical leaping will be useful tools for the Cougars at some point in the future.
1. Kyle Sweet – Sweet was a revelation for the Cougars during spring camp and he was unmistakable in the Crimson & Gray Game, catching eight passes for 138 yards on a day that saw only one other receiver break 90 yards. If the first couple days of August are any indication, Sweet’s fall could be a better encore to his spring. The senior slot receiver reeled in two touchdown balls during the 11-on-11 period Friday and looks capable of leading the Cougars in any number of receiving categories this season.
“I just wanted to make sure that when we go back to real ball, that there’s no dropoff,” Sweet said during Pac-12 Media Day. “You always want to be moving upward and forward, whether that’s running extra routes. It’s always just being on the same page as the quarterback and always feeling crisp.”
2. Jamire Calvin – With top-end quickness and steady hands, Calvin made an immediate impression last fall and had a spring campaign that was as good as any receiver not named Kyle Sweet. Calvin’s listed almost 10 pounds heavier than he was in the spring and seems to be playing with more consistency, which you’d expect from someone making the freshman-to-sophomore transition. Calvin can be the flashiest player on the field at any time and finding a way to divvy up the “Y” receiver reps should be high on the list of challenges for Leach and receivers coach Dave Nichol this fall.
3. Brandon Arconado – The redshirt junior from Chino Hills, California, can finally be addressed as “former walk-on Brandon Arconado” after being put on scholarship this May. Arconado looks noticeably more toned in his upper body than he did in the spring – according to the roster, he’s added 5 pounds – and even though he’s a clear third option to Sweet and Calvin, the newest scholarship receiver should be able to improve upon his numbers from 2017.
1. Renard Bell – Luke Falk’s most reliable deep threat last season wrapped up his rookie campaign with 538 yards and a team-high 13.4 yard-per-catch. Few people other than Bell would’ve predicted those numbers coming into the season – mainly because he was supposed to back up Robert Lewis – but the former high school teammate of Calvin posted three 100-yard games by week six primarily because of his ability to create separation on deep routes. Against Boise State, Nevada and USC, he posted long receptions of 59, 60 and 61 yards.
2. Robert Lewis – The Cougars weren’t even halfway through August when they lost Lewis for the season with a torn ACL. At that point, Lewis, in year No. 5 with the Cougars, also had reason to think he’d have to forfeit the remainder of his college career. But in late May, the NCAA motioned to extend his eligibility clock by one year, giving Lewis at least 12 more games with the Cougars. Lewis, who’s been in Pullman since January 2013, has 37 games of experience under his belt, including 22 starts, and is the team’s best blocking receiver when healthy, according to Leach.
“The most famous block I guess was, as we’re coming back against Utah (in 2015), we hit Vince Mayle on a post and we didn’t have that much time left,” Leach said Thursday.” And Robert Lewis peels back, blows up this safety. And I mean he just smokes him. Then of course Vince scores a touchdown, but Robert Lewis had as much to do with that play.”
3. Travell Harris – It’s likely we see more of Harris in a kick or punt returning role this year, but the speedy inside receiver from Florida was often one of the standout players during the Cougars’ Thursday night scrimmages last season and after spending a redshirt in 2017, he should finally get a chance – even if it is a limited one – to contribute in the Air Raid offense.
1. Dezmon Patmon – Though he’s still seeking his first college touchdown, the 6-4, 220-pound Patmon made an impact last season, especially late in the year, as the primary backup to Isaiah Johnson-Mack. His big frame and physicality should make him WSU’s top possession receiver – he had four games with at least five catches last season – and the Cougars can use him as a mismatch on fade routes and goal-line situations, similar to how they employed Johnson-Mack last season.
2. Easop Winston – Falk famously raved about Winston’s hands during spring camp a few years back, but the junior college transfer was challenged to improve his conditioning during his redshirt season in 2017. A year later, Winston’s in superb shape and his Velcro hands are once again a conversation point. The San Francisco native made both of the top plays on day one of fall camp – both acrobatic one-handed grabs – and he has the potential to thrive in his first true season with the Cougars.
“Just a very crafty, knows all the tricks,” Leach said. “Elusive, slippery guy.”
3. Calvin Jackson Jr. – Season three of Netflix Original series “Last Chance U” puts spotlight on Jackson’s Independence (Kansas) Community College, so the receiver’s arrival was highly anticipated by those who’ve already plugged through all eight episodes. The reality TV star hasn’t erred much in his first two days with the Cougars. He’ll play on the outside for the time being, but has the versatility and body type to slide inside if necessary.
“Elusive and fast and a playmaker,” inside receivers coach Nichol said. “What we call pop plays, he can catch the deep post, he can make a few guys miss. At least he did in junior college and we hope he does here.”
4. Kassidy Jackson – A 6-4, 205-pound freshman from Texas, Woods can benefit from a redshirt season and should develop through WSU’s Thursday Night Football scrimmages.
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