Monday, August 29, 2011

Position Breakdown 2011: Receivers

Returning Lettermen: Devon Wylie, Rashad Evans, Jalen Saunders, Isaiah Burse, A.J. Johnson, J.J. Stallworth, Mathew De Los Santos, Taylor Stewart
Newcomers: Davante Adams, Gerome Surrell, Gerald Nutt
Lost: Jamel Hamler, Matt Lindsey

Devon Wylie: Wylie Wiggles Away from Injury
Sr, 5-9, 185
Roseville (Granite Bay HS)

The Fresno State receiving corps is super deep and talented. And Devon Wylie might be the most talented of them all. Last year was supposed to be Wylie’s final at Fresno State, but he was lost for the season after an injury in the opening win over cincinnati and later was granted an extra season of eligibility by the NCAA. Wylie has never made it through a full season injury-free, but so far so good in fall camp. His situation is a bit reminiscent of former Bulldogs star running back Clifton Smith (Pro Bowl as rookie with the Bucs). Smith battled injuries throughout his career until finally staying healthy as a senior and blossoming into the team’s MVP. Wylie had 2 catches for 39 yards and a touchdown in the opener last season before getting hurt. In 2009, Wylie had 259 yards in 10 games, but played sparingly in several of those because of nagging injuries. Health aside, Wylie is the fastest receiver in Fresno State history – clocked at a 4.27 40-yard dash. With superb route running, great leaping ability and dependable hands, Wylie has to be part of the opposing defense’s game plan. Problem is, most teams don’t have a corner who can cover him one-on-one, especially if the quarterback has time to let the route develop. If Wylie stays on the field for the full year, there’s a good chance he’ll lead the team in receiving yards and be on his way to the NFL. He often gets the Wes Welker comparisons, but Wylie is a bigger deep threat with more speed. Durability is literally his only question mark.

Rashad Evans: Putting up the Ultimate Fight
Jr, 5-9, 180
San Jose (James Logan HS)

Rashad Evans is the Bulldogs’ leading returning receptions leader after Jamel Hamler left early for the NFL (Broncos). Evans had 39 catches for 424 yards and 4 touchdowns despite missing two games with injury. He’s about the same size as Wylie after putting on quite a bit of size over the past couple years. Evans’ hands are perhaps the best on the team, and he’s capable of doing it all – possession receiver, deep threat, slot. It’s not too important who wins starting jobs within this unit because at least eight guys will see significant playing time. The thing to watch for with Evans this season is whether he steps up in Hamler’s absence and assumes more of a go-to role as the team’s top receiver. But there are multiple others with that same potential. Evans, a former high school quarterback, also offers the added benefit of running the team’s hound formation.

Jalen Saunders: It's Saunders with a 'U' Coach Hill
So, 5-9, 160
Elk Grove (Pleasant Grove HS)

Quite possibly the most dangerous wideout on the team is Jalen Saunders. Though he was not as highly rated as a couple of the other true freshmen receivers from last season’s jackpot recruiting class, Saunders quickly showed in his first fall camp that he was an up and comer. Lo and behold, Saunders played as a true and is Fresno State’s leading returner in receiving yards. His freshman campaign was good for 30 catches for 462 yards and 3 toucdowns, including a 78-yard reception. Saunders also rushed for 166 yards on 19 carries, proving to be an all-purpose threat. He averaged 23.2 yards per kick return. While Saunders isn’t quite as fast as Wylie, he’s right behind him, also running a sub-4.4 40-yard dash. Fresno State didn’t have the luxury last year of having both Saunders and Wylie on the field – a combination that no one in the nation should be able to cover man-to-man.

Isaiah Burse: Burse-ing Onto the Scene
So, 5-11, 180
Modesto (Modesto Christian HS)

Another true freshman who played right away last season was Isaiah Burse, who finished the year with 13 catches for 190 yards and 2 touchdowns. As the team’s top hound quarterback, Burse, who won a state title as a high school QB, completed 1 of 2 passes for 43 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 71 yards and a score. The most impressive aspect of Burse’s game is his hands. Burse is the team’s most reliable possession receiver, fearless across the middle. He came in with a college-ready body, and has the speed and agility to be a big-play threat. His production should only go up in the coming years.

A.J. Johnson: We Love Us Some Bakersfield
So, 6-0, 180
Bakersfield (Highland HS)

The same holds true for A.J. Johnson. As a redshirt freshman last season, Johnson had 20 catches for 241 yards and a touchdown, and is only getting more comfortable. Johnson has the height the team’s top three receivers (Wylie, Evans and Saunders) do not. He was a favorite target near the sideline and on fade routes. With all the competition in camp, these wideouts will be hard pressed to earn playing time, but all the competition should breed improvement and a very high level of play.

J.J. Stallworth: No Stalling Here, J.J. Impresses in Camp
Sr, 5-11, 185
Sacramento (Grant HS)

J.J. Stallworth has accepted his role as a possession receiver and hasn’t seen the ball yet his first three years on the field. But the younger brother of NFL wideout Donte Stallworth emerged early in fall camp with several straight days of standout performances. It was refreshing to see Stallworth’s attitude and the excitement he got each day after a good practice. He seemed to play better and better as he built his confidence. Unfortunately, he had a so-so first scrimmage and didn’t maintain that high level of play toward the end of open camp. But he’s got enough experience and knowledge to keep his coaches’ confidence. That said, he caught just 2 passes for 23 yards last season. That number will go up this year unless some younger receivers outplay him and surpass him on the depth chart.

Josh Harper: Hyped for Harper
R-Fr, 6-1, 185
Stockton (St. Mary’s HS)

Josh Harper is the biggest threat to the veterans’ playing time. Harper was the team’s highest rated recruit at the position last season but redshirted. Now, with Hamler leaving, Harper is expected to fill his shoes as a wideout with size. And he’ll do a nice job. Harper gets after it, as his two spectacular catches against tough coverage in the first fall scrimmage showed. He’s not as well built as Hamler yet, but he’s got similar talent with more speed. His hands are developed beyond his years, and the crispness of his routes have improved since a season ago. Don’t be surprised if Harper breaks into a starting role before all is said and done. Much of the fan excitement this offseason has been about Victor Dean, but Harper is much more game ready right now.

Victor Dean: He's Taller Than You
R-Fr, 6-5, 200
San Diego (Lincoln HS)

Victor Dean is definitely an exciting prospect. While his route running is a bit behind the other youngsters, the uniqueness of his game could prove to be a real weapon for Fresno State. Believed to be the tallest receiver in school history, Dean can flat out-jump defenders for the football. He dominated the Spring Game with three fade route touchdowns. If the ball is thrown on the money, he’s a huge mismatch for most defensive backs. There’s not a lot a guy can do matched with Dean’s size and leaping ability. Dean was hampered missing all of fall camp with injury, but is expected back by October. When he returns to action, he’ll be more of a role player than an all-around receiving until he develops more fluidity in his routes and learns how to get open faster.

Davante Adams: Can't Wait to Hear the Band Play "Addams Family"
Fr, 6-2, 200
Palo Alto (Palo Alto HS)

Talk about an exciting prospect. The one new receiver of this year’s class is Davante Adams, who flatout has an imposing build. He’s one of the team’s tallest and biggest receivers – and he’s just out of high school. Adams had to sit the start of fall camp with NCAA clearinghouse issues, but that’s all been squared away and he was impressive the moment he hit the field. A big, strong receiver with body control and a knack for finding the football. The unit is probably too loaded to justify burning a year of Adams’ eligibility now, but he is definitely good enough to play right away. But it’s more likely he’ll be redshirted and have a bigger impact next season when Wylie and Stallworth are gone.

Mathew De Los Santos: A Bulldog Insider
Jr, 5-11, 180
Ventura (St. Bonaventure HS)

Mathew De Los Santos is the top walk-on within an absolutely loaded unit. On one side, that’s an accomplishment to be proud of. On the other, he knows he won’t get much playing time for the foreseeable future. But he gets to wear the Bulldog Red uniform proudly and does indeed have limited game experience – which he may get again this season. De Los Santos is a dependable receiver, who the ‘Dogs know they can count on in a pinch. While he isn’t blessed with the same talent as many of the unit’s stars, he practices hard and works on improving his game.

Taylor Stewart: Sweating Less Than His Dad at Practice
So, 6-0, 175
Fresno (Buchanan HS)

Taylor Stewart is in a very similar situation as a walk-on. The son of defensive coordinator Randy Stewart, Taylor Stewart has had limited game experience and has shown he’s a capable reserve in a pinch. Like De Los Santos, he frequently gets quality reps in practice and makes plays – just not at the same level as the team’s top wideouts.

Gerome Surrell: Springing Into the Competition
Jr, 5-11, 200
Stockton (St. Mary’s HS)

Gerome Surrell walked on and joined the team in spring camp. That’s got him a bit of practice experience under his belt, but he’s still got a long way to go to see game time. It almost assuredly won’t happen this season with all the depth the team has, plus he’s behind De Los Santos and Stewart in the receiving ranks.

Gerald Nutt: Busting Into the Mix
Fr, 6-0, 166
Fresno (Clovis West HS)

Gerald Nutt is the newest walk-on of the group, a local product who could also play cornerback, and still might switch down the road. Nutt showed flashes of ability during fall camp, even catching a mid-range touchdown pass in the first fall scrimmage. He’s almost a lock to redshirt this season, so it’ll be a while before we find out his true potential.

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