The Texas Longhorns will throw the football in 2016, a lot. Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert will use the loaded Longhorn backfield heavily -- for good reason -- but Gilbert's past at Tulsa and Bowling Green suggests the wide receivers for the 'Horns will need to step up. At Tulsa last season, Gilbert facilitated an offense that finished 11th in the country in total passing and featured the nation's leading receiver in receiving yards, Keyarris Garrett. More importantly, Gilbert's offense loves to spread people out, often times playing three or four wide receiver sets to give the quarterback multiple options and simple, easy reads.
Luckily for new wide receivers coach Charlie Williams, the Longhorns return two of their top three leading receivers and nine scholarship players at the position in 2016. Perhaps the biggest returners are sophomore John Burt, who led the team in receiving yards as a freshman, and junior Armanti Foreman. Burt and Foreman solidified themselves in the starting rotation during the Orange and White game earlier this spring, both securing touchdowns and dazzling fans with their speed.
Along with Burt and Foreman, the Longhorns return some serious talent underutilized in the past due to an anemic passing game. Dorian Leonard, Jake Oliver, Jacorey Warrick, Ryan Newsome, and DeAndre McNeal all are in the rotation for the 2016 season, and each possesses the athleticism to make a substantial impact against Big 12 defenses. If you sprinkle in the three incoming freshmen -- Collin Johnson, Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, and Davion Curtis -- the depth at wide receiver looks formidable and certainly talented enough to be ranked among the top in the Big 12.
Depth Chart (12 Scholarship Players)
John Burt, So., 1L
Dorian Leonard, Jr., 2L
Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, RS, HS
Lorenzo Joe, Jr., 2L
DeAndre McNeal, So, 1L
Jake Oliver, Jr., 1L
Ryan Newsome, So., 1L
Davion Curtis, FR, HS
Collin Johnson, Fr., HS
Armanti Foreman, Jr., 2L
Jacorey Warrick, Sr., 2L
Ty Templin, Sr., 1L
Marcus Johnson, UDFA-Philadelphia Eagles
Daje Johnson, UDFA-Atlanta Falcons
For the Longhorns to have success in the passing game this season, they will not only need a stable quarterback, but also steady production from their wide receivers at the outside position. Throwing the ball down the sidelines and screens on the numbers was a staple for Gilbert at Tulsa and will continue at Texas, especially since the Longhorns most talented receivers are on the outside.
Anchoring these spots at the start of the 2016 season will most likely be John Burt and Collin Johnson. Burt and Johnson both carry a big frame, a feature Gilbert prizes in his outside receivers. Burt is one of the fastest players in the Big 12 and flashed his ability to get open deep on multiple occasions last season, including scores of 69 and 84 yards. Burt also has great hands and route running ability and is without a doubt the Longhorns most talented receiver returning this fall.
However, incoming freshman Collin Johnson will not play second fiddle. A heralded recruit out of California, Johnson has already drawn lofty praise in spring ball from his coaches who have already compared him to NFL talents. In fact, the Longhorns probably have not seen a developed freshman receiver like Johnson since Roy Williams arrived on the 40 Acres. With great hands and a monster frame to start his freshman season, Johnson will be on the field early for the Horns.
In addition to Johnson and Burt, Armanti Foreman and Dorian Leonard will see playing time on the outside. Foreman, a four star recruit out of Texas City, has not lived up to his lofty billing yet at Texas but separated himself in spring practices including an 81-yard performance in the Orange and White game. More than likely, he will also see playing time inside. Leonard, on the other hand, will have to fight for substantial playing time. The junior out of Longview looked impressive in the spring game, but sits behind three younger players on the outside and will have to make the most out of his opportunities.
On the inside, the picture is not as clear for the Longhorns. The number one guy on the inside will probably be junior Lorenzo Joe. A tall possession receiver, Joe thrives on finding soft spots in defensive coverage and running sharp routes. Those strengths may make Joe the number one guy for the Horns on the inside.
The Horns also will look at Jake Oliver and DeAndre McNeal to step up at the slot position. McNeal has a unique gift of size and speed, which makes him a tough match up against safeties and undersized corners who will be defending him. Oliver was one of the top receivers in Texas high school history, but has barely made a dent at Texas until this past spring where he surprised coaches with his hands and athleticism. Oliver will never be the fastest player on the field, but his frame gives the Longhorns another big target over the middle for Shane Buechele.
Behind McNeal and Oliver are senior Jacorey Warrick and sophomore Ryan Newsome. Although both guys appear to lie deep on the depth chart, don't let that fool you. Both small, speedy receivers will see playing time on offense next fall, especially in four-wide sets. Similar in their style of play, Newsome and Warrick have elite speed that will make for tough matchups on the inside. If Warrick and Newsome can find a way to run sharper routes and have more reliable hands, expect to see a heavy dose of both next fall. Newsome will also be in contention for returning kicks on special teams next season.
Incoming freshman Davion Curtis also has a shot at playing next season on the inside because of his track speed (10.72 in the 100m) and experience playing in the same offense Gilbert is installing at Texas, but he would benefit from a redshirt season.
With an immense amount of talent returning, the Texas wide receiver position looks like of the more solid position groups on campus. If the Longhorns find the answer at quarterback, fielding a top three receiver corps in the Big 12 is not out of the question, so the burnt orange faithful should be excited to see what the playmakers can do in Gilbert's high-powered offense.