In 2015, there were wide receivers who caught more passes and scored more touchdowns, but no other pass-catcher racked up as many yards as former Tulsa Golden Hurricane star Keyarris Garrett. This fall, Texas Longhorns wide receivers John Burt and Collin Johnson will fight for opportunities to make a similar impact with Sterlin Gilbert bringing his offense to Austin.
A 6'3, 220-pounder from Daingerfield, Garrett was a mid three-star prospect who didn't hold any other offers coming out of high school, but gained 35 pounds, increased his speed, and was one of the primary beneficiaries of Gilbert's arrival at Tulsa, doubling his number of catches and receiving yards from 2014.
In looking at his NFL Scouting Combine results, it's easy to start understanding how Garrett was able to have such an outstanding year based on his measurables -- he ran a 4.53 40-yard dash and had a 36.5-inch vertical leap.
Most relevant to envisioning how Garrett's success could translate to Burt continuing to emerge as a sophomore and Johnson to build on his buzz-building spring is how the Tulsa star gained his yardage. Garret did most of his damage on post routes, go routes, slants, and hitches. In fact, those four routes accounted for over 90 percent of his production because those are the primary routes used in Gilbert's version of the veer-and-shoot offense.
Burt already showed his aptitude running those deep routes last season, scoring an 69-yard touchdown against Rice on a go route and an 84-yard touchdown against Kansas on a post route. Of the two big Texas wide receivers, Burt has the better speed to take advantage of defenders on post and go routes after running a 4.59 40-yard dash at The Opening almost two years ago and proving himself as a Big 12-caliber hurdler this spring.
After Burt's long catch and run against Kansas, former play caller Jay Norvell noted how much his track background helped him on that play, when he was collisioned by the Jaywhaks defensive back after the catch, but was able to maintain his balance.
"To keep his balance, you know he's a high hurdle champ and so those are some of the most special athletes you can find, the guys that run full speed and go over high hurdles and that's kind of what he did," Norvell said. "He went up and got the ball with a guy draped over him and he kept his balance and finished and it just shows how special of an athlete he is."
After running hurdles this spring and spending nearly a year in the Texas strength and conditioning program, Burt can probably get close to or surpass the time that Garrett ran at the Combine and showed it off during the spring game when he blasted past former world-class sprinter Sheroid Evans early on a go route. Later, on a double move, he flashed that speed again on his 65-yard touchdown catch from early enrollee Shane Buechele.
All told, Garrett caught 19 deep passes last season for 725 yards -- the former number was the best among all wide receivers in the 2016 draft class and the latter number ranked second. In other words, and in case it wasn't already apparent, Gilbert will call vertical pass plays repeatedly.
As good as Garrett was in stretching the field vertically, he was able to take advantage of off coverage with his physicality on slants and hitches. One nasty set of complementary plays that Gilbert likes to use is the combination of a screen pass using Garrett as a blocker and then a slant route where Garrett fakes a block and then darts inside.
For defenders who don't quite have their eyes right, have to worry about a 220-pounder blocking them out of the play and haven't even had much time to recover from the last time, it can be a devastating combination.
Johnson spent most of his sophomore season blocking his older brother before breaking out as a junior and Burt was both willing and effective as a blocker last season even though he's about 30 pounds lighter than Garrett. So both players would be dangerous on those plays this season.
Currently at 212 pounds, Johnson probably has more tackle-breaking upside than Burt because of his mass, which should only increase over the summer. He's also exceptionally physical for a big wide receiver, as head coach Charlie Strong noted this spring that he worries about his early enrollee at times because Johnson doesn't like to go out of bounds at the end of plays. Instead, he tries to physically challenge smaller defensive backs by lowering his shoulder and attempting to run them over.
If he can combine that type of effort with an effective stiff arm and have his quarterback throw him open on hitch routes, as Buechele was able to with other wide receivers at several points in the Orange and White game, Johnson has the profile of someone who can hurt defenses with yards after the catch on short, easy passes.
It might seem odd to compare highly-regarded talents like Burt and Johnson to a guy like Garrett who had one middling offer out of high school and wasn't even selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, but Garett's remarkable production last year provides a blueprint and a visualization of how Gilbert will use his two biggest and most talented receivers this fall.
By themselves, neither one is likely to come close to Garrett's production last season in terms of yards and catches because they will have to split those chances. Just don't be surprised when Gilbert's offense unleashes the collective potential of Burt and Johnson and allows them to combine outstanding numbers.