In 2017, the Texas Longhorns receiving corps was a point of confusion to both coaches and fans. In spite of being one of — if not the most — talented groups on the team, the Longhorns struggled to find consistent production from anyone at the receiver position.
That inconsistency was the most present at the inside receiver position.
In 10 of 13 games, the listed starter at inside receiver finished the game with three catches or fewer, and on one occasion the listed starter at that spot was held without a catch. Texas started three different receivers at that spot, in addition to starting Reggie Hemphill-Mapps as a second inside receiver on two difference occasions.
Three of those four players are no longer with the team.
Armanti Foreman is graduating, Chris Warren III attempted a transfer before making the jump to the NFL, and the aforementioned Hemphill-Mapps announced his intentions to transfer prior to spring camp. That leaves Texas with one player with starting experience at the inside receiver position, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who emerged in 2017 as one of the passing game’s most-consistent threats.
As a sophomore, he appeared in every regular-season game, missing the Texas Bowl due to a suspension for violating team rules. Even after missing a full game, he was the team’s second-leading receiver, and averaged 11.65 yards per reception. He finished as the team’s leading receiver on three occasions, with a career-high 106 yards in the loss to TCU, a 55-yard performance against Baylor, and a 36-yard outing against Iowa State.
Although he played well as season ago, Humphrey finds himself behind junior Collin Johnson at the X wide receiver to start fall practice.
As a redshirt junior, Jerrod Heard was a utility player for Texas rushing the ball 18 times, in addition to his 20 receptions and two pass attempts. Prior to spring practice, head coach Tom Herman specifically mentioned Heard as a team leader for this season, and with a quarterback room finally full of scholarship athletes, Heard should be able to shift his focus entirely to developing his skills as a receiver in the slot.
Jordan Pouncey is a name to watch as Texas looks to add depth at the position, and the all-around athlete could be an answer for the Longhorns. At Winter Park (FL) High School, Pouncey was a two-way player, getting reps at running back, wide receiver and defensive back, racking up 1,520 all-purpose yards in his senior season.
His combination of size and speed could make him a problem for defenses moving forward, if he is able to move up the depth chart and see the field.
This spring will be pivotal for Pouncey, as Joshua Moore will join the fray when he arrives for fall practice, a player Coach Herman mentioned by name as a “necessity” in his National Signing Day press conference.
Moore is an all-around athlete who amassed more than 2,600 total yards in his three seasons with the Yoakum Bulldogs, and ended his senior season as the No. 10-ranked player in the state of Texas. If he can come in during fall camp and play up to his potential, he has the potential to be a contributor for the Longhorns.
That could, however spell danger for those already on campus. If Pouncey or any other receivers do not turn in strong spring performances, they could very well find themselves behind Moore on the depth chart come fall. Being passed on the depth chart by an incoming freshman could spell the need for a positional move if they want to see any significant field time in their final seasons in burnt orange.
At a position that seems to be bursting with talent, the inside receiver position is definitely the biggest vulnerability, even if simply due to a lack of seasoned depth at the position. Texas faces another spring with a quarterback battle and whoever ends up as the guy, Sam Ehlinger or Shane Buechele, they need a reliable option on the short routes underneath.
Thankfully, the offense should be vastly improved in other areas, which will make the passing game a bigger threat. With the addition of new offensive line coach Herb Hand and adding a player of Calvin Anderson’s talent, barring another injury-plagued season the offensive line should be more consistent in 2018. That would not only allow the quarterbacks more time to make to make good passes to any receiver, it should aid in the progression of running backs Daniel Young and Toneil Carter, brining balance to the offense.
So as Texas enters 2018, the coaches and players must find a way to turn the high level of talent at receiver into on-field production, or the passing game will once again prove to be a point of frustration.