By the middle of the 2017 football season, it became clear that Texas Longhorns wide receiver Devin Duvernay was missing in action.
Following a freshman season that saw the 5’11, 205-pounder with verified 4.38 speed emerge as one of the team’s top deep threats, Duvernay seriously regressed as a sophomore.
Consider this — in 2016 he ranked first among all true freshmen wide receivers in 2016 with a 140.2 passer rating when targeted, according to Pro Football Focus. Only one Big 12 receiver, West Virginia’s Shelton Gibson, averaged more than the 20.6 yards that Duvernay gained per catch.
A three-game stretch against Oklahoma, Iowa State, and Kansas State was particularly impressive, as Duvernay recorded touchdown receptions of 63, 75, and 80 yards.
Heading into the 2017 season, Duvernay looked poised for a breakout. After all, he was arguably the fastest player on the team with demonstrated deep-threat ability.
And then things fell apart. Duvernay failed to find the end zone. His number of receptions dropped from 20 to nine and his average yards per reception fell from 20.6 to 13.8.
One of the questions that surrounded coordinator Tim Beck’s offense was what exactly happened to Duvernay.
There are several possible answers. One is that the offense simply didn’t use him correctly. Another is that the constant shuffling at quarterback and Sam Ehlinger’s lack of accuracy on deep passes hurt Duvernay. Another still is that Duvernay simply hadn’t developed his route-running ability enough to be successful in an offense that actually required that skill. The offensive line probably contributed, too, since it struggled to protect both quarterbacks long enough to make downfield throws. None of those possible answers are mutually exclusive — it was likely a combination of all those factors.
On Tuesday, head coach Tom Herman provided some perspective on what happened last year and where Duvernay is now as he splits reps with senior John Burt at the flanker position.
“He has had a really good spring,” Herman said. “He has developed as a route runner. He’s caught mostly everything that’s been thrown his way. He’s understanding some of the nuances of playing receiver — getting open in zones, finding windows. Like I said, route running has dramatically improved. He’s earned the right to be there.”
Now it’s on the coaches and quarterbacks to make sure that Duvernay’s big-play ability doesn’t go to waste once again.