In 2018 the question for the Texas Longhorns was, can Lil’Jordan Humphrey handle taking over full-time at inside receiver? In 2019, the question was, can Devin Duvernay successfully make the transition inside and replace Humphrey’s production?
Both of those questions seem funny in hindsight.
Duvernay and Humphrey put up two of the greatest receiving seasons in school history, No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, combining for 34 percent of Texas’ passing yards and 30 percent of their passing touchdowns in the two seasons.
So the question this offseason is now who will be the next receiver to benefit from what appears to be an H-receiver bump?
The most obvious answer is the man who sat behind Duvernay on the depth chart in 2019 —rising sophomore Jake Smith.
Expectations for Smith were huge coming into the season and early in the season, the 2018 Gatorade Football Player of the Year lived up to them. Through his first four games in burnt orange, Smith accounted for 150 yards and four touchdowns with just 13 receptions. However, as the season came to a close, his production was inconsistent at best over the next nine games, including five games without a reception.
When he’s at the top of his game, Smith is a dynamic playmaker with the ability to find open space in coverage and the speed to finish the job with the ball in his hands. His skills were perhaps best on display against Rice, when he accounted for six receptions, 75 yards and two touchdowns in the big win.
In spite of his incumbency, expect competition at the inside receiver spot, especially with redshirt freshman Jordan Whittington moving back to receiver for spring camp.
If not for Bru McCoy’s short stint on the Forty Acres, Whittington would hold the title as the top-ranked recruit in the 2019 class and the lone five-star commit from the nation’s No. 3 recruiting class. In high school, he played all over the field for Cuero, primarily as a wildcat quarterback and wide receiver, turning in more nearly 1,800 yards and 27 touchdowns as he led the Gobblers to a state championship as a senior.
Whittington capped his high school career with a legendary performance, breaking Eric Dickerson’s record and earning both offensive and defensive MVP honors.
When he arrived on campus, many expected Whittington to step in at inside receiver, but depth issues at running back moved the versatile player to the backfield. His 2019 season did not go as planned, as Whittington missed essentially all of the season due to the nagging effects of a sports hernia. His only appearance was in the first half of the season opener against Louisiana Tech before he underwent two surgeries.
Whittington took a redshirt for the year and now that he is presumably healthy, Whittington has all of the skills to be a dynamic inside receiver.
Perhaps the most exciting part of this conversation is the likelihood of seeing both of them on the field as part of new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s offense. His mantra coming in has been “players, formations, plays.” In other words, his plan is to get the best 11 players on the field. So if the need is there, you will likely see both players on the field at the same time.
“Who are our best 11? Our best 11 may not be our best 11 players — they’re the 11 that play together the best,” Yurcich said in his introductory press conference. “I don’t care if it’s 11 personnel, 12 personnel, 22 personnel. Whatever it takes to move the football — and that may differ from week to week depending on who you’re playing from a scheme standpoint.”
With that in mind, maybe the question is not who will take the spot, but how many ways will the new offensive system capitalize on the glut of talent at receiver. Expect to see some of the new offense in the Orange-White game on April 25, but with LSU in Week 2, don’t expect to see the full playbook unleashed early.