Xavier Worthy. Jordan Whittington.
Of the 248 catches for 3,138 yards and 22 receiving touchdowns for the Texas Longhorns in 2022, Worthy and Whittington combined for 110 catches (44.4 percent), 1,412 yards (45 percent), and 10 receiving touchdowns (45.5 percent).
Looking at the (lack of) production from the other wide receivers puts into stark relief how much the passing game was reliant on only two players — Casey Cain, Tarique Milton, Savion Red, Brenen Thompson, Troy Omeire, and Agiye Hall totaled 19 catches for 323 yards and zero touchdowns. Running back Bijan Robinson matched that number of receptions, had nine fewer receiving yards, and scored two more touchdowns by himself.
Milton exhausted his eligibility and Omeire and Hall both entered the NCAA transfer portal, giving way to Georgia transfer AD Mitchell and early enrollees Johntay Cook and DeAndre Moore before Ryan Niblett arrives during the summer. Wyoming transfer Isaiah Neyor, who missed the 2022 season with a knee injury, will likely be limited during the spring, but could be close to 100-percent healthy when preseason camp begins.
So there should be much more talent and production from the wide receivers in 2023 after a disappointment season that saw little development and some notable struggles by Worthy.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first — despite the drops and the poor body language and the drama surrounding whether or not he would return to the program for winter conditioning, Worthy’s first two seasons were as good or better than any other wide receiver in school history.
Worthy has two seasons that rank in the top 15 in school history in receptions, putting him in the same category over his career even though he’s only played two seasons, he’s already third in school history in receiving touchdown with 21, and his six consecutive games with a touchdown ranks third all time at Texas.
Known as a hard and conscientious worker, there is room for improvement — more intense concentration looking passes into his hands to reduce drops, tracking the ball better in the air, and getting on the same page as quarterback Quinn Ewers about the correct landmarks on post routes.
In regards to Worthy’s ability as a deep threat, there are questions about whether that’s the best fit for his skill set after the issues in 2022, but there’s no doubt that he’s capable of getting open on those routes and simply hasn’t had enough passes delivered accurately enough to judge how consistently he can actually come down with catches.
With his speed and playmaking ability, however, using Worthy more often on short and intermediate routes could significant benefit the Longhorns by getting him the ball in space on throws that are easier to make for the quarterback and easier for Worthy to catch.
After three seasons derailed by injuries, Whittington was finally healthy for the first time in 2022, emerging as the wide receiver with the most reliable hands on the team and an ability to get open on intermediate routes. The touchdowns didn’t come for Whittington — only one despite recording 50 receptions — and he wasn’t as prolific on third down. Improvements around the rising senior, however, could afford him more room to operate in the shot zone or extended red zone and better depth at the position should allow him to move back into the slot as Texas plays more in 11 personnel.
Whittington should also be the questioned leader in new position coach Chris Jackson’s room.
In the mix with Arkansas safety transfer Jalen Catalon as the most important addition from the portal, Mitchell is a tall, lean outside receiver who showed some real big-play ability in both of Georgia’s runs to national championships, performing his best when the lights were the brightest.
With quick feet and strong change-of-direction ability, Mitchell isn’t a typical big-bodied receiver because of his agility. There are some questions about his consistency as a pass catcher and he’ll be expected to be a major contributor for the first time in his college career, but he does profile as a much-needed depth threat who could take pressure off of Worthy, the team’s only real deep threat for the last two seasons.
Neyor’s long touchdown catch on a post route in last year’s Orange-White game tantalized fans with his potential as a deep threat, but the knee injury sustained during the first scrimmage of preseason camp ended Neyor’s first season on the Forty Acres before it could even start.
A strong route-runner for his size, Neyor also has a tremendous catch radius, which should make him an effective red-zone target when he returns to full health, assuming that he does so in the 2023 season. The expectation, though, is that he’ll be a limited participant in spring practice.
The rising sophomore has impressed at times with one-handed catches in practice and some explosiveness in games, enough to suggest more upside than suggest by his ranking as the No. 836 player nationally and the No. 123 wide receiver, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. The attention to detail just wasn’t there in 2022, however, as Cain had some miscommunications with his route running and dropped some passes, resulting in eight straight games in which he didn’t catch a single pass as he played sparingly. In the Alamo Bowl, when Texas shifted to 11 personnel in an attempt to mount a comeback, Cain flashed again with four catches for 108 yards.
The additions of Mitchell and the freshmen will put some pressure on Cain to keep improving to maintain a spot in the wide receiver rotation as he serves as an intriguing test case for Jackson’s developmental ability.
The Florida product suffered a significant setback when he suffered a knee injury as a freshman and didn’t appear healthy for most of the 2022 season. In high school, he flashed strong straight-line speed and was known as a dedicated worker. But the path to playing time is going to be difficult unless he can make a big move during the spring.
As a true freshman, Red was mostly used in the screen game, catching six passes for 34 yards in that capacity. This spring, he’ll spend at least some of his time at running back with rising redshirt sophomore Jonathon Brook expected to miss time following hernia surgery, a position at which his ability after the catch and sturdy should aid in his transition. The concern is that the position change could bury him at running back while limiting his development at wide receiver and could be a commentary on his route-running ability given his highly-specialized usage in 2022.
Perhaps the fastest player on the team, Thompson played sparingly in 2022 as a true freshman, recording one catch for 34 yards, a flash of the track star’s explosiveness. Running track this spring could slow his development and his slight build is a concern moving forward. Will splitting time limit the Spearman product’s ability to add much-needed strength?
The consensus five-star prospect arrives on the Forty Acres as a two-time state champion and one of the best playmakers at wide receiver in the country — Cook is fast, has an advanced ability to run routes relative to his age, and, unlike Worthy, can track the ball, adjust to it, and finish plays with catches thanks to his strong hands. Expect Cook to position himself as a contributor during spring practice.
The late addition in the 2023 recruiting class out of California was a playmaker on jet sweeps and screen passes — he’s excellent with the ball in his hands — and also served as a vertical threat. There isn’t much evidence of his route-running ability in intermediate areas, though, so he projects as a player with a longer developmental curve than Cook. Despite those concerns, his ability to star as a two-way standout is a testament to his ability as a pure football player.
The lack of depth at the position was a significant limiting factor on the ceiling of last year’s team, putting increased pressure on the running game and on the quarterback to hit deep throws without the ability to go deep through progressions to easier throws as Texas often used max protection on shot plays.
Throw in questionable development from now-departed position coach Brennan Marion and the group was disappointing overall, especially the struggles by Worthy.
With much-improved depth, this is a position that should take a huge step forward this season. If Worthy can improve personally, the wide receiver group has an extremely high ceiling.