When the official depth chart was released on Monday, it was no surprise to see 6’0, 205-pound, sophomore Devin Duvernay as the starting “Z” wide receiver. Duvernay was second on the team in receiving yards (412) last year as the leading wide receiver Armanti Foreman (420) barely edged him out. Duvernay showed flashes of excellence throughout his freshman season under Sterlin Gilbert’s renovated offense.
While his debut year got off to a slow start with only one catch in non-conference play, his playing time increased as Big 12 play went on. Duvernay provided a major spark early on in the second half against the Oklahoma Sooners, hauling in a 63-yard touchdown pass from fellow freshman QB Shane Buechele. At that very moment, Longhorn fans realized he could truly be something special.
He followed up a strong performance vs. OU with a 75-yard score vs. Iowa State, which at the time was a 10-6 ballgame. He then followed that up with an 80-yard touchdowns early on against a scrappy Kansas State team on the road. Possibly the most memorable play Duvernay made last season, though, was when he chased down a Texas Tech defender on the erratic 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Duvernay knocked the defender out at the two-yard-line, but unfortunately went unnoticed during the booth review from the officials and the play stood as a score.
Overall, it was a very solid first season for the true freshman receiver. While only catching 20 passes, he averaged 20.6 yard per reception. WOW. That was good for second in the Big 12, behind only West Virginia’s Shelton Gibson in yards per catch (minimum 20 receptions).
According to Pro Football Focus, Duvernay led all true freshman wide receivers with a 140.2 passing rating when targeted.
He should have been much more involved in the offense last season. Gilbert’s offense was set up for success on the outside with very limited use over the middle, which was the most frustrating part about the offense. Expect Duvernay to get AT LEAST four to five touches per game this season.
As a highly touted recruit coming out of high school (ranked as the No. 4 wide according to 247Sports, Devin and his brother Donovan were set to be Baylor Bears. After the sexual assault scandal hit the Baylor program, which led to the firing of Art Briles, the Duvernay brothers were free to head elsewhere. Following a successful unofficial visit to Texas, the brothers became Longhorns.
Duvernay is built like a running back with 4.3/4.4 40-yard dash speed. He has blazing speed. He can return kicks as well, as he averaged 21.6 per return in 2016. He is currently listed as the No. 1 kick returneron the depth chart. Expect to see a bigger impact from him in the return game this season.
How does Duvernay fit in as the “Z” receiver in the offense?
Last season, Houston wide receiver Linell Bonner thrived in that offense at the Z position. Bonner surpassed over 1,000 receiving yards and nearly hit the 100 mark for receptions with 98. He was Houston’s most reliable receiver playing alongside Chance Allen and Steven Dunbar. With Collin Johnson playing Dunbar’s role in the offense as the X receiver, expect him to draw the top corner from the opponent week in and week out. This should also also for some opportunities in the slot. Texas arguably has the deepest wide receiver core in the nation, which means there will be a lot of rotations with the receivers.
That said, with as talented and as fast Duvernay is, expect him to remain a familiar face on the field and get lots of reps week in and week out.
Look to Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel for evidence of what Duvernay may be able to do in the slot, where he also thrived in Columbus under offensive coordinator Tim Beck. Samuel had 865 receiving yards on 74 receptions. While Duvernay plays a different role than Samuel in the slot, it goes to show how important the slot receiver is going to be in this Texas offense.
Herman refers to this receiving core as the best he’s ever coached.
This really speaks volumes on how good Duvernay and this group as a whole can be.
Will Duvernay lead the team in receiving yards in 2017? Will he put his name up there as one of the best slot receivers in the nation this season? We shall see. It all starts today vs. Maryland.