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Devin Duvernay appears to be Texas’ new star in the slot

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Through two games, Devin Duvernay has been more productive in the slot than Lil’Jordan Humphrey last season, thanks in large part to a career night vs. LSU.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Duvernay was once regarded as the fifth-best wide receiver in his high school class, but throughout his first three seasons in Austin, he was seldom utilized as the elite talent he signed with the Texas Longhorns as in 2016. Between then and the beginning of the 2019 season, Duvernay’s final on the Forty Acres, he hauled in just 70 career receptions, which only slightly exceeded Collin Johnson’s 2018 total of 68, and his 1,082 career receiving yards trailed Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s junior efforts of 1,176 by nearly 100 yards.

Simply put, it wasn’t as if Duvernay’s elite-level talent vanished into thin air when he signed with Texas, but during his time in burnt orange, it was rarely utilized.

That’s changed.

The most obvious explanation is the absence of Humphrey, who emerged as Sam Ehlinger’s top target and safety blanket last season before leaving early for the NFL. But more notably, the absence of Humphrey’s talent has simply afforded Duvernay the opportunity to showcase his in a much more prominent role, and he’s certainly thriving to that end.

After moving to the slot this offseason to not only help fill the void Humphrey left behind, but to make way for the emergence of sophomore Brennan Eagles in Duvernay’s previous role as the Z receiver, the senior has surfaced as one of the most valuable receiving threats in college football. That’s maybe most evident in the form of his 21 total receptions through two games, which, after setting new career highs with nine and 12 catches against Louisiana Tech and LSU, respectively, trails only Purdue star Rondale Moore (24) nationally.

In 2018, Duvernay didn’t record his 21st catch until the eighth game of the season.

The 209 yards Duvernay has totaled throughout his first two efforts of the season is good for second-best in the Big 12, behind only Oklahoma State star Tylan Wallace (272), and much of that came through a career showing last Saturday against LSU.

After seeing just one reception for 17 yards in the first half, Duvernay exploded coming out of the break, snagging 11 more passes, which set a school record for the most receptions in a half, including an explosive 44-yard catch-and-run touchdown on 4th and 2 that largely kept the Longhorns’ comeback hopes alive.

All told, his 154 receiving yards against LSU unsurprisingly serves as a new career-high, and his 12 total receptions are now tied as the fourth-best showing in school history, trailing only Jordan Shipley (15 in 2008), Quan Cosby (14 in 2009), and Roy Williams (13 in 2002).

Not to mention, given that Texas has largely utilized Duvernay on quick screen passes to begin the 2019 season, much of his productivity has come courtesy of sheer strength and willpower, as Duvernay has consistently shed would-be tackles and bulldozed his way to valuable yards after the catch.

“I don’t know another way to say it but the anger that he runs with once he has the ball in his hands, and the physicality, it’s just so impressive for a slot receiver,” Texas head coach Herman said on Monday. “I’m glad he’s on our team. I’m glad he’s fully bought-in, fully committed, compelled even, at this point in his career.

“I would expect much of the same from him.”

What “much of the same” ultimately looks like on the stat sheet remains to be seen, but at this early juncture, Duvernay appears to have solidified himself as Ehlinger’s new safety blanket — his 21 receptions are 13 more than Eagles, the team’s second-leading receiver.

In terms of the sheer total of receptions, he’s already more than halfway to a career year, and at least 10 games remain on his senior slate.

There’s that famous saying, “better late than never.” Well, for reasons likely largely centered around his specific role in the offense in previous years and how that’s changed entering 2019, Duvernay, at long last, looks the part of the elite-level receiver he was recruited to be.