This is the second of five questions we’re debating to preview and prepare for the 2016 Pitt football season. Lucky for us, some of our #PittTwitter friends were kind enough to contribute their thoughts for each question.
Today we discuss one of the positions of most concern headed into the 2016 season: wide receiver. Be sure to listen to our mini episode at the end of the post after you read through what our panel has to say, and check out Question 1 of our five-part series if you missed it!
- Jim Hammett, CardiacHill.com
- Chris Bruno, CardiacHill.com (@BrunoPittsburgh)
- Justin Witmer (@NFLGimpy)
- Anson Whaley, CardiacHill.com (@AnsonWhaley)
- Corey Cohen (@CoreyECohen)
Pitt is trying to replace Tyler Boyd, which is an impossible task. Beyond Dontez Ford, the WR depth chart is anybody’s guess. How do you see this battle playing out, and who will step up and earn spots?
I believe Jester Weah will take a step forward. I also think that you could see more TE usage with Scott Orndoff. I have heard a lot of good things about the freshmen so far, but the one I’m hearing the most about is Aaron Mathews. That makes sense as he creates big matchup problems for opponents with his height. I think he could be VERY useful in the red zone and for jump balls. Flowers and Ffrench (the other freshmen receivers), I think could push too. As you mentioned, replacing Boyd is impossible, but if the receivers and Peterman can be seen by defenses as, at least, a small threat, it really could help the already dangerous running game.
I don’t expect anyone to step up individually to earn a full time starting spot opposite of Ford early in the season. The coaches will rotate players opposite of him based on packages and situations. Quadree Henderson and Jester Weah will be used to try and get yards in big chunks due to their speed. Zach Challingsworth will be a shorter yardage target. I’m expecting a rotation of those three until someone starts to separate.
If I have to choose someone who sticks, it’ll be Henderson. Henderson is the only speedster who has translated that on the field when it mattered. Weah looked good in the spring, but I’m still not sure he’s ever going to turn his track speed into playmaking on the field. I do expect one of the true freshmen to earn playing time later in the season so he can step up and be a huge playmaker in 2017. My guess is Aaron Mathews, but the talent is there with Flowers and Ffrench too.
One alternative option to “replace” Boyd is Scott Orndoff. Under Matt Canada, NC State spread the ball around a lot; six players had 20+ catches. The leader was a TE named Jaylen Samuels with 65 catches for 597 yards and 7 TDs. Last year Orndoff and JP Holtz combined for 37/594/9. Orndoff could be in the 50/700/8 range himself if Canada uses him similarly.
Quadree Henderson seems like the hot name out there right now and Jester Weah has picked up some steam after the spring as well. Coaches also recently talked highly of freshman Aaron Mathews. But man, it’s anybody’s guess. The good news is that there are a ton of candidates for production but the bad news is that we don’t know who is going to get that playing time. I’m not terribly concerned at wide receiver because with so many options, you have to imagine they’ve got a player or two that will step up. If they can’t find two solid receivers out of this group, it should raise eyebrows. My money would be on Henderson getting the first shot at being the No. 2 guy but it’s a toss up right now at that spot and in the backup roles.
I believe the man most likely to step up as the other starting wide receiver is Quadree Henderson. Zach Challingsworth should be a solid contributor who racks up a decent amount of 7-yard receptions, but Henderson can be explosive. He’ll show some shades of Tyler Boyd this season, and I think he’ll be a good compliment to what Dontez Ford does on the field.
Dontez Ford is about the only sure thing in the receiving corps. Outside of him, you have plenty of young players and mostly unproven veterans. While Ford is an unquestioned starter, many wouldn’t consider him a true #1 receiver on an ACC championship contender. He himself needs to prove he can make plays without Tyler Boyd diverting the defense’s attention. Ford is a nice player, but has room to improve himself.
I look for a guy like Zach Challingsworth to be in the rotation. He found some mid-season success and came down with some big catches in the North Carolina and Duke games. Also among the returnees is junior Jester Weah. While he hasn’t done much on the field of play, he’s still arguably the best athlete on the team physically.
Now looking at the younger guys, I fully expect sophomore Quadree Henderson to have an impact. He made some big special teams plays last season, and it sounds as though his offensive role will expand. After that, I think Pitt needs at the very least one freshman to really make a difference. Whether it be redshirt freshman, Tre Tipton or one of the true freshmen Aaron Mathews, Maurice Ffrench, and Ruben Flowers. By the sounds of it, Mathews had a strong camp thus far, and may be in line to get the reps.