Maybe the best thing you could say about Dylan Cantrell is his consistency, especially at a position that changes sometimes week to week and almost always from year to year. Remember Jonathan Giles, who was seen as the future of the receiving core before getting beat out this spring by Keke Coutee, he is an example of just how volatile being a Red Raider receiver can be. Cantrell has been the one receiver over the past three years that you could plug him into the starting lineup and forget about it. He’s covered up a lot of bad throws with his ability to go over the top of a defender and make a grab. This skill allowed Shimonek, and previously Mahomes, to be less than perfect on ball placement and still complete passes.
8. Dylan Cantrell, WR (Preseason Rank: 5)
Cantrell started the year determined to make 2017 his best year yet and he did just that, starting with the Arizona State game. He hauled in eight catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns, with the first being a 29 yard deep ball caught in the back of the end zone with absolutely no room to spare. He wasn’t done yet as he made the catch of the night with only 30 seconds before halftime.
Unfortunately, that would be the last time this season he would break the 100 yard mark in receiving. However with Cantrell, yards is often not the best way to gauge his production level, since his greatest attribute is the ability to score the football with people hanging all over him. At years end he collected six touchdown grabs, many of which were from inside the 20-yard line.
There is no doubt that Cantrell’s opportunities were also limited by the sporadic quarterback play during the heart of Big 12 play. There were not enough times that Shimonek would throw a deep ball and allow him to make a play. Coming down with 50/50 balls was something that we saw often when Cantrell was playing with high school teammate Patrick Mahomes.
Perhaps his most selfless act this season was to switch positions part-way through the year. After Derrick Willies went into the witness protection program (I assume this is what happened because we never saw him again), Cantrell flipped sides of the field so that redshirt freshman TJ Vasher didn't have to learn a new position. This position has historically resulted in fewer targets since it is on the left side of the quarterback and I suspect it did impact Cantrell’s production.
One thing you could always count on, is for Cantrell to show up. Whether it was competing for a jump ball, blocking downfield, or running the right route. He was one of the players fans were most excited to see win at Texas and become bowl eligible.
Next year someone will have to come in and replace the production of a two year starter and captain. It appears TJ Vasher has one side locked down but it will be interesting to see who will join him on the other side. One likely candidate is Quan Shorts who was the back-up to Cantrell this year. Shorts is a talented guy who just has not seen much production as of yet. Another player that could be in line to compete for this position is Antoine Wesley. Wesley has the height that is comparable to both Willies and Cantrell and it appears the coaches values this on the outside. For him to take control of this spot it would require changing positions since he spent all of this year as an inside receiver. Two others that could be options include Xavier Martin who redshirted this year making the transition from quarterback to receiver and incoming freshman Erik Ezukanma.
Cantrell should get a look with the NFL, either as a late-round draft pick or as an undrafted free agent. I could see him getting into camp with a team and making the decision to cut him very difficult because of his ability to play special teams. I could see a role like the one Bradley Marquez has carved out with the Rams and Lions for Cantrell.