The 2017 season mercifully came to an end with the loss to South Florida. The pain of the loss was compounded by the news that Biletnikoff award semifinalist Keke Coutee will be leaving a year early to enter the 2018 NFL draft. Coutee was the Red Raiders most dynamic player with the ability to score any time he touched the ball. His departure now means that the Red Raiders will have to fill three starting receiver spots next season. Let’s take a look at returning players and new recruits who will be competing to fill those spots.
The only position that seems to be locked up like a bank vault is the Z position with TJ Vasher. Vasher flashed the potential this year to be the next great receiver at Wide Receiver U. His combination of size and speed make him a nightmare for defenses to cover and I expect him to lead this receiving unit in both yards and touchdowns next season.
TJ Vasher @VashForSiXX showing out today. 2nd TD on a 54 yard pass. Great catch young man. #OFOT #940 pic.twitter.com/ASob4tS8f3— Rider Football (@raiderfball) October 14, 2017
On the opposite side of the field is the other outside receiver vacated by Dylan Cantrell. I expect the first person to get a shot at this job to be Junior Quan Shorts. As the back-up at this position all year he did not make much noise but he has the size and speed to be very successful at this spot. Another option could be incoming 4-star freshman Erik Ezukanma. It is very rare for a freshman to come in and start his first year but talent will not be the thing that would keep Ezukanma off the field. My guess is that Quan Shorts will be your starter with Ezukanma his main backup and I would not be surprised if at the end of the year they are essentially splitting time.
Both inside receiver spots will be open for competition. Of the top four receivers on the depth chart to start the season three have moved on because of graduation or entering the NFL draft. This leaves only Jojo Robinson as the only member of the 2 deep to start the season and even he seemed to be beaten out by Antoine Wesley by the end of the year. Robinson, De’Quan Bowman, Antoine Wesley, and Xavier Martin are all returners that will eye a starting role. The Red Raiders will also have multiple freshmen looking to find a role in the two-deep with Gabriel Douglas, Sterling Galban, Kesean Carter, and Corey Fulcher. Xavier Martin is very intriguing because he was a dynamic and highly rated quarterback coming out of high school that spent this year making the transition to receiver. Just two years ago another high school quarterback made that transition, Jonathan Giles, and ended his sophomore season as the fourth leading receiver in the Big 12. I expect Martin to take control of one of these spots. Another option for the other side could be Antoine Wesley. His body type would be a change from the small shifty players of recent years but might allow this offense a new dimension it has not been seen since the days of Jace Amaro. Wesley seemed to be the main backup to Cameron Batson by the end of the year and might have the inside track to this starting job. At 6-5 he would be a monster in the Redzone, an area that the Red Raiders really struggled this year.
This receiver recruiting class is pretty large with five players already signed and one still expected to sign in February so it is likely that the coaches will focus on other position in recruiting. The only exception to this would be a receiver that is highly regarded and now on the market because of the recent coaching changes across the nation.
I believe that when the Raiders take on the Rebels of Ole Miss on September 1 that the starting receivers will be; TJ Vasher, Quan Shorts, Xavier Martin, and Antoine Wesley.