The 2008 Gopher passing game was effectively a two-man traveling show. Early in the season, the Adam Weber to Eric Decker connection was consistently effective. As the season progressed, Decker predictably wore down due to a workload that was impossible to sustain. Without Decker, the Gophers were left with few effective receivers for their passing game. 2009 must see additional receivers step up and make strong contributions if the Gophers are to have a successful season in a year featuring a grueling schedule.
Decker is back for his senior season, but who might be poised to become the next go-to receiver? Here are the candidates, in no particular order:
David Pittman (WR - senior) - Pittman was a highly touted junior college recruit in the 2008 recruiting class. A quarterback at the JUCO level, Pittman is an exceptional athlete with versatile skills. He suffered a leg injury early in the 2008 season and was not able to play at full strength for most, if not all of the season. At 5'11, he could pose a threat as both a receiver or as a secondary passer.
Hayo Carpenter (WR - junior) - Another junior college transfer, Carpenter reportedly has blazing speed (4.37 seconds in the 40 yard dash) and is expected to be an immediate impact player for Minnesota. Last season, Carpenter had 93 receptions for 1,675 yards and 16 touchdowns as a standout junior college receiver.
Ben Kuznia (WR - senior) - Kuznia is a fundamentally sound wide receiver with good hands. He lacks the breakaway speed that is needed to become a standout receiver, but could contribute solidly as a secondary option with his blocking skills and reliable route-running.
Nick Tow-Arnett (TE - senior) - Last year, Tow-Arnett exhibited strong blocking and good route-running and receiving skills. Tow-Arnett may have benefited from playing alongside Jack Simmons who had a reputation for being a receiving tight end.
Brandon Green (WR - sophomore) - Green was the most highly rated receiver of the 2008 recruiting class, and saw increased playing time as the 2008 season progressed. Based solely upon recruiting ratings, Green is the favorite to be the go-to receiver in two or three years. He has the measurables, but it remains to be seen if he will develop into a top tier receiver.
Da'Jon McKnight (WR - sophomore) - At 6'3 McKnight has NFL height and demonstrated good hands with effective route-running in the Insight Bowl. There isn't a measurable for his speed available online. If he has the speed, he could step up to become a key talent in coming years.
Xzavian Brandon (WR - sophomore) - Another 6'3 receiver with ideal height and build, Brandon's success will depend upon his catching, blocking, and route-running skills. His listed speed is above average (4.48 seconds in the 40 yard dash). Like McKnight, Brandon could be a wild card who develops into a top tier talent.
Troy Stoudermire (WR - sophomore) - As a 5'10 former quarterback, Stoudermire's past experience and size are similar to that of David Pittman. As a speedy player with strong ball handling skills, Stoudermire will likely be used primarily as a kick returner and in multiple receiver sets.
Eric Lair (TE - sophomore) - Lair saw limited action as a freshman in 2008, and due to his experience is the likely the second tight end option to Tow-Arnett. Lair has the measurables, but will need to demonstrate blocking prowess, ball handling skills, and precision route running to become a major contributor to the passing game as a tight end.
Ra'Shede Hageman (TE - freshman) - Hageman, a standout athlete in the State of Minnesota in 2008, could become a dominant tight end if his measurables are indicative of his potential. At 6'6, weighing in at 235 pounds, and with exceptional agility and coordination for a big man Hageman has NFL potential. How, when, and if he develops that potential is a story yet to be told.
Bryant Allen (WR - freshman) - Bryant Allen is another wild card. He is an outstanding all-around athlete, and may compete to play basketball for the Gophers as well. At 6'0 and with outstanding agility and coordination, Allen's 4.3 second 40 yard dash time could eventually (if not immediately) create havoc throughout the Big Ten.
Victor Keise (WR - freshman) - Keise's online videos exhibit great hands and an ability to adjust to bad throws. Weighing in at 160 pounds, Keise may need to take a redshirt year and hit the weight room. He's only 18 years old, so if he continues to grow and develop he could become an impact player.
Based upon last year's performance, rating services, and my own personal analysis I developed the following chart. The Buck Bravo Prediction (BBP) ratings attempt to rate the likely impact that the primary receivers on the roster will have in 2009 (age is for the beginning of the 2009 season, Scout ratings are out of a possible 5, Rivals ratings are out of a possible 6.1(5), ESPN ratings are out of a possible 95):