The unit remains largely intact from last year. Another year of experience, a new coordinator and the return of Tanner Morgan.
As mentioned in the quarterback preview, this was not a unit that was fully utilized in 2021. We just didn’t pass very often. And perhaps most frustrating were the routes called for this crew. It was confusing how so often receivers were in the same area as the pass came. Or other games when they would continue to run the same routes, presumably because it was part of the initial game-plan, but there was a lack of adjusting when things weren’t working as expected.
The passing game was incredibly frustrating last season.
Chris Autman-Bell was very good with career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Dylan Wright showed flashes of being dominant. While Michael Brown-Stephens and Daniel Jackson showed that they belong at this level and could be very good as well.
Spring Preview - LINK
The prevailing thought is that the overall effectiveness of this unit rests on the consistency and talent of Dylan Wright.
On the topic of Wright, Ciarrocca said earlier this spring: “As Matt and I were talking this morning, I was like, ‘Matt, we know where we want him to be and where he’s capable of being, but let’s just understand that he’s moving in that direction.’ And as long as we keep him moving in that direction, and he stays committed to wanting to move in that direction, because you gotta do the work. And he’s really been committed to doing the work and so we’re seeing improvement in him.”
His work throughout the spring and summer are going to really have an impact on the 2022 Gopher offense.
Starter: Chris Autman-Bell, Dylan Wright, Daniel Jackson, Michael Brown-Stephens
Depth: Clay Geary (SR), Le’Meke Brockington (rFR), Ike White (tFR), Kristen Hopkins (tFR)
The top 4 receivers by receptions/yards are all back. What was lost is a lot of depth due to the portal. Brady Boyd, Doug Emilien, Dylan Hillard-McGill, and Peter Udoibok all had a chance to contribute in 2022 but choose different paths.
So we are left with 4 very solid options leading the way.
Autman-Bell and Wright are the veterans who are talented enough that conceivably they could give the Gophers one of the best WR combos in the conference. Health and consistency are the biggest question marks for these two. Wright, at times, looked like he was capable of dominating and taking over any game. And at other times, was rather invisible. Autman-Bell has a history of making huge catches and playing well in big games. He, as much as anybody not named Tanner Morgan, is going to benefit from Kirk Ciarrocca returning. Better route trees, better play-calling and presumably being put in better positions to succeed.
Brown-Stephens and Jackson both emerged last year in their first real season of getting on the field. These young guys both found ways to contribute and have 3 years left to compete. There is good reason to believe that either or both could break out in their second full season on the field and really elevate this group.
The depth is really Geary, who has been around for a long time, and a trio of freshmen. Geary is reliable and consistent if he’s called upon to get some snaps and be that 5th receiver? He’ll be great. Brockington was injured most of the spring and will be battling for playing time as he is fully healthy. Both of the true freshmen have potential to contribute. White was flashy in the spring and Hoskins brings an element of speed to the group, he may be an immediate contributor on special teams.
Upgrade or Downgrade?
Upgrade or Downgrade for the 2022 Gopher wide receivers?
This poll is closed
UPGRADE: All are back, all have major upside.
NEUTRAL: I’m happy with balanced production that supports the run game.
DOWNGRADE: No depth, nobody improves and this could be a disaster.
My favorite upgrade/downgrades are the ones where all of the key players are returning. When your top 4 receivers are returning, there is good reason to believe that this will be an upgrade just due to experience.
But add in the fact that Ciarrocca is back and there is palpable optimism that the passing game is going to take major steps forward. Then I think you can assume that this unit is going to be a major upgrade.
The biggest two questions are what kind of steps forward does Wright take? And how much do Brown-Stephens and Jackson improve in their second full seasons?
Reasonable to think that both of those questions will be answered with at least a little bit of improvement. And if any one of them takes major steps? This unit becomes dangerous, to go along with a potent rushing attack.
I’m calling for an upgrade, maybe a significant upgrade.