For a team that ran the ball 2⁄3 of the time, wide receiver maybe wasn’t all that important. Or maybe they ran the ball so much because the receivers weren’t reliable enough? Unsure what the answer is, but this was not a strong unit for the Gophers in 2022. Will it be better this year?
Starter: Daniel Jackson, Michael Brown Stephens, Dylan Wright
Depth: Le’Meke Brockington, Clay Geary
I am leaving off Chris Autman-Bell from the list above because the senior played in just the first three games before suffering a season-ending injury in the Colorado game. Clearly, he was a starter and the team’s best receiver, but only played in 3 games.
After that, the WR room was incredibly inconsistent and struggled throughout the 2022 season. The loss of CAB and the unreliability of the receivers was likely a factor in the Gopher offense running the ball 67% of the time.
The receiver who took the biggest step forward last season was probably Daniel Jackson. He missed the first two games of the season and finished leading the team with 557 yards and 5 touchdowns, to go with 37 receptions.
Dylan Wright was poised to step into the void left by Autman-Bell, making a great, 16-yard touchdown catch shortly after the injury in the Colorado game. But he struggled to really become a consistent threat for the offense. Wright finished with 17 catches on the season and just that lone touchdown.
Michael Brown Stephens had some moments in the Big Ten portion of the schedule but again lacked consistency. He finished with 22 receptions and zero touchdowns.
He and Wright have both transferred out of the program.
Le’Meke Brockington, Clay Geary and Kristen Hoskins also saw the field last year and contributed with minimal receptions.
Starter: Daniel Jackson, Corey Crooms, Chris Autman-Bell
Depth: Elijah Spencer, Le’Meke Brockington, Kristen Hoskins
Freshmen: Kenric Lanier, TJ McWilliams, Donielle Hayes
Autman-Bell is back for what feels like his 9th season for the Gophers. Technically just his 7th year in a Gopher uniform and he probably has enough degrees to be called Doctor Autman-Bell. On the field, expect CAB to be a reliable and often open target for Athan Kaliakmanis. He has always been skilled at getting open and catching contested passes. It remains to be seen if his injuries will slow him down or not, but those other attributes will not go away.
This could be the breakout year for Jackson, he came on strong at the end of 2022 and is poised to continue that into 2023. His 5 catches, 86 yards and a touchdown at Wisconsin were huge. And in the bowl game against Syracuse, he made a great contested TD catch and then took a screen 25 yards to score another. You could see his confidence growing throughout the season last year, expect more consistency in 2023.
As mentioned, Wright and Brown-Stephens are gone this year, but two exciting transfers are coming in.
Corey Crooms has been making some noise throughout the spring and is expected to start in week 1. He comes to the Gophers from Western Michigan and will have 1 year to play. Setting aside the excitement for Jackson and Autman-Bell, Crooms may end up being our best receiver this season.
Also transferring in is Elijah Spencer from Charlotte. He had 85 catches and over 1,300 yards in his 2 seasons for the 49ers. He will be heavily involved in the primary rotation if he’s not starting.
Back, and more experienced, are Le’Meke Brockington and Kristen Hoskins. Brockington is a redshirt sophomore with 3 seasons left to play. The Georgia native played in all 13 games last year, starting 4 and will certainly be on the field quite a bit this season as well.
Hoskins got some game action last year as a true freshman but retained his redshirt. The dynamic receiver from Alexandria is a playmaker and very well could be a dynamic contributor to the offense and special teams. He has 1 career reception, but that will change in 2023.
Then we have 3 freshmen coming into the program. Expect that Kenric Lanier, TJ McWilliams and Donielle Hayes will all redshirt this year. Perhaps getting some action, but not exceeding the limit in order to retain their redshirt status.
Upgrade? Yes, I think one is clearly an upgrade. The overall talent is better and this unit is much deeper. There are 4 guys who I think are all going to be as good, if not better, than all of the primary contributors last year.
Very excited about the 2023 season for Jackson. I think that both transfers are going to be solid contributors. Autman-Bell has produced over the years, we know what we can expect from him. There’s a chance that he’ll be our 3rd best receiver this season. And I also think there’s a very real chance that we get a number of big plays from Hoskins, adding a dynamic addition that we haven’t often had in this offense.
I’m not sure this is a slam-dunk, upgrade. But on paper, it seems pretty clear.
Is WR an upgrade for the 2023 Gophers?
This poll is closed
UPGRADE - Without a doubt
NEUTRAL - Nothing is really a clear upgrade
DOWNGRADE - Really have no idea about the new guys or CAB’s health