Death, taxes and wide receivers. We’ve come to know these three things as absolutes in Raiderland for the past twenty-plus years. But as the 2022 Texas Tech football season begins, we may not be so sure about the latter of the trio. In fact, never before in the program’s Air Raid era has Tech ventured into a season with as little production at the external receiver site as it will this fall.
This year, new head coach Joey McGuire and his well-respected offensive coordinator Zach Kittley will rely heavily on a group of outside receivers who have yet to prove themselves capable of even average collegiate-level contributions. Could that prove to be a stumbling block to the offence?
Right now, the most trusted of the Red Raider outside receivers is Loic Fouonji, the third-year player from Midland. He currently has a meager 237 yards and 13 receptions under his belt while only finding the end zone twice as a college player. And that’s despite the fact that he was a 4-star signee in the class of 2020. Last season he saw action in ten games with eight passes for 167 yards and one TD. That made him just the sixth-leading receiver on the 2021 team in yards.
Another player whose role will increase this season is Trey Cleveland. The junior has yet to realize his potential as a Red Raider with just 19 career passes for 222 yards and two TDs. Of course, at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, the Arlington, Texas native has all the physical tools to be a weapon in the passing game. But now he’s being pushed to finally have a breakthrough season and be a key member of the Two Deep rotation.
Perhaps the one wide receiver that fans and media alike seem to hype the most is sophomore Jerand Bradley of DeSoto, Texas. A 4-star signee in the class of 2021, he’s already 6ft 5 and 220 pounds, making him perhaps the most physically imposing receiver on Tech’s list.
A true freshman last fall, he registered five receptions for 99 yards. But he finished the season by making a splash in the Liberty Bowl win over Mississippi State by catching two balls for 64 yards, including a nice 52-yard catch and run to field a Red Raider TD.
While Bradley seems the most likely of the young Red Raiders to break out this season, the question still remains as to whether he can go from a 99-yard receiver to a starting caliber Big 12 passcatcher in an offseason. Still, it looks like he’ll be a key gear for tech at some point. But whether or not that happens this year is one of the key questions yet to be answered.
Sophomore JJ Sparkman is also a tall wide receiver at 6ft 4 and 225 pounds. But so far, he’s managed to concede just seven passes for 86 yards and two goals in his two seasons on campus (although he didn’t play in 2020 as an injury cost him his entire true freshman campaign).
All told, this is the most unproven group of outside receivers Tech has carried into a season since the start of the Mike Leach era in 2000, when the forward pass became this program’s primary means of moving the ball.
In fact, even in Leach’s first season, he had more experience to work with as an outside receiver than McGuire and Kittley had in their first season together on the South Plains. When Leach arrived, Derek Dorris was starting his senior season with 56 catches for 826 yards and four career touchdowns.
Leach also had another senior, Tim Baker, who had 34 catches and 510 yards along with three TDs in the 2000 season. While those numbers are modest by modern college football standards, especially over the course of three years, they would make Baker easily the most prolific receiver on the 2022 roster.
Since then, Tech has only once entered the season with fewer career yards from its leading returning outside receiver. That year was 2007 when Ed Britton came into the year as a sophomore with 122 career yards.
That said, a big asterisk needs to be put next to this season, as redshirt freshman Michael Crabtree was set to make his fall debut after setting fire to Red Raider’s first-team defense all year in 2006 when he lost his High school suspended transcript. As such, Tech was fairly certain they had at least one weapon they could rely on to the outside world as they headed into one of the more important seasons of the Leach tenure.
Additionally, this season Tech also had inside receiver Danny Amendola, who entered the season as a senior who had already amassed 1,001 career yards. Tech’s leading inside receiver option this year is Myles Price, who has 823 yards and three career TDs.
So it’s worth wondering if this year’s horde of outside receivers are ready to help the Red Raiders compete in the Big 12. The good news is that there are plenty of physically gifted players waiting in the wings, but as of now, none of them have demonstrated their ability to be a prime target in the passing game. And perhaps all of the success of the coming season depends on this group of green players finding a way to improve.