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2017 TCU Football Position Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

NCAA Football: Liberty Bowl-Texas Christian vs Georgia Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

There are 30 pass catchers listed on the TCU Football roster: 23 wide receivers and seven tight ends. That’s a massive number, even in this era of the air raid, and the onus is on this group to perform and earn their hefty weight of the scholarships.

The Starters:

The starting unit for the wide receiver corp is probably in more flux than any other group on the roster, as the competition throughout fall camp has been intense. Out of the spring, the first stringers were seniors John Diarse, Taj Williams, Desmon White, and junior Shaun Nixon. That’s likely already changed, as KaVontae Turpin is out of the dog house and back on the field, pushing White to second string. It also doesn’t account for the impact of true freshmen Omar Manning and Jalen Reagor, two immense talents who have impressed early - but more on them in a bit. Ty Slanina is also having a great camp, and if he returns to the sure-handed, plus blocker play of his pre-injury career, he will certainly see the field early and often.

Taj Williams is probably the best receiver for the Frogs on paper; he burst onto the scene in TCU’s opener a season ago, going for over 100 yards in his first game in purple and flashing the combination of size, speed, and strength that had pundits comparing him to Josh Doctson out of Iowa Western. But his production trailed off from there, and he finished with just 39 receptions, though he did rack up over 700 yards and scored five times. He should be the go-to guy this fall, and an off-season working with Hill should help with chemistry.

John Diarse came over from LSU, and his production was off the charts, comparatively once he played with a QB that could actually, you know, throw the ball. He has good size at 6’1”, and though he’s just average speed-wise, he’s steady and a great blocker. He’s the savvy veteran on the roster that should be a boon for the young guys, and will make everyone better by his work ethic and the intensity he brings to practice. With 33 receptions for 442 yards a season ago, he showed he can play, and will be a nice security blanket for Hill this fall.

Let’s go ahead and call Turp the third starter, because... well, he will be. The diminutive speedster was unguardable as a true freshmen, torching opponents in the open field and proving tough to bring down, even at his small stature. But injuries cost him a consistent sophomore campaign, and classroom struggles hurt his off-season development. Turpin is one of the best return guys in the country, bar none, and it will be interesting to see if Cumbie and Loop lessen his in-game reps in order to use his explosiveness more in the return game. The depth is there to do just that, but it’s hard to take his 12.9 yards per reception and nine touchdowns off the field.

At tight end (yes, we do actually still have those), the younger Hunt brother, a transfer from Rice a season ago, remains first string. The 6’7”, 255 pound senior had only five receptions in 2016, but serves as extra protection for Hill, runs a good option route, and is an unselfish blocker.

The Depth:

I’m not sure there is a player I am rooting for more in 2017 than Ty Slanina. Every year, there’s a player in college athletics that feels like they have been playing their sport for a decade - Frank Mason comes to mind - and this, for TCU fans, it probably feels like that guy is Ty. Slanina first arrived in Fort Worth as a two-sport athlete, but didn’t stick with baseball for long. He looked primed for a breakout year after a sophomore campaign saw him haul in 32 passes for nearly 400 yards and a pair of TDs, but injuries derailed his junior season and forced him to redshirt, and he struggled to regain his role in 2016. But Slanina, a sure-handed pass-catcher and quite possible the best blocking receiver on the team, has had a great start to camp - and for a unit that was one of the leaders in the country when it came to drops a season ago, his return to a prominent role in the offense is welcome.

Outside of Slanina, the Frogs are absolutely loaded at receiver - young players Jaelan Austin, Jarrison Stewart, Isaiah Graham, and Dylan Thomas - along with veterans Emanuel Porter and the aforementioned White - make for a versatile and dynamic unit that on paper, can match up with anyone in the country. The Frogs are still waiting for the breakout year we seem to expect annually from Porter - he has been one of the more enticing talents to come through Funky Town, but has been buried on the depth chart behind guys like Josh Doctson and Diarse, limiting him to just 41 career receptions and four touchdowns. With a powerful combination of size and speed, there’s nothing keeping Porter from becoming a force in 2017, if he can climb his way up the depth chart. Stewart and Austin made their bones as true freshmen, both filling in admirably when Kolby Listenbee and Doc dealt with injuries. The pair combined for 35 receptions in 2016 and Austin truly shined at times.

Sophomore Isaiah Graham hit the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in 2016; he first found fame for dropping a wide open bomb from Kenny Hill in the Oklahoma game, a would-be score that might have enabled the Frogs to hold of for a W. But he learned from that moment, and was one of the few bright spots in the Liberty Bowl loss to Georgia. Graham is one of the most intriguing prospects on the roster - he has really good size at 6’1” and runs a 4.5 40 that looks faster in pads. Graham made some acrobatic catches a season ago and has ton of potential in year two on campus - he has a chance to go from six catches to close to 40 in 2017.

Dylan Thomas is another sophomore that could be much more productive this season - the Paschal product lost his senior season to injury in high school, and was just getting back up to speed a season ago. But he has good speed, hands, and a high football IQ, and could be effective in spot duty. TreVontae Hights in another sophomore that has flown under the radar a bit, but with a 6’3” frame, he has a red zone target look about him.

Reliable vets Daniel Walsh returns for his season as well, along with a slough of practice squad guys that make the front line talent better every day.

For tight ends, Charlie Reid is TE2, and will be on the field a lot in bigger packages and as a known red zone quantity. He will push Hunt in the starters role while being challenged by transfer Cole Novak and redshirt freshman Artayvious Lynn, a mammoth beast of a human being at 6’6” and 248 pounds - who somehow runs a 4.55 40. That’s just not fair. He’s incredibly raw as a route runner and a definite project, but once Loop and Cumbie figure out how best to use this kid, he is going to give opposing defenses nightmares. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before GP looks across the line one day and says ‘get that dude on defense’, right?

The Newcomers:

Hoo boy... I have not been this excited about a true freshman since KaVontae Turpin, and that worked out okay. Jalen Reagor is my favorite signing in a long time, and if he isn’t making a huge impact on the season by November, I will be shocked.

The Frogs signed a pair of elite receivers in Reagor and Omar Manning this February, and the two four star prospects are going to make Frog fans very happy in the coming years. Manning, who looks like he could have been machine-cut from the ‘perfect wide receiver’ mold at 6’2” and 215 pounds, has been dinged up a bit in camp this fall, and there’s no word yet as to if that will effect his start of the season. Reagor is smaller at 5’11”, but a little quicker as well, and is an incredible route runner for such a young player. He possess the football IQ and leadership qualities that will impact the unit as a whole, and if he gets the touches, he could be one of the best freshmen in the country this fall.

It’s quite the 1-2 punch for Cumbie and Loop, and assuming the QB play is above average, they, along with the veterans of the group, will make things very hard on opposing defenses.

If we missed anyone, I apologize - but with 23 wide receivers and seven tight ends... that’s... a lot to cover. Overall, it’s a super talented group that blends size and speed, and assuming they catch the ball better as a unit - and they almost have to be better - they should make things easy on Kenny Hill and company this fall. It will be especially fun to see them in four out sets with Hicks and/or Darius Anderson and/or Sewo Olonilua and/or Kenedy Snell in the backfield. When you can put Turp and Nixon in the slot, with Taj and Diarse out wide - you create a ton of problems. Good problems. It should be fun to see Cumbie and Luper mix and match lineups on a play to play basis.