A new season is on the horizon for TCU football, and the offense will have no shortage of speed as the Horned Frogs seek their first Big 12 title since 2014.
There has already been plenty of discussion about TCU’s star-studded quarterback room and the revamped offensive line that will likely determine how effective Shawn Robinson & Co. can be. That leads us right into the unit’s wide receivers, where there is plenty of depth among veterans and newcomers alike.
Jaelan Austin and KaVontae Turpin are set to be two of group’s most experienced playmakers as they return for their senior seasons, and sophomore Jalen Reagor is poised to cause headaches for secondaries across the league as he looks to build upon a successful campaign as a freshman in 2017. Of course, those are just three of many names to watch when it comes to TCU’s receiving corps in 2018.
A lot can change before the Horned Frogs open up the season vs. the Southern Jaguars on Sept. 1. Here is our best guess at how the depth chart will look come then.
Jalen Reagor | KaVontae Turpin | Taye Barber | Jaelan Austin
When it comes to combining experience, leadership and potential on the football field, this is a group that the Horned Frogs can’t go wrong with in 2018.
Reagor finished the the 2017 regular season as TCU’s leading receiver with 576 receiving yards and 8 touchdown catches, averaging 17.5 yards per reception. Though his name didn’t show up on the preseason All-Big 12 team this week, Reagor has shown that he has what it takes to cause nightmares for anyone in the secondary. If the offense finds its groove without enduring too many hiccups this fall, expect Reagor to be in the running for multiple honors.
It’s hard to believe that Turpin is already a senior, but the Monroe, La. product who immediately established himself as a special teams threat as a freshman in 2015 is now one of several receivers which the rest of the group will now be looking up to. He was 4th on the team in receiving yards last fall with 394 yards, but that’s the second most of any returning receiver, as John Diarse and Desmon White graduated after the 2017 season. Turpin’s numbers on returns could see a decline in 2018 with the new NCAA kickoffs rules now in effect, so look for his performance as a receiver this fall to be the best one yet as he embarks on his final go-around with the team.
As for Barber, a true-freshman, he’ll have to continue to prove himself if he wants to be one of the starters on Saturdays this fall. But it was hard to ignore his potential at TCU’s spring game (you know, that one which was played in 35-degree weather in April) which included an impressive touchdown catch on his part. The Cypress Springs High School product (Cypress, Texas) enrolled early after committing to TCU as a 3-star prospect and the No. 45 athlete in the entire Class of 2018 within the 247Sports composite rankings. There’s a lot to like about his versatility, and even if he doesn’t start, expect him to get a lot of reps out of the gate. Here’s a sneak peak of what he’s capable of:
Austin is another receiver whom I wouldn’t call a lock to be a starter, but like Turpin, he has a step above the rest of the pack when it comes to experience. Though his numbers were down last season after catching for a career-high 332 yards and 5 touchdowns during the 2016 campaign, Austin has largely shown himself to be consistent and able to make the big plays when called upon. Perhaps this could be the year where he truly breaks out as one of the go-to targets.
Omar Manning | Jarrison Stewart | Dylan Thomas | Ni’Jeel Meeking
Manning, who came to TCU as a 4-star prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings, is a player that could easily end starting for the Horned Frogs. He redshirted during the 2017 season, so we’ll put him here for now, but the Lancaster High School (Lancaster, Texas) product reportedly came very close to having his redshirt burned to receive some reps last fall. Since we’ve yet to Manning play on Saturdays in a TCU uniform, here are some highlights from his high school days:
Beyond Manning, Jarrison Stewart’s last two seasons haven’t quite matched his freshman year in 2015, which he caught for a total of 265 yards with a touchdown. He’s caught for 198 yards and a touchdown in the last two seasons combined, but has the chance to be a leader for the younger faces that he could be playing alongside with if he is indeed on the second-team.
Dylan Thomas, who once played literally down the street from TCU at nearby Paschall High School, could be on the verge of big things after playing in all 14 games for the Horned Frogs as a sophomore opposed to just 6 as a freshman in 2016. And redshirt freshman Ni’Jeel Meeking, who came to TCU as the No. 9 Class of 2017 athlete from Louisiana in the 247Sports composite rankings, will look to make his mark after impressing in spring practice. Here’s some proof of that from the Union Parrish High School (Farmerville, La.) product back in early April.
Other names to know
Of course there are more receivers on TCU football’s roster than just the eight highlighted above, as more than 20 are present within the group.
Barber isn’t the only highly-touted freshman who could make a splash early in Fort Worth, as the Horned Frogs also saw the early-enrollment of 4-star wide receiver Tevailance Hunt this spring. Hunt is coming off a record-breaking senior season at Texas High School in Texarkana, Texas and ultimately earned himself an invitation to the Under Armour All-American Game in January. Last year we saw Reagor make an impact as a freshman. Perhaps that will be the case with Hunt in 2018.
Junior Trevontae Heights is another name to keep an eye on after earning playing time in all but one game during the 2017 campaign. He only had one reception on the season — a 56-yard touchdown at that — but it seems apparent that the the coaching staff wants him to have a larger role after appearing in just 5 contests as a redshirt freshman in 2016. Al’dontre Davis, who redshirted last year, is also worth watching after being recruited by TCU as an ESPN 300 prospect and the No. 2 Class of 2017 wide receiver from Louisiana in the 247Sports composite rankings. Davis had 924 receiving yards and 15 touchdown catches as a sophomore at Lutcher High School (Lutcher, La.), and that should probably get you pumped up to see what he can do as a Horned Frog.
So what about tight end?
It’s no secret that tight end isn’t exactly a position that the Horned Frogs utilize much. But with Cole Hunt now gone, somebody else has to fill the hole at that position.
So will the Horned Frogs’ starting tight end be for the 2018 season? Pro Wells, who comes to TCU along with tackle Anthony McKinney as a JUCO transfer, seems to be the most likely option after making 16 receptions for a total 276 yards at Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Miss. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound JUCO prospect was also the lone tight-end signee in TCU’s 2018 recruiting class. With a three-star and No. 5 overall JUCO TE rating in his class from 247Sports, he has the credentials to receive immediate starting time.
Cole Novak is also a candidate as he enters his senior season, but he did not see any playing time during either either the 2017 or 2016 campaign. And considering that TCU went out of the way to recruit a JUCO tight end in the form of Wells, that only furthers the case for Wells to be the starter. Novak will likely be second string, but expect both to contribute this fall.
College football is so often unpredictable, but it’s hard to not see success for TCU at the position wide receiver right now. If the o-line and quarterbacks do their part, this group is going to a lot (and I mean a lot) of fun to watch in 2018. Maybe a few will even pick up a nickname or two from FOX Sports broadcaster Gus Johnson (see Oklahoma’s Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in 2017) if all goes according to plan. So sit back, (try to) relax and enjoy the show, because a good one on the gridiron appears soon to be on its way to a television near you.