There have been a lot of swings and misses in recruiting for TCU lately when it comes to the wide receiver position, but the Horned Frogs hit a grand slam when they locked in junior Jalen Reagor three years ago, despite a hard push from Oklahoma.
Reagor and Omar Manning seemed destined to dominate Big 12 defenses for years to come, but Manning ended up at a juco leaving Reagor to carry the yeoman’s load. Several players have lined up against the man who seems to set a record every time he steps on the field, but he has yet to have a true number two alongside him. Despite that fact, and the shoddy QB play he was at the mercy of in year number two, JR still went over one thousand yards and scored 11 touchdowns as the focal point of an otherwise anemic TCU offense. Hopefully both of those things change in 2019, and there’s reason to be hopeful that they indeed will.
Though the depth chart is far from final as we inch towards July, we are using the most recent release as a baseline for the preview series.
2019 Depth Chart: Wide Receivers
|John Stephens Jr
Expected to line up on the opposite side of Reagor when TCU takes the field on August 31st is 6’3” senior Tre Hights. A fifth year player, Hights has just six career receptions for 219 yards since arriving as a three star prospect out of Yoakum, TX - but half of those catches have gone for touchdowns. An intriguing talent, Hights was a two-way player in high school that shined as a run-first QB, and his adjustment to playing outside has taken some time. But he is an exceptional athlete, and if he is able to get on the field, he is explosive and liable to make plays.
Pushing the senior will be a pair of big-bodied sophomores - 6’5” John Stephens Jr and 6’3” Tevailance Hunt. Both came in as freshmen with big expectations; Stephens Jr particularly shined during fall camp a season ago coming in as the #1 athlete out of Louisiana. He played in eight games but had just two receptions, half of what his fellow freshman, Hunt managed. Tevailance came in as a four star recruit and the #23 rated wide receiver in the country, but both talented players reminded us how hard it is for a freshman wide receiver to make an impact - especially behind less than ideal quarterback play.
Hopefully, Reagor will be on the field for every meaningful snap, but when the Frogs’ best offensive player needs a blow, he will have capable backups. Rising redshirt sophomore Ni’Jeel Meeking was expected to be the backup at the Z position, but he has mysteriously disappeared from the active roster. In his place, expect juco transfer Mikel Barkley to move up the depth chart; the speedy Californian adds a much-needed deep ball threat to an offense that was devoid of the big play through the air a season ago.
On the outside, I expect to see a lot of Reagor and Barkley (who would seem to be perfect compliments to each other) with some height thrown in between Hights, Stephens, Jr, and Hunt. One of those three 6’+ players is going to have to get over the hump and pull down at least 40 catches this fall for the Frogs to have the kind of offense that can consistently win games in the Big 12.
The inside receivers should bring a solid mix of veteran stability and young excitement, led by a potential breakout player in sophomore Taye Barber. Every year, there’s a guy that Gary Patterson starts talking about with a little glint in his eye - a player that wasn’t a big contributor the season prior but for whatever reason has caught his fancy in the spring. In 2019, that guy is Taye Barber. According to just about everyone, Barber had an unbelievable spring; finishing his freshman year, the 5’9” water bug out of Cypress was making folks forget about his predecessor with a series of impressive plays on the field and a string of good choices off of it. An early enrollee a season ago, Taye instantly caught the favor of his coaches last year, referred to as a “perfect child” by none other than the head coach himself. He had 32 receptions for just over 300 yards despite playing a crowded position, scoring a pair of touchdowns and also serving on special teams. He heads into 2019 as the starter in the slot, and is a player the Frogs need to take a step forward - something many expect him to do. He will be backed up by another electric receiver, fellow sophomore Derius Davis - who fired up Frog fans by taking the first touch of his career to the house on a punt return. Davis had middling stats from the point on, but with speed to burn, he is a guy that they need to find a way to get involved in the offense.
In a four receiver set, Dylan Thomas will likely be the guy. Thomas looked like he was primed for a big season as he made his debut against Ohio State - the junior hauled in two passes for 49 yards and was a key blocker in the run game. Unfortunately, that was the only game he played, as an injury cost him the rest of the season but bought him a redshirt year. With a very young receiving corp - both by age and experience - having a guy like Thomas on the field consistently is key. A veteran wide out also makes a difference at quarterback, and TCU is likely to roll out someone in that role that doesn’t have a ton of collegiate snaps. Though Reagor is the star, Thomas is equally as much a leader, and players will look to the fourth year junior when things get tough. Behind Thomas is Al’Dontre Davis, a redshirt sophomore speedster who was a top 300 recruit when he signed with TCU. Davis played in 11 games last year, hauling in six catches for 63 yards. He has a ton of talent but will have a lot of competition inside.
Other players to keep an eye on as fall camp approaches redshirt freshman Chase Van Wagoner (6’1”, 180 pounds) and true freshman Blair Conwright (5’11, 176). Both are former three star recruits who are known for their elite athleticism. Conwright is the only true freshman wide receiver in the class of 2019.
Ultimately, the success of this unit comes down to the success of Jalen Reagor and how the rest of the squad can keep opposing defenses from keying on their star. If Barber or Barkley can emerge as a deep threat, and one of the trio of Hunt, Stephens Jr, and Hights can be a big target, it will open up the middle of the field for Reagor and others to go to work. With the team expected to go to more three receiver sets and utilize the tight end more, that is key to moving the chains.
Jalen Reagor can be an All-American, but he can’t do it on his own. The talent is there within his unit to vault him to the top of the conference, and the top of the country. But they have to deliver.