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2021 TCU Football Preview: Wide Receivers

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Breakout star Quentin Johnston headlines a core of pass catchers who could make or break the TCU offense this fall.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 12 Louisiana Tech at TCU Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston lived up to his billing during the 2020 season. After committing to the Horned Frogs and entering camp as TCU’s second-ranked recruit, Johnston eventually cracked the starting lineup and enjoyed a breakout freshman season, totaling 487 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

Johnston appears primed for a significant sophomore leap when the Horned Frogs return to the field this fall for the 2021 season. Johnston’s 22.1 yards-per-reception average last season was the highest for a freshman in Big 12 Conference history and the second-highest for any Power 5 freshman receiver since 2008. With Max Duggan returning under center for his junior season, expect Duggan and Johnston to continue developing their chemistry in short-yardage situations and down the field, where Johnston was most dangerous.

But who else will spread out wide when TCU opens the 2021 season this fall? And will the Horned Frogs have enough talent to balance out the running game and keep opposing defenses off balance?

The Horned Frogs received good news shortly after the 2020 season ended, when redshirt senior and Nebraska transfer J.D. Spielman reportedly opted to return for one more run with TCU. Spielman, who excelled in the H-slot position and stepped up on special teams, missed the latter portion of the 2020 season with a shoulder injury. Should Spielman remain in the H-slot position, he’ll likely continue sharing reps with senior Taye Barber, who has recorded at least 300 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons.

Johnston appears to be the early favorite for the Z-slot position, typically reserved for the team’s most talented wide receiver. Redshirt sophomore Blair Conwright opened the 2020 season as the starting Z-slot pass catcher, enjoying a career-best season with 207 yards, and Conwright could factor in at the Z-slot position once again in 2021. TCU could also move Conwright to the Y-slot position, where former Frogs like David Porter, Ty Slanina and Shaun Nixon had shined as sure-handed, security-blanket targets.

If TCU moves Johnston from the X to the Z, one player who could assume the X-slot role and attack opponents with his downfield speed is senior Derius Davis. Davis had arguably his best season as a Horned Frog in 2020, recording a career-high 207 receiving yards while adding two punt-return touchdowns. Another candidate for the X-slot position is sophomore Savion Williams, who handled kickoff return duties in 2020, has great size at 6 feet 5 inches and is a former four-star recruit. Junior Mikel Barkley will also return for his third season with the Horned Frogs.

TCU saw four wide receivers (Dylan Thomas, Al’Dontre Davis, Te’Vailance Hunt and John Stephens Jr.) leave the program last season. Although depth could be a concern in 2021, one potential wild card will be former five-start prospect and LSU transfer Marcel Brooks, who originally came to the Horned Frogs as a linebacker before converting to wide receiver. Brooks, who backed up Johnston at the Z-slot position during the Spring Game, could be a great asset to the offense with his athleticism and his 6-foot-3 frame.