In the final installment of position breakdowns by Justin & Mitch, Justin breaks down the Breadwinners.
Last Year: Louisville native James Quick led the team in receiving yards (769), while leading the position group with six touchdowns. Jamari Staples and Jaylen Smith had nearly 600 yards each, with the latter scoring six touchdowns in 2016 (one of which was a game-winner at Virginia). Smith also averaged 22.2 yards per catch, emerging as a consistent deep threat for Louisville.
Reggie Bonnafon only had 13 receptions as the #4 wideout, but also had five touchdowns in 2016.
Listed Starters: Jaylen Smith (Jr.), Seth Dawkins (Soph.), Traveon Samuel (Jr.)
Dubbing themselves “The Breadwinners,” the Louisville wide receiver group is one of the deepest in the ACC. But despite their upside, the Cardinals have to replace three of their top four spots from last year, with Quick and Staples graduating and Bonnafon moving to running back (for now).
One of the focal points of Bobby Petrino’s recruiting has been to recruit big bodies at wide receivers, particularly those who can take the top off of defenses. Jaylen Smith is the main breadwinner of the group, a big target at 6’4″, 220 lbs. His frame gives him an excellent catch radius and strength to win one-on-one against smaller defensive backs, and has the speed to stretch defenses on deep routes. He missed a majority of the spring due to a foot injury, but his chemistry with Lamar Jackson should make him the favorite to lead the team in receiving this season.
Replacing Jamari Staples will be Seth Dawkins, who arguably has the most upside of anyone in this current group. Many are picking him to be the breakout player this season, due to him being the lone freshman wideout with major playing time in 2016. From his limited tape, Dawkins has a lot of positive attributes; good hands, solid route running and an ability to make catches in traffic. His physical style of play could allow him to beat pressing corners, but most of his skill set is still unknown until we see more of him in game-time.
Traveon Samuel is a stark contrast in the receiver group, standing at only 5’7″. Despite that, Samuel doesn’t shy away from contact, but his 170 lb. frame is ideal for taking hits in college football. Now in a starting role, Samuel’s quickness offers versatility for Petrino’s offense, particularly on jet sweeps and tunnel screens. Samuel’s role could be the most crucial for Louisville’s passing game; if his speed can stretch defenses or create openings on crossing routes, it can open up windows for Jackson to hit Dawkins or Smith on the perimeter.
Key Reserves: Dez Fitzpatrick, Cornelius Sturghill, Josh Johnson, Corey Reed
While Jaylen Smith sat out the spring with a foot injury, Dez Fitzpatrick made the most of his reps as the X receiver in the spring game. Fitzpatrick can play inside with his solid route running, or outside with his ability to win contested jump balls. With Devante Peete out for the season, his role will likely increase as an outside receiver this year. He had a stellar showing in the spring game, but his small sample size poses more questions than answers.
Sturghill’s move to wide receiver came as a mild surprise to most; he was projected throughout the spring and early summer as a starting cornerback, but Bobby Petrino said he needed more speed on his offense. It’d be hard to argue against it, with Sturghill being praised as one of the fastest men on Louisville’s roster. Sturghill missed all of last year due to a gunshot wound, but can stretch the field for Louisville’s offense as well.
Louisville recruited a trio of solid receivers, but due to the sheer depth of the group, most may not see the field unless there are blowouts. Josh Jackson is most likely to get first team reps this fall. Like Samuel and Sturghill, Jackson has top-end speed that can stretch the defense, with solid cuts in his route running to boot. He’ll add to a slot receiver group that can get separation from opposing secondaries.
Corey Reed could also see the field at some point as a fifth receiver or have a season like Dawkins, where enough practices will get him acclimated to the college game. Reed is a physical receiver with stellar size already (6’3″, 200+ lbs.), and has potential as a perimeter threat for Louisville.