Last Season: The Louisville receivers, compounded with Lamar Jackson’s stellar season, led a group that finished third in total offense, and 15th in passing offense (299.8 yards per game).
Despite missing three games due to injury, Jaylen Smith finished with 60 receptions for 980 yards and seven touchdowns. Smith also earned All-ACC First Team honors with his stellar season.
Dez Fitzpatrick burst onto the scene as a breakout performer for the Cardinals, making 45 catches for 699 yards and nine touchdowns.
Seth Dawkins finished his sophomore season with 642 yards and four touchdowns, while Charles Standberry led all tight ends on the roster with 306 yards and four touchdowns.
Personnel wise, Louisville returns most of its prominent contributors, with Traveon Samuel transferring to Troy. The Cardinals will also have to find a starter at the tight end spot, as Charles Standberry departs.
Projected Starters: Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick, Seth Dawkins, Kemari Averett (TE)
Louisville returns all three of their starters from last season at wide receiver, and once again figure to be arguably the best in the conference and maybe one of the best in the country. This unit is loaded with playmakers that should make life easier for new starting quarterback Jawon Pass.
Leading the receiving corps will be none other than Jaylen Smith, who enters this season as a four-year starter in the program. Smith has great size (6’4″, 220 lbs.) and an equally impressive catch radius, with a proven ability to win jump balls and able to make one-handed catches. Louisville has not had a 1,000 yard receiver since Harry Douglas in 2007, and Smith likely would’ve reached that mark if he did not sit out three games last season due to injury. Smith should be the odds-on favorite to reach that mark, if Louisville has one this season.
Dez Fitzpatrick also returns, coming off a stellar freshman campaign where he finished second in the ACC with nine touchdown catches. Fitzpatrick is among Louisville’s best route runners and has great footwork, especially in the red zone. He’s been tabbed by ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit as a breakout star for this season, and it’s easy to see why. Fitzpatrick is a phenomenal red zone threat with great fundamentals in his overall game, and can play either in the slot or outside. It wouldn’t be surprising to see both him and Smith reach 1,000 yards, and possibly even see Fitzpatrick score 10+ touchdowns this season. With Traveon Samuel gone to Troy, Fitzpatrick will likely see most of his reps in the slot.
Seth Dawkins tends to be lost in the shuffle due to the hype surrounding both Smith and Fitzpatrick, but he is also a very solid player in Louisville’s rotation. Dawkins is a physical receiver that can make tough catches in traffic. I believe he may possibly be Louisville’s most underrated player on the roster this season.
At tight end, it will likely be a rotation of 2-3 players with sophomore Kemari Averett likely starting. Averett has phenomenal size at 6’6″ and almost 270 pounds, and was often used in goal-line situations last season. If he can emerge as a reliable option for Pass over the middle, his size and surprising athleticism can open the door for many opportunities in Louisville’s play calling.
Key Reserves: Tutu Atwell, Marcus Riley, Keion Wakefield, Devonte Peete, Micky Crum (TE)
As usual with Louisville’s teams in recent years, their two-deep lineup should see substantial playing time and be given opportunities this season.
Petrino and his coaching staff added a couple of smaller, faster wide receivers in Tutu Atwell and Marcus Riley. Both have big-play potential with their breakaway speed, and while they may not see the field often this year, they can be used in gadget plays like jet sweeps or tunnel screens. Tutu Atwell played quarterback at Northwestern High School in Miami, Fl. If that sounds familiar, that’s also where former Louisville players Eli Rogers and Teddy Bridgewater went, with the latter serving as Atwell’s friend and mentor in high school.
The Cardinals also have a deep lineup of veterans that could see the field in some capacity this season. Both Keion Wakefield and Devonte Peete return from season-ending injuries in 2017. Peete made most of his contributions in special teams and was elected as a team captain the last two seasons, but at 6’6″, is a viable red-zone option if Bobby Petrino wants a big target. Guys like Emonee Spence, Corey Reed, and Justin Marshall should also be on the lookout as players that will see increased roles in 2018.
Similarly, the tight end spot has two upperclassmen that will see some playing time in Micky Crum and Jordan Davis. Both have seen limited reps in the last few seasons due to the emergence of Cole Hikutini and Charles Standberry, but may finally get decent reps this coming season. It’s more than likely that Petrino will rotate Averett, Crum and Davis around depending on play calling.
Outlook: Once again, this should be the deepest and most talented position group on the entire roster. Louisville has a lot of playmakers at wide receiver, and this should be one of the best units in the ACC and in the country. It’d be hard to find a better receiving duo in college football than Jaylen Smith and Dez Fitzpatrick, both of whom could be in line for 1,000 yard seasons. Seth Dawkins returns as a third-year veteran in the program that gives the Cardinals a veteran presence, and a well-rounded stable that will help Jawon Pass a ton in 2018.
The depth of the position is also very good, and Louisville should have some long-term stability there. Even if Smith and Fitzpatrick both leave after this season, guys like Keion Wakefield, Corey Reed and Justin Marshall have a lot of promise as solid playmakers. The freshmen in the class — Atwell, Riley and four-star prospect Jatavious Harris — also have a lot of potential in Petrino’s system, and I really like Atwell as a potential big-play threat and even a possible special teams ace.
Even with having to find another starter at tight end in 2018, Louisville still has quality options to choose from. Kemari Averett has a lot of potential if he can continue his development, especially since he has awesome size for the position. Micky Crum and Jordan Davis also add some veteran depth to the position, but Louisville will need to find some more heading into 2019.