We are turning our attention back to the offense in the final three weeks of our 2022 Louisville football guide, which continues with a look at the receiver group.
H-back / tight end Marshon Ford led the team with 49 receptions for 550 yards, and scored two touchdowns in 2021. Jordan Watkins was not far behind Ford in productivity, tallying 544 yards on 35 receptions and scoring four touchdowns. Tyler Harrell had a team high six receiving touchdowns on an insane 29.1 yards per catch.
Louisville had a lot of turnover at receiver in the offseason. Starting receivers Jordan Watkins, Justin Marshall, and Tyler Harrell all transferred out, with Shai Werts also graduating after his lone season with the Cardinals. Wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer also departed in the offseason to take the same position at Maryland.
Projected Starters: Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, Tyler Hudson, Braden Smith (slot), Marshon Ford (H-back / tight end)
Losing all three starters from your receiver group in a single offseason is a tough deal. Losing Harrell among that group, a guy with blazing speed and a wicked ability to blow the top off of defenses at any given moment, is especially huge to any offense. Louisville will have to find ways to be productive on offense without a true burner at wide receiver like they’ve had in recent years.
That said, there is one guy I am pretty high on, that being Ahmari Huggins-Bruce. AHB had a very solid freshman campaign last season, logging 29 receptions for 444 yards and two touchdowns on 15.1 yards per reception. He’s a good route runner and can be a three-level threat (short, intermediate, and deep) for Louisville outside. He’s shown an ability to turn short gains into big ones with solid speed in the open field. He can play inside for Louisville to create mismatches from the slot as well.
Braden Smith also returns for another season at Louisville. He was on his way to a solid season in 2021, logging 3+ receptions in three of Louisville’s first four games, in addition to three total touchdowns (one receiving, one punt return, one passing). But, a season-ending knee injury suffered against Florida State set him back. Now fully healthy, Smith’s return gives Louisville a sure-handed receiver in the slot.
The competition to be Louisville’s top receiver will be there all season. Along with Huggins-Bruce and Smith, Tyler Hudson will definitely make a push to be the leading receiver as the other outside man for the Cardinals. Hudson arrives after a productive All-American career at Central Arkansas, tallying 167 career receptions for 3,062 yards and 26 touchdowns. He plays like a big time receiver, somebody that knows how to locate the ball and adjust, even in tight coverage. I’d expect Hudson to be a reliable target on third downs, somebody that can turn 50/50 balls into 60/40s in his favor.
Then you get to the H-back / tight end spot. It’s a new number, yet same face at the position, as Marshon Ford returns for yet another season as the starter there. Almost every Louisville fan knows what Ford brings to the table; he’s an invaluable asset in Louisville’s zone run scheme, a key blocker that can be the difference between a 5-yard play and a 25-yard play. He’s also a tremendous target underneath, particularly in the red zone. He will make a push for all-conference honors for sure.
Key Reserves: Dee Wiggins, Josh Johnson, Chance Morrow, Chris Bell (wide receivers); Dez Melton, Nate Kurisky, Isaac Martin (tight ends)
The addition of Dee Wiggins to the roster will give Louisville a much needed veteran in their depth chart. Wiggins has good speed and can add to Louisville’s vertical passing game, particularly in four and five receiver sets. I could see Wiggins holding a starting spot this season outside, which would likely move Huggins-Bruce to the slot and create an explosive receiver trio of Wiggins, AHB, and Hudson.
Josh Johnson is another veteran that should be able to see more reps this season. He’s a good route runner and a shifty athlete, and has been around the program since 2017.
Other than Wiggins and Johnson, it’s looking like some first-year players will compete for reps as reserves. The most likely candidates so far are Chance Morrow and Chris Bell. Morrow projects as a solid outside receiver, and at 6’6″, he’s the biggest option on the perimeter. He’s a smooth route runner that could be a big play target for the Cardinals.
Bell is another receiver with stout size at 6’2″, 220 lbs. He’s a solid playmaker after the catch, a very fluid runner in the open field with the ball in his hands. He could see some time early as a screen option for Louisville given his highlights, but an expanded route tree could open the door for Bell to thrive as a future starter.
As for tight end, the next man to replace Ford is still up for grabs. Dez Melton has primarily contributed on special teams for most of his Louisville career, but logged three receptions last season. Isaac Martin and Francis Sherman both saw time also, primarily used as run blockers in bigger formations. Incoming freshman Nate Kurisky looks like a possible candidate as a future H-back in Scott Satterfield’s system, he has solid hands with room to grow as a run blocker.