2023 Louisville Football Guide: Receiver Group (WR/TE)

Part three of our Louisville football breakdown will cover the revamped receiver group, which covers both wide receivers and tight ends. In the last two weeks, I’ve highlighted what to expect from both the quarterback and running back position this season, give those a read.

Last Season:

Tyler Hudson led Louisville in receiving last season, becoming their second 1,000-yard receiver in the Scott Satterfield era. Hudson racked up 69 receptions, 1,034 yards and two touchdowns to go with 14.9 YPC.

Only four other players had 20 or more receptions in the 2022 season, including tight end Marshon Ford (33 rec., 434 yards, three TDs), and fellow receivers Ahmari Huggins-Bruce (31 rec., 365 yards, two TDs) and Braden Smith (21 rec., 215 yards, TD). Of those four, only Huggins-Bruce returns for Louisville in 2023. Hudson signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Los Angeles Rams, and Braden Smith followed Satterfield to Cincinnati via the transfer portal.

Projected Starters: Jamari Thrash, Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, Jadon Thompson (wide receiver); Jamari Johnson (tight end)

Jeff Brohm wasted little time in the transfer portal bolstering the wide receiver position. Two of the projected starters here arrive at Louisville via the portal, with two more expected to make major contributions this season.

One of the biggest wins for Brohm this offseason was landing wide receiver Jamari Thrash, who earned All-Sun Belt First Team honors last season at Georgia State (61 rec., 1,122 yard, six TDs). He should slide in as Louisville’s top threat vertically, as he was one of the best in the country last season at stretching the field. Thrash was tied for 15th in FBS in plays of 20+ yards, third in plays of 30+ yards, and fourth in plays of 40+ yards. WR1s in the Brohm system have generally seen successful seasons when showing their ability to stretch the field, as evident in guys like Taywan Taylor at WKU (184 rec., 3,197 yards, 34 TDs, 17.38 YPC in 2015-16), and Purdue’s Rondale Moore in 2018 (114 rec., 1,258 yards, 12 TDs). David Bell (93 rec., 1,286 yards, six TDs in 2021) and Charlie Jones (110 rec., 1,361 yards, 12 TDs) also surpassed the 1,000-yard mark under Brohm at Purdue, so another 1,000+ yard campaign for Thrash at Louisville is entirely realistic.

If you’re wondering how WR2s fare in Brohm’s offenses, they tend to do very well also. Nicholas Norris racked up nearly 2,300 yards and 20 TDs on 16.5 yards per catch combined from 2015-16 at WKU. That will be a huge opportunity in particular for Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, who enters his third season at Louisville. AHB is a solid route runner with some ability to get separation through sheer speed. Louisville isn’t short on receivers who can play in the slot, but AHB can pose some serious mismatches there, especially if used on bubble screens.

Louisville also added Jadon Thompson from Cincinnati in the portal, and he should contend for the last starting spot at wide receiver. Thompson was the third-leading receiver for the Bearcats last season, with 383 receiving yards and one touchdown in 2022.

The tight end position has also shown to be a prominent figure in the Brohm offense. Notable players that have been highlighted with Brohm as head coach include WKU’s Tyler Higbee (38 rec., 563 yards, eight TDs in 2015) and Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins (130 rec., 1,945 yards, 16 TDs in 2016-19) and Payne Durham (56 rec., 560 yards, eight TDs in 2022).

As for tight end, I’m going with Jamari Johnson as the starter, if only because I expect him to be the starter by the end of the season. Johnson was a top-200 recruit per 247Sports, and one of the top recruits in the 2023 class for U of L. He is a big target at 6’5″ and 260+ lbs. as a true freshman, and he is a fantastic athlete at the position. Showing great speed for a player of his size and an ability to win jump balls outside, he has the potential to be a matchup nightmare in the coming years.

Key Contributors: Kevin Coleman, Jimmy Calloway, Chris Bell (wide receivers); Josh Lifson (tight end)

Kevin Coleman adds another big play element to the Louisville offense. Coleman arrives at U of L after spending last season at Jackson State, reeling in 32 receptions for 475 yards and three touchdowns and won the SWAC Freshman of the Year award. His freshman season was highlighted by a stellar outing in the Celebration Bowl against NC Central, with seven receptions for 137 yards and one touchdown. He is a quintessential playmaker with the ball in his hands, showcases blistering speed and nice ball skills. He has potential to be a big difference maker in 2023, but 2024 could be the year where Coleman emerges as one of the most dangerous playmakers in the ACC.

Tennessee transfer Jimmy Calloway has the ability to play either inside or outside, but should see most of his time as the X or Z this season. I was impressed by his ability to keep plays alive and look for openings in the spring game. His playmaking ability should allow him to see the field in 2023.

Chris Bell is one of the returning receivers from last season that should see significant time in 2023. He is a bigger target in comparison to other receivers (6’2″, 225 lbs.) and has shown he can make plays in the intermediate and in contested situations.

The tight end position, in general, feels like a crapshoot as to who will start week one and thereafter. Jamari Johnson is likely the team’s long term option at the position, but experienced guys such as Josh Lifson mainly served as blockers on the previous staff and never got to showcase their skills as receivers. Lifson did, however, have a receiving touchdown against Pitt in 2022, as well as two touchdowns in Louisville’s spring game last April. He is a candidate to start week one against Georgia Tech, but should at least be a consistent presence at the position all season.

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