With little under a month away from the Associated Press issuing their preseason top 25 poll, now seems as good as time as any to start previewing positional breakdowns of this year’s team. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be covering all of the offensive and defensive positional groups, but for now we begin with the sexiest of them all, the wide receivers.
With the exception of Traveon Samuel who transferred to Troy, Louisville returns all of its receivers who recorded a pass from a year ago. A team that ranked 17th in receiving in 2017, the Cards are equipped with one of the best WR corps in college football, powered by the explosive nucleus of Jaylen Smith, Dez Fitzpatrick, and Seth Dawkins. Replacing former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson won’t be an easy task, but rest assured that incoming starter Puma Pass will be surrounded by weapons outside the numbers and hashes.
Returning 2017 Stat Leaders
Jaylen Smith (senior): 60 receptions, 980 yards, 16.33 yards per catch, 7 touchdowns
Dez Fitzpatrick (sophomore): 45 receptions, 699 yards, 15.53 yards per catch, 9 touchdowns
Seth Dawkins (junior): 42 receptions, 642 yards, 15.29 yards per catch, 4 touchdowns
Corey Reed (sophomore): 8 receptions, 145 yards, 18.13 yards per catch
Josh Johnson (sophomore): 3 receptions, 52 yards, 17.33 yards per catch
Emonee Spence (rs-junior): 5 receptions, 48 yards, 9.60 yards per catch
Both Smith, who finished 3rd in the ACC for receiving yards last season (980) and Fitzpatrick, who tied for the second most touchdowns scored amongst ACC receivers (nine), have been named to the 2018 Biletnikoff Award Watch List, which is given annually to the nation’s outstanding receiver in college football.
The 6-4, 223-pound Smith earned First Team All-ACC honors in 2017 and is projected by Athlon Sports to enjoy similar success in 2018. With 1955 career yards entering his senior season, Smith will finish as one of the Cards’ top 10 leaders for receiving yards in school history. Smith is easily the most talented out of the bunch and will be a solid NFL prospect as his time at U of L draws to a close.
In addition to his nine touchdowns in 2017, sophomore Dez Fitzpatrick’s 699 receiving yards ranked 12th amongst the ACC. He is a sure-handed receiver whose performance last year proved himself as a problem to be dealt with in the vertical passing game. Keep your eye out for Dez to have another breakout season in 2018.
Seth Dawkins rounds out the Cards’ star-studded trio as he’ll look to have another positive campaign and really solidify himself in terms of offensive production. The junior finished with 42 catches for 642 yards and four touchdowns last season, including a monster outing at NC State (5 grabs, 133 yards, one TD). In addition to his offensive duties, Dawkins will resume his role as the team’s top kickoff return specialist.
The Up & Comers
Appearing in 10 and 13 games last year respectively, sophomores Josh Johnson and Corey Reed are two guys that are poised to take on larger roles in the offense this season.
The team also returns redshirt junior Devante Peete, who is looking to bounce back from an ACL tear that sidelined him in 2017. Voted by his peers as a team captain for the second year in a row, Peete is a valuable special teams contributor whose 6-6, 205-pound frame allows him to inflict his will against opponents.
Another guy to keep an eye on is redshirt junior Emonee Spence. Once ranked as a four-star recruit by ESPN, Spence is a lanky receiver with an ability to elevate over unsuspecting defensive backs. After suffering a foot injury in 2016, the Florida native appeared in just three games last year.
Bay Area product Chris Taylor-Yamanoha entered Louisville’s 2016 class as one of its top signees. Formerly a four-star recruit according to ESPN, the redshirt sophomore caught 199 passes for 3,132 yards and 65 touchdowns during his scholastic career and was recognized as the North Bay League Player of the Year.
Cornelius Sturghill is a redshirt senior who spent time doubling as a wideout and defensive back last year. Known for his athletic ability and ball skills, Sturghill will likely be a key contributor on special teams as he looks to end his collegiate career on a positive note.
Louisville native Keion Wakefield will also be hoping to make a splash this year after missing the 2017 campaign. The redshirt sophomore and former Male High School grad suffered a knee injury that put a premature end to his season, but hopefully he can stay healthy and work his way into a role this year.
Louisville added two speedsters in Jatavious Harris and Chartarius “Tutu” Atwell. Harris, ranked as a four-star recruit by ESPN and a three-star by Rivals and 247sports, possesses blazing speed that will allow him to separate from defenders downfield. A former Georgia state champion in track, Harris boasts a 100-meter sprint time of 10.6 seconds.
Following in the footsteps of Teddy Bridgewater, Eli Rogers and Michaelee Harris, Tutu Atwell is another Miami Northwestern product that will transition into a wideout role with the Cards. Starring as a QB in high school, the 5-9, 155-pound athlete was recognized as the 2017 Miami-Dade player of the year and will look to earn reps as a slot receiver in the offense. A six-catch, 73-yard spring game performance has fans excited about the future for this kid.
Another former high school QB making the switch to receiver, Marcus Riley is a guy who was ranked as a four-star recruit by ESPN and has already drawn comparisons from Coach Bobby Petrino to former Louisville great Harry Douglas. Not to be glossed over, Riley threw for over 3,500 yards during his scholastic career, so don’t be surprised if his passing skills are utilized in creative packages.
One of the fastest receivers of the bunch, Tyler Harrell was previously a Florida state champion sprinter. His 200-meter time of 20.28, in addition to his 10.37 100-meter dash, will certainly bolster the Speed City persona dubbed by Coach Petrino.
Justin Marshall, Jacob Abels, and Jordan Thomas round out the Cards’ depth chart as first year receivers.