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Louisville Football Position Preview: Receivers

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The most dynamic group on Louisville’s roster could be better this year.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Louisville passing offense was supposed to be solid last year but I doubt too many people expected the explosive plays that we saw from the receivers. Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick combined for 18 touchdown catches and all three of the starting wide receivers averaged at least eighteen yards per catch. Gunter Brewer is a renowned receiver coach and with this offense looking to open things up, there’s a very good chance that we see more explosive plays from this group.

One of the most exciting players in the country lines up in the slot for Louisville. Tutu Atwell led the conference in yards per game and finished second in touchdowns. He was able to make plays from behind the line of scrimmage to deep passes down the field. His speed makes it really hard for defenses to pack the box to stop the run because you have to keep a safety deep to account for him. That won’t change this year and I don’t know how any defense plans for that fact.

My prediction for this fall is that Dez Fitzpatrick will be a bigger part of the offense. We all know that he has the talent and skill to be a number one receiver but he didn’t always have the opportunity last season. Louisville had no clue what they had to work with until the season got going and they finally opened things up after about four or five games. Now that they’ve had a summer to expand this offense and I truly believe that Fitzpatrick will be the main beneficiary.

Seth Dawkins has moved on to his shot at the NFL and I expect Justin Marshall to get his snaps this season. With Dez moving around more and learning each position, Marshall will benefit with a larger route tree. He was used mostly as a deep threat last season but when he spoke to the media recently he pointed out that he’s been working on his route running to be a more complete receiver. I’m really interested to see how he is used on short routes and intermediate routes because Marshall had some issues tracking the ball down the field last season. Some of that could have been due to his inexperience but if he can see more targets, it should help him be more comfortable in big moments.

The staff has mentioned Braden Smith a lot this spring and summer and he has been featured a lot in videos posted on social media. Javian Hawkins was the guy we saw a lot in those videos and we know how that turned out. Smith won’t take Atwell’s starting spot but he will give the offense another option when Atwell is out or if they decide to put four receivers on the field. Smith is a burner who played Quarterback in high school. It seems as though he slipped through the cracks as a receiver and UofL will be the beneficiary of that.

Louisville is pretty green from a depth standpoint but Josh Johnson is a guy that fans should watch for. He is finally fully healthy after missing most of the last two seasons. Johnson was recruited by App State out of high school, so it’s obvious that the staff saw something that they liked. I could see him as an option to back up the slot or one of the outside spots. That versatility should help him see the field some.

The freshmen class is high on potential even though I don’t envision any of them making a significant impact. Christian Fitzpatrick and Jordan Watkins are most likely to see the field on a consistent basis and both could end up being primary backups as outside receivers. Fitzpatrick will battle Corey Reed for the backup role to his brother and I could see him being a situational option in the red zone early on. Watkins seems to fit the slot in my opinion, but there’s a reason Gunter Brewer is who he is and I’m a blogger. Watkins is a burner and I think his long term potential is as a deep threat on the outside. Watching those two guys develop will be fun over the next few years.

Tyler Harrell has been waiting his turn and as of now he is listed as the backup to Justin Marshall. Harrell was known as a guy with great speed as a recruit but so far we haven’t seen him on the field much. If he can hold off Watkins for the backup spot, we could finally see him get his shot. He and Nick Malito are the guys that could be the “under the radar” guy that steps up this season. Malito is third on the depth chart in the slot as of now so I don’t see him busting through Smith or Atwell, but injuries and Covid will be a factor so who knows.

Brewer has a good situation as he has veteran talent with high potential backups. He also has a group that brings different things to the table. Adding Reed and Baby Fitz will pay off because he has some size to work with. Roscoe Johnson transferring in from UNC will also help from a depth standpoint. I expect big things from this group this year and I think the ball will be spread around to more than just Atwell.