Unlike other position groups, not much will change in the wide receiver department for the Arizona Wildcats this season. The 'Cats, loaded with a plethora of unique and complementary receiving talent, are sure to have one of the best receiving corps in the conference, if not the best.
Key losses: Austin Hill, DaVonte' Neal (moved to cornerback)
Key returners: Cayleb Jones, Samajie Grant, Nate Phillips, David Richards, Trey Griffey, Tyrell Johnson,
Key newcomers: Tony Ellison, Johnny Jackson (moved back to offense from defense)
The two notable losses are Austin Hill, who is trying to catch on with the New York Jets, and DaVonte' Neal, who is now thriving at the cornerback position. To be honest, neither of these losses are that significant. Austin Hill was unfortunately never able to re-gain the ability he showed in his sophomore year after tearing his ACL. He played some tight end and had managed to have a solid season, but he's replaceable.
Neal is even more replaceable. Other than a great ability to make defenders miss in the open field, the Notre Dame transfer never really stood out as a receiver. As a cornerback, however, he'll have the chance to have a much more significant impact on the team.
Who's back for another season?
The star of the wide receiver group is obviously Cayleb Jones. In the redshirt junior's first season at Arizona, he racked up 1,019 receiving yards, joining Juron Criner, Bobby Wade, Mike Thomas, and Austin Hill as the only Wildcats since 2000 to accomplish that feat.
The 6-3 receiver uses his sheer size and strength to create separation, as well as be a complete nightmare for opposing tacklers to try to take down once he gets into space. His size and athleticism also give him an incredible ability to go up and get 50/50 balls. He isn't quite as good at catching jump balls as Juron Criner was, but he's still amazing in his own right.
The scary part is that as good as Jones was last season, he should be even be better this season. He's added more strength, and improved his route running. Not to mention that another year of learning the offense and developing chemistry with Anu Solomon will undoubtedly help too. Other Pac-12 teams are cringing right now.
Arizona's second-leading receiver last season was Samajie Grant. The junior is a much different type of receiver than Jones. Rather than being an imposing, physical specimen, Grant is small and shifty. In a good way. He had the best yards per catch average on the team last year -- 16.0 -- and a big part of that is because he uses his speed and quickness to shake defenders. Grant finished last season with just over 700 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He did have a run-in with the law near the end of last season, but hopefully he can stay out of trouble this year.
Trey Griffey returns for his junior year, and for the third year in a row we'll get to hear "he's the son of Ken Griffey Jr.!" from every play-by-play guy when he makes a catch. Trey really came on at the end of his freshman season in 2013, and followed it up with 405 receiving yards in 2014. If I had to bet on a receiver that would make the biggest jump from last season, I'd bet on Trey Griffey. With Austin Hill gone, Griffey should see an increase in the number of snaps he plays. Add that with improved continuity with Anu Solomon and another offseason to get better, and we may see Griffey have a sensational season.
Oh yeah, Nate Phillips is back too. Phillips missed five games due to injury last season and was limited to just 272 receiving yards last year as a result. In the year before though, Phillips was B.J. Denker's favorite target and led the Wildcats in receiving yards with 696. He also had seven touchdowns. If he can get healthy again, he could very well push Samajie Grant and Trey Griffey for the spot as the second-best receiver on the team.
Other returning receivers include David Richards and Tyrell Johnson -- though Johnson has been dealing with a foot injury that appears to be serious. Richards is a fifth-year senior and is the biggest receiver on the team at 6-4. He had 23 catches for 211 yards last year, and it seems as though he'll be the fifth receiver behind Jones, Grant, Griffey, and Phillips.
Will any newcomers break into the rotation?
One newcomer that has stood out though is redshirt freshman Tony Ellison. After the Spring Game this past April, safety William Parks said that Ellison is one of the toughest receivers on the team to cover. Ellison may not contribute much this season because of the logjam atop the depth chart, but anyone that receives that kind of praise is someone worth watching down the road.
Johnny Jackson is back at receiver after switching to defense last season. If you recall, Jackson caught 37 passes for 311 yards in his first two seasons at Arizona -- including a 10-catch game against Stanford in 2012. He then switched to defense, but is now back at receiver. With DaVonte' Neal switching to cornerback and Tyrell Johnson out with a foot injury, Jackson's speed, elusiveness, and big-play ability may allow him to carve out a role in the receiver rotation. In fact, he has been getting a healthy number of reps in practice lately. Regardless, he's sure to have an impact on the return game.
Aside from Ellison and Jackson, there are other new faces at the receiver position. However, with the depth chart so stacked, it's seriously unlikely that any will be able to get enough time on the field to make a significant impact. Of course injuries happen and they need to be ready to play if need be, but hopefully it doesn't come down to that.
When you look at the Wildcats' collection of receivers, it's such a wonderful group of players. They complement each other so beautifully. You have Jones and Griffey, who are big, physical receivers that can catch passes in traffic or go over the top of a corner, and then you have Phillips and Grant who are excellent at creating space and racking up yards after the catch. If anything were to happen to any of these four, Arizona has the depth to plug in a competent replacement.
Anu is one lucky quarterback.