There's going to be a new wave of receivers coming in 2016 for the Arizona Wildcats, as they'll be without three of their top four pass catchers from last season. Arizona will now be loaded up on shifty slot receivers, with only two projected starting receivers listed over 5-foot-11.
Key losses: Cayleb Jones, David Richards, Johnny Jackson
Key returners: Trey Griffey, Samajie Grant, Nate Phillips, Tyrell Johnson, Shun Brown, Tony Ellison
Key newcomers: Cam Denson, Shawn Poindexter, Zach Benjamin, Devaughn Cooper
Height is the big concern for this group going forward without Jones and Richards, two top targets from last season. U of A will have to replace the production of Jackson in the slot, who had a career season after switching from receiver to safety and back to receiver.
Griffey has been one of the most sure-handed receivers under Rich Rodriguez, but after being more of a situational deep ball receiver, hauling in 56 catches for 859 yards in his career, he'll be taking on a much bigger role as a redshirt senior. At 6-foot-3, he'll be a solid go-to option for the quarterback.
Rodriguez landed some much needed size towards the final days of the 2016 recruiting class in 6-foot-5 Glendale Community College transfer Shawn Poindexter. He’s been catching plenty of attention and footballs this fall camp, and figures to be a huge outside presence for the Wildcats.
There’s a big question mark at receiver concerning a transfer who checks in at 6-foot-4. Zach Benjamin is a guy who's eligibility we're still unsure of, just two weeks out from the first game.
He committed to Arizona this summer as a walk-on. He was once at USF and saw limited action before opting to leave the program. Because he's had a year away from football and has chosen to walk on at Arizona, it leaves Rodriguez — and myself — baffled as to why there is an eligibility concern.
Denson is another guy who will be playing on the outside. While he only measures up to be 5-foot-11, he has a reported 36-inch vertical, which gives him some height to match his speed downfield.
Lastly on the outside is Tony Ellison, who has had two productive off seasons and Rodriguez said this past spring that there's a 99.99% chance that he starts at one point this season.
The slot is where a lot of the first down production will come, with veterans Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips occupying those roles. Both have battled their share of injuries, but figure to be 100% for the season, ready to roll for their senior campaign.
Arizona will also have a fully-healthy Tyrell Johnson, who is easily the fastest guy on the team. His speed hasn’t quite matched his production, but his injuries have held him back a bit. So far we have seen him mainly on kickoff returns.
Shun Brown didn’t see too much action last season, burning a year of eligibility on four receptions for 24 yards and four kickoff returns for 82 yards. He had some nice plays this spring in the slot and he’s another viable option.
Lastly, there’s true freshman Devaughn Cooper, who is another speed demon. He’s been getting worked in on kickoff return himself, so should he find a role there he is likely to find himself on the receiving end of a few passes this season.
This gives Arizona ten solid pass catchers to work with, which doesn’t include the tight ends.
While RichRod continues to add to the tight ends in each recruiting class, they haven’t been used as much as you’d think. But Arizona is working with three of them that are at least 6-foot-2, most notably Trevor Wood and Josh Kern, both at 6-foot-5.
Wood seems to be a guy that impressed this offseason, as he is finally at full health. We saw a few appearances from Kern last season as well, so maybe now they’ve gained more trust from the coaching staff and they can continue to serve as much-needed wrinkles to the Arizona offense, especially in the redzone.