2018 Position Preview: Receivers

Mike Houck
By Mike Houck
Assistant A.D. / Strategic Communications

NORMAN — Since Lincoln Riley arrived in Norman in 2015, Oklahoma leads the nation in points per game (44.2), total offense (555.5 ypg), completion percentage (.694) and passing efficency rating (187.7). Stellar receiving talent has aided those numbers the last three years with players such as Sterling Shepard in 2015 (ESPN All-American and fourth-round draft pick), Dede Westbrook in 2016 (consensus All-American, Biletnikoff Award winner and fourth-round pick) and Mark Andrews last season (consensus All-American, Mackey Award winner and third-round pick). 

Fortunately for Riley, OU's 2018 collection of pass-catchers looks like it could be as solid as any of the last three seasons.

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Headlining a group of eight returning lettermen are a pair of 2017 starters in outside receivers Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and CeeDee Lamb. The prolific duo combined for 103 catches, 1,902 yards and 14 touchdowns as rookies last year.

Following one season of junior college in 2016, Brown, a preseason All-Big 12 pick who last month was listed by NFL.com as college football's top wide receiver to watch, hauled in 57 receptions for a team-high 1,095 yards and seven scores to help propel OU to the College Football Playoff. Included was a school-record 265-yard effort (two TDs) in a win at Oklahoma State. Brown's blazing speed and penchant for making things happen in both the short- and long-passing game make him one of the country's most explosive weapons.

Lamb, an ESPN freshman All-American a season ago, ranked third on the team with 46 catches, set the OU freshman record with 807 receiving yards and tied the OU frosh mark with seven receiving TDs. The high school All-American had no trouble making the leap to major college football, as he started 13 of 14 games and ranked third nationally among freshmen with his 17.5 yards per catch.

What's the next step in their progression?

"I'm expecting the game to slow down for them," said OU outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons. "They weren't the most confident last year in what they were doing. I'm expecting them to make a big jump there. I also really want to see them improve after the catch. They both are practicing right now at a faster speed than they were last year. Adding Coach (Bennie) Wylie to the strength staff and incorporating a lot of the things we did in the offseason, you can see physically they've matured a little bit.

"And being in the system for a full year, they understand a lot of the play concepts, where we're trying to go with the football and where they factor into that puzzle."

"We're expecting high output from a lot of guys."
- Dennis Simmons

Joining Brown and Lamb as an outside receiver with experience is junior A.D. Miller, who redshirted last season. Miller has 18 career receptions, including 12 for 145 yards and a pair of TDs as a sophomore in 2016.

Also expected to make a splash on the outside is redshirt freshman Charleston Rambo, a former top-100 national recruit by Rivals who has been turning heads for the last year in practice. Two more new faces are Jaquayln Crawford, a speedy consensus four-star recruit from Texas who recorded over 150 receptions, 2,500 receiving yards and 33 receiving touchdowns during his high school career, and Jaylon Robinson, a versatile and elusive four-star receiver who began on the inside at OU but moved outside.

Simmons said the Sooners are going to need production from all of those players.

"Traditionally in this offense, if we want to be as successful as we possibly can we're going to need more than two guys at each position to make plays," explained the fourth-year OU assistant. "I expect A.D. to factor in this fall, I'm expecting Charleston Rambo and Jaylon Robinson and Jaquayln Crawford to factor in. We're expecting high output from a lot of guys."

On the inside, sophomore Grant Calcaterra appears to be Andrews' heir apparent at tight end. The preseason All-Big 12 selection saw action in all 14 games last year and made 10 grabs for 162 yards and three scores. A consensus four-star recruit out of high school, Calcaterra was tabbed the nation's No. 2 tight end as a senior by ESPN. He is joined by redshirt junior walk-on Lee Morris, who caught two TD passes last year, and freshman Brayden Willis in trying to fill Andrews' shoes.

"Losing a guy who played a lot of games for us the last three years is obviously going to be tough," said co-offensive coordinator and inside receivers coach Cale Gundy of Andrews. "As a route runner, you get consistency by seeing and doing things over and over and over. We feel really good about the progress Grant and Lee have made. But those guys haven't run as many routes in games and in live situations (as Andrews did). So it's going to be tough. But they both do some really good things and we feel like we should be OK."

Several Sooners will battle for time at slot receiver. Redshirt senior Nick Basquine was primed for a breakout campaign last year after a 20-catch, 265-yard, two-TD 2016. But an Achilles tear early in camp derailed his 2017 season, and then he tore his other Achilles during a January workout.

"We're still trying to figure out how effective he'll be," Gundy said on Monday of Basquine. "(Our staff was) just watching film and he was running pretty close to full speed — 95 or 97 percent."

Junior Mykel Jones and redshirt senior Myles Tease will also likely see time this season. Jones played in all 14 games last year and registered 16 receptions for 310 yards (team-high 19.4 yards per catch) and a TD (55-yarder against TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game). Tease was put on scholarship in June. He played in 13 games in 2017 and made two catches for 51 yards and one score.

A newcomer who could also earn time at the slot position is Drake Stoops, a freshman who has flashed his ability early in training camp.

Said Gundy of OU's first-year receivers, "They're good players. They're good enough to play right now. How much success can they have? It's just kind of wait and see. It's a matter of how quickly they learn and grow."