Each Saturday this summer, SI Sooners examines 10 players on the Oklahoma roster who can elevate their ceiling in 2021 with a big offseason. Today: wide receiver Jadon Haselwood.
Given the opportunity, Jadon Haselwood keeps showing that he can deliver ridiculous big plays in the Oklahoma passing game.
The problem is he’s not been getting a lot of opportunities. That may change this fall.
Haselwood, the former 5-star prospect from Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, GA, spent most of last season injured. A torn ACL while training at home during the pandemic all but shut down his sophomore season, limiting him to just three games, in which he caught four passes for 65 yards.
“It wasn’t easy,” Haselwood said this spring. “It was more mental than anything. It was just me locking it in, becoming more of a student of the game. Learning, getting mental reps every practice. Getting my work in before practice so I can catch practice and get those mental reps. So it was definitely tough. There was days I didn’t want to do it. But I knew I had to.”
One of Haselwood’s four catches last year was a circus-act grab in traffic against Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship Game. Quarterback Spencer Rattler waited and waited for someone to break open, and when no one did, Rattler squeezed a throw into Haselwood. He put it high, where only the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Haselwood could get it, but he was clobbered by three Cyclone defenders — and hung on.
Haselwood flashed again in the Red / White Game on April 24, catching a deep fade from Caleb Williams one-handed — left-handed — with cornerback Joshua Eaton hanging all over him.
It was the kind of ability that made Haselwood a high school All-American and one of the most coveted players in the 2019 recruiting class — No. 1 among all high school receivers, according to 247 Sports, ESPN and Rivals, and the No. 4 overall recruit in the country as ranked by Rivals and No. 6 by ESPN.
As a true freshman that year, Haselwood caught just 19 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown. He had enrolled early to get a jump on his college career, but developing an easy rapport with one-year QB Jalen Hurts never really happened as Haselwood tried to learn the nuances of the college game with a QB who often preferred running the ball rather than throwing it.
But those are Haselwood’s circumstances, and he must now make hay in a crowded OU receiver room.
“To have him out there every single day,” said receivers coach Cale Gundy, “he's had some things that have happened that have kind of slowed him down a little bit through his career, but he's back to healthy.”
Head coach Lincoln Riley said he needed to see more out of the Sooner corps during the spring, and to that end, Riley welcomed in Arkansas wideout Mike Woods from the transfer portal on the day before the spring game — hardly a vote of confidence for the group’s performance in March and April.
“I think we led college football in most dropped touchdowns, if I’m not mistaken,” Haselwood said. “I don’t know, something like that. That’s not us. We’re better than that.
“A lot of stuff we can’t control. We control what we can. And I’m sure like the world’s going to see what this unit can do. Coach Riley even challenged us earlier this year. So we’re accepting that challenge. We’re just going to hit it full force as a unit.”
Maybe Riley’s declaration that the entire room would start spring with “a clean, blank slate” actually works in Haselwood’s favor. Now in his second year working with Rattler, perhaps Haselwood is finally building that QB-WR rapport.
“We’ve got to get our timing and get to know each other better on the field as well as off the field,” Haselwood said. “The chemistry is there, of course, but we’ve still got to be able to execute.”
Haselwood’s task won’t be unchallenged. Just like Riley and Gundy and Dennis Simmons did two years ago, they went out and landed a blue chip class of wideouts in the 2021 class, including 5-star Mario Williams and former SI99 Cody Jackson. If high school All-American Billy Bowman gets snaps on offense this year, things get really crowded for upper classmen looking for more snaps.
Marvin Mims is coming into his sophomore season and jumped up last season as Rattler’s go-to deep threat. Theo Wease — another 5-star who came in with Haselwood and the now-dismissed Trejan Bridges — emerged as Rattler’s favorite third-down target.
Tight end Austin Stogner will get a lot of throws this year. So should slot receiver Drake Stoops. Jeremiah Hall is an ideal decoy and check-down. Mikey Henderson’s move from H-back to running back shouldn’t diminish his involvement in the passing game. And Tennessee transfer Eric Gray is as good a receiver as the Sooners have had out of the backfield since Joe Mixon. Brayden Willis is also an H-back threat in the passing game.
In that group, Haselwood’s four catches last year ranked at the bottom — 13th on the team.
Things don't get easier for Haselwood or any OU wideouts in 2022. Three of the top 15 high school wide receivers in the nation (No. 1 Luther Burden, No. 5 Talyn Shettron and No. 15 Jordan Hudson) are committed to Oklahoma, as is the No. 1 all-purpose back (Raleek Brown).
But the future is now for Jadon Haselwood.
If his knee is strong, if he trusts it, and if he is able to regain that supernatural explosion in and out of breaks and create the kind of separation that engenders even more confidence on Rattler’s part to make those tight throws, then Haselwood has the kind of natural ability to stay busy this season and perhaps even land a spot on the All-Big 12 team.
“Physically, I feel good,” Haselwood said. “I’m glad to be back.”