One of the best traits Steve Sarkisian possesses is getting quality play out of his wide receiver. Too bad one of the main targets from 2020 will now be heading elsewhere.
Texas wide receiver Jake Smith has entered the NCAA's transfer portal, according to multiple reports, and later confirmed on Tuesday evening. Smith, a shifty slot receiver, missed all of spring football with a broken foot.
The 2018 National Gatorade Player of the Year at Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale, Ariz. was expected to have a pivotal role in 2021 for Texas with Sarkisian's success at wideouts during his time at Alabama. Jaylen Waddle was a top 10 pick after two seasons inside with the Crimson Tide. Henry Ruggs III recorded over 700 receiving yards and averaged over 16 yards per play when matched up inside.
Smith played in seven games for Texas last fall after being limited with injury. The junior recorded 23 catches for 294 yards and three touchdowns. As a freshman in 2019, he tallied 25 catches for 274 yards and six touchdowns in 13 games.
Texas' wide receiver room as a whole was limited to production in 2020. Joshua Moore led the team with 472 yards and nine touchdowns as the de facto No. 1 option. Brennan Eagles was the only other receiver to have at least 25 catches and over 400 yards.
Moore's name was quiet during spring practice but still is expected to have a role on the staff.
Smith's departure leaves a hole in the offense at a position of need for young quarterbacks Casey Thompson and Hudson Card. Keep in mind that slot receivers and tight ends usually play a safety net role across the middle of the field and are essential in short-yardage situations.
That doesn't mean the Longhorns are lost in that realm.
Expectations are high for Jordan Whittington as he preps for a full season at wide receiver. Sarkisian has praised the Cureo native for his work ethic and ability to pick up the playbook in no time.
“I really like Jordan,” Sarkisian said on April 10. “From the day I got here, he’s done everything I’ve asked. He’s part of our leadership committee. He’s a guy who’s really learned our system well, is probably the furthest along of understanding, can play multiple positions at the wide receiver position right now.”
Whittington's problem has been health concerns rather than production. In two years, he's played in just six games and recorded just one touchdown since arriving at the Forty Acres. If the spring game showed the future, Whittington's role should expand.
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Whittington led the Orange team with five catches for 56 yards in the spring game, including a 23-yard catch from Thompson just before halftime.
On the outside, Moore will likely act as the possessional target instead of a vertical option. Instead, expect Troy Omerie to take control of that role when healthy.
The buzz around Omerie has been high since his arrival last fall. If not for a non-contact torn ACL, perhaps he would have been the breakout star for the Horns' offense last fall.
If anything, fans saw a glimpse of the vertical presence Omerie can bring when at full speed thanks to a 21-yard catch from Thompson in the second quarter. Off size alone, the 6-foot-3 target is a mismatch for most receivers.
Other names like Marcus Washington, Kelvontay Dixon, and do-it-all running back Roschon Johnson should be effective in the passing game as well.
The loss of Smith hurts for veteran production, but not much talent-wise. Texas spent the entire spring without him. Perhaps Whittington and Dixon passed him on the depth chart?
Did Sarkisian see something different?
One can't replace veteran talent, but they can replace veteran production. A healthy campaign from Whittington and Omerie should triple the stat line Smith produced in 2020. Moore should remain a key factor in a three-receiver set.
Anyone else who steps up? Consider it an added bonus for Sarkisian's offense.
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