After the Knights’ spring game this April, fans and coaches alike were thrilled with the performance from Jaylon Robinson, who was fresh off a knee injury that had taken all offseason to rehab. The star receiver popped off two touchdowns in the first half of the game and it looked like we’d be hearing his name a lot for the Knights in 2022.
That was before Robinson entered the Transfer Portal and ultimately decided to take his talents to Ole Miss. The junior wideout’s departure has left the Knights without one of its burners out wide. Fortunately, there are some promising receivers on this UCF roster, with two in particular that will be discussed within this article.
Ryan O’Keefe is a known entity to the Knights, which is a huge bonus to UCF’s inexperienced quarterbacks who will need to be as familiar as possible with their receivers if they want to hit the ground running this fall. O’Keefe has been an integral piece of the Knights’ offense for the past two seasons and stepped-up big time last year when Robinson missed games due to injury. He was the team’s leading receiver last year and orchestrated some electrifying plays in 2021. He’s a football player’s football player, with the ability to run, catch, and even pass, as he proved by completing all three of his passes last year, including two for touchdowns. How’s that for a good QBR?
Although it's unlikely that O’Keefe lines up under center this season, he’ll probably have the ball in his hands almost as much as whichever quarterback is named the Knights’ starter. The junior receiver finished the 2021 season with 812 yards and seven receiving touchdowns to go along with 274 yards rushing and another touchdown on the ground (and of course, his two touchdown passes).
In the final game of the season, a matchup with state rival Florida Gators in the Gasparilla Bowl, O’Keefe burned up the turf for 195 total yards and a receiving touchdown. The speedster ripped off a 74-yard run and a 54-yard receiving touchdown on his way to earning Gasparilla Bowl MVP honors. He’s hoping to ride that momentum into a 2022 season that is wide open for anyone on this offense to make their mark on.
There’s a lot of similarity between O’Keefe and the aforementioned Robinson, both are slender 5’10 burners from Texas and check off similar boxes physically. This should make shouldering the load easier for O’Keefe as offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey will be able to utilize his talents in a similar way to what was likely also planned for Robinson. O’Keefe’s versatility and durability are two of his most valuable attributes and should make the junior a yard-getting machine in 2022.
An equally intriguing prospect to O’Keefe is junior transfer Kobe Hudson. The former Auburn wideout made his move to Orlando in January this year, reuniting with his 2020 Auburn Head Coach, Gus Malzahn, who’s now in charge at UCF. Hudson’s a bit bigger than O’Keefe at 6’0” and 200 pounds, although he’s not a massive receiver, he uses his size well to fend off smaller corners. As a sophomore at Auburn, he racked up 580 yards and 4 touchdown catches. He seemed to really find his pace toward the end of the 2021 season, scoring in the Tigers’ final three games, including one pivotal score in Auburn’s overtime thriller with Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
He’s sure handed and can make a catch when you really need it, even if he’s got defenders draped all over him. Hudson’s size and strength on the edge will be huge for UCF, as his ability to create plays in space will have him open quite a bit this fall. Once he gets the ball, Hudson has shown a solid arsenal of open field moves and second-level speed.
Both Hudson and O’Keefe have proven that they are legitimate offensive weapons, and this season looks to be the perfect opportunity for either or both of them to explode for some big games. The Knights return backfield bruiser Isaiah Bowser at running back which should have defenses focused on plugging up his running lanes and leave some space for this dynamic duo of route runners to maneuver. The pair will take the field together for the first time when the Knights open their season at home against South Carolina State on Sep. 1.