Nearly every season preview floating around quickly pivots around Maryland most noticeable loss: Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.
It’s an understandable thing to fixate on. Hey-Bey went No. 7 overall in the NFL Draft, and even when you account for the irrational Raiders Factor, a lot of teams selecting toward the end of the first round probably would have liked to have seen him on the board later in the day.
Heyward-Bey, basically, was a talented college player, and Maryland doesn’t have anyone quite like him to draw attention on their roster.
However, he still only had 42 catches, 609 yards and five touchdowns last season. He was targeted on 81 of the Terps’ 390 measureable (i.e. non-throwaway) attempts, a solid 20.8 percent of the time. Take out the Boston College game he missed, and it is 24.2 percent.
Unsurprisingly, he plays a prominent role on this chart covering all of last season (players returning in bold):
There’s an obvious trend there. The most experienced players are gone, but a lot of guys got a little playing time and aren’t completely raw heading into this season.
The four lost players accounted for 196 targets, just a hair over half of the team’s total. They also accounted for 110 of 227 receptions (48.5 percent).
But while there’s no one remaining who possessed Heyward-Bey’s speed, there are some solid options.
Torrey Smith is probably the best of the bunch, his eight-catch day (on 10 targets) against Boston College an indicator of what he can do as the primary receiver.
Ronnie Tyler is sure-handed, and his memorable catch against North Carolina came more than a month since Chris Turner had looked his way. He wouldn’t get another chance until the Humanitarian Bowl, but he was efficient that day as well. Chances are, he’ll slide into the reliable Danny Oquendo’s role and have a solid season.
After that … intriguing possibilities, but no sure things.
Emani Lee-Odai became a popular target near the end of last season, but does he have a good full year in him?
Adrian Cannon has demonstrated flashes – including an early touchdown in the bowl – and is said to be enjoying a solid summer. Can it translate?
LaQuan Williams was hurt nearly all of last season, and might be forgotten. But he also was a key reserve in 2007. Is he really back?
Tony Logan, used sparingly last season, figures to be handed an excellent chance to win a job. But at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, is the former high school quarterback more a slot man than an outside option?
Quintin McCree caught three touchdowns in the spring game after a remarkably silent 2008. Which was a sign of things to come?
That doesn’t even get to Kerry Boykins and Kevin Dorsey, a pair of redshirt freshmen who could find their way into prominent roles.
While it defies logic to believe all nine guys will surely make a difference this season, it is plausible for each individually to pull it off.
That’s a far cry from the last time Maryland entered a season with its receiving corps wiped out by personnel losses – 2006, when Heyward-Bey, Oquendo, Isaiah Williams and (when healthy) Drew Weatherly were the only wideouts coach Ralph Friedgen trusted.
Indeed, the depth of options has been on the upswing ever since, as this chart of the total players and receivers to haul in at least five passes in each year of the Friedgen era demonstrates:
|Season||5+ Rec.||WR/5+ Rec.|
Given Maryland’s likely need to throw to set up the run with a young offensive line, the absence of a player whose skillset demands he gets thrown to more frequently than others and the plethora of untested talent, the Terps might just match the Friedgen-era bests in these categories set in 2003.
A wild guess: No Terp will have more than 40 catches (Smith clearly has the best chance to go beyond that), but at least seven receivers will make it into double figures.
No one person is going to replace the sheer threat Heyward-Bey posed. Yet collectively, Maryland’s receivers might just be up to the task of surpassing last season’s production when the fall rolls around.