Written By T.J. Inman
After a very rough 2014 campaign, the Indiana Hoosiers wide receivers bounced back in a big way and had a solid 2015 season. In fact, the Hoosiers had three receivers exceed 650 yards on the season (Paige with 684, Jones with 906 and Cobbs with 1,035 yards) and eight receivers with double-digit catches. There were still some issues with drops but most of the pass catchers return in 2016 and this is one of the deepest positions on the IU roster.
The Incumbents – Cobbs, Jones and Paige
The trio of Simmie Cobbs, Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige caught the bulk of Nate Sudfeld’s passes in 2015. Cobbs had the breakout season all Hoosier fans were hoping for (60 catches, 1,035 yards), Ricky Jones started the season like a house of fire and ended with a solid campaign (54 catches, 906 yards) and Mitchell Paige was a very pleasant surprise as a go-to slot receiver and punt returner (57 catches, 684 yards). The three players combined for 15 receiving touchdowns and all three return to reprise their roles in 2016.
The Spring will be important for this group of established offensive leaders to work on timing and chemistry with whomever the new starting quarterback ends up being (presumably, Richard Lagow). Jones, and especially Simmie Cobbs, could have futures in the NFL if they can continue to progress as consistent pass catchers capable of making big plays.
Remember Me? – J-Shun Harris and Isaac James
These two players were kept out of action in 2015 due to injuries. Indiana fans will remember Harris from his promising true freshman campaign in 2014. The Fishers, IN native saw action in all 12 games and caught 18 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns during his debut season and was named to the BTN.com honorable mention All-Big Ten Freshman team (he was also named IU’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year). Unfortunately, Harris suffered an ACL injury in the summer of 2015 and he was forced to take a medical redshirt season. He is expected to participate in this season’s spring practices and it will be critical for him to show his knee is 100% healed and that his quickness and shiftiness as a route runner has not been compromised. I think it is likely that Harris will succeed Paige as the Hoosiers slot receiver once Mitchell Paige graduates but if he shows well this spring, the redshirt sophomore will likely get plenty of snaps during the 2016 season as part of the receiver rotation.
Another casualty of injury was freshman Isaac James. James, a touted recruit from Carmel, IN might not end up on offense but for now, we are projecting him as a wide receiver. He’s a very gifted athlete that excelled on both sides of the ball in one of the country’s tougher high school football conferences (the MIC). I’ll be very interested to see how the IU coaches decide to deploy him.
Flashing Potential- Nick Westbrook
Nick Westbrook, a 6’3” target from Lake Mary, Florida, gave fans a glimpse of what he is capable of during the Pinstripe Bowl. He snagged a 23-yard reception and added his first career touchdown against the Duke Blue Devils and he looks the part of a large #1 wide receiver. He arrived at Indiana after a prolific career at Lake Mary High School in the Orlando area and it’s clear that he has the physical tools capable of producing if given the opportunity. Westbrook only caught six passes during the 2015 season but his lack of production can largely be attributed to a lack of opportunities because of older players in front of him on the depth chart. Those players are still present but I’ll be looking for Westbrook to push for more playing time by excelling during the upcoming spring practices. It’s very possible that Westbrook will be needed to start and be a primary target in 2017 so his development is critical for the future of IU’s offense.
Can They Contribute? Dominique Booth, Marqui Hawkins, Isaac Griffith, Luke Timian
I’ve lumped these four together because, with strong offseason practices and development, any of them could end up as contributors. However, any of them could also end up buried on the depth chart behind several others in this talented and deep position.
I’ll start with a player that has already proven that he is capable of contributing, albeit in a limited role. Luke Timian transferred to Indiana from Oklahoma State and appeared in six games during his redshirt freshman season in 2015. His first catch of the season was a crucial 24-yard reception against Maryland and his second reception was a 27-yard touchdown catch in the Pinstripe Bowl. Timian apparently performed very well during practices and a strong spring could lead to an increased role in 2016.
Dominique (or “Dom”) Booth came to Indiana after a very impressive high school career at Pike High School in Indianapolis. As a freshman, he caught eight passes for 70 yards and started the final six games of the 2014 season. He was unable to shake some nagging injuries and medically redshirted the 2015 season so 2016 will be his redshirt sophomore year. He has a lot of talent and produced in high school but it hasn’t quite clicked during his time at IU and he is now behind several other players on the depth chart. This is a crucial spring for Booth and he’ll need to perform quite well to carve out a role for himself heading into fall practices.
Marqui Hawkins, a transfer from UAB, graduated from George Washington High School in Georgia in 2012. 2016 will be his redshirt junior season and he’s yet to play significant action in college (he didn’t see game action in 2013 at the University of Florida, transferred to UAB and sat out the 2014 season, the UAB program was shut down so he transferred to IU and played in three games). Hawkins was a 4-star recruit in high school but we’ve yet to see what he’s capable at IU. His 6’2” frame suggests that he could develop into a big target for the Hoosiers but we’ll need to start seeing his potential turn into some good play when spring practice kicks off. Finally, we wrap up with Isaac Griffith. Griffith will be a redshirt junior this spring and he’s recovering from a season-ending ACL injury that he suffered at Penn State. The injury came right after he caught a career-long 17-yard pass and it’s unclear whether or not he’ll be ready to participate in the upcoming practices.
It’s important to remember that a few potentially important pieces of the 2016 Hoosiers won’t be participating in spring practices. Freshmen Jonah Morris, Taysir Mack and Phil Benker are all expected to play wide receiver and they could factor into the 2016 depth chart (I believe Morris in particular has a chance to play immediately). So, my prediction for the depth chart when we exit spring is not indicative of what I believe the depth chart will be once the freshmen arrive and when the season eventually kicks off.
Starters: Cobbs, Jones and Paige
Second: Westbrook, Harris and James
Rotation Guys (in order): Timian, Booth, Hawkins and Griffith