Wide receiver production used to be Baylor football’s greatest strength. Corey Coleman and Kendall Wright were first-round picks. Terrance Williams was a consensus All-American. KD Cannon posted a pair of 1,000-yard seasons in three years. The Bears produced a 1,000-yard receiver each year since 2011.
But after the attrition in 2016, Baylor’s wide receiver depth slipped dramatically. Cannon and redshirt sophomore Ishmael Zamora declared for the NFL draft. Additionally, 2016 wide receiver signees Devin Duvernay and Tren’Davian Dickson both left.
That leaves just five returning scholarship wide receivers on the roster. Certain alignments in the Briles offense called for five wide receivers in one formation – obviously this level of depth isn’t ideal.
Baylor also added Trestan Ebner, Gavin Holmes and RJ Sneed as recruits – Sneed enrolled in January. Safety Tony Nicholson will also move to wide receiver in 2017.
Suddenly, Chris Platt is the only upperclassman wide receiver on the roster. After that, it’s a wealth of unknowns. Even the running backs were not a part of the receiving game last season, especially after true freshman quarterback Zach Smith took over.
That’s not to say new offensive coordinators Glenn Thomas and Jeff Nixon don’t have options. Both have experience with explosive offenses and high-level passing games. However, several things will need to go right for the Bears to immediately see results.
Lynch is the last blue-chip receiver of the previous era. He and Platt are the only two consensus 4-star prospects left.
After dominating the competition at Troup High School, Lynch transferred to Gilmer and immediately led them to a state championship while accumulating more than 2,000 total yards and 38 touchdowns. For his production, Lynch earned offers from Clemson, Mississippi State and TCU.
Thanks to the depth, Lynch redshirted and was the fourth-leading receiver on the roster. Now, he is the top receiver recruit at Baylor and must immediately transform into the roster’s top receiving option.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Lynch possesses track speed and athleticism. He proved at times last season that he can be a nightmare matchup for opposing defensive backs.
He struggled with drops in 2016. That can’t continue. Lynch is the offense’s most significant piece – if he fails to take the next step, the entire offense could fall apart. Building rapport with Smith this offseason will be essential.
Immediate freshman contributors
It’s worrisome to need immediate contributors from a young recruiting, but Baylor does not have much choice. Ebner, Holmes and Sneed are the only three receivers in the recruiting class. Luckily, all three were among the most sought-after in the class.
247Sports’ composite rated all three as top-450 talents. Scout rated Holmes a 4-star prospect. Sneed committed to Ole Miss, but later flipped to Baylor. Ebner boasted offers from a plethora of schools, including Texas A&M, Arkansas and Arizona State. He later picked Baylor over TCU after jokingly polling Twitter for opinions.
While Baylor won’t post video game offensive numbers anymore, Rhule still valued explosive playmakers in his recruiting class.
With the lack of established playmakers on the roster, all three prospects will have plenty of opportunities to get on the field. Lynch and Platt are the known commodities in this rotation. One of these three players will have to be another. Sneed, an early enrollee, appears to be the roster’s best bet.
Rolling through transition
Obviously, Baylor’s offense will look significantly different in 2017. The “Baylor offense” that the previous coaching staff brought to the program will quickly become a relic. With Rhule’s staff, the focus will be on offense complementing defense – not the other way around.
The days of running 100 offensive plays and losing the time-of-possession battle are over. Wide receivers won’t continue putting up video game numbers.
Thanks to the type of athletes Baylor runs out, there will be explosive pass plays. However, the role within the game plan changes. Instead of running the fabled “touchdown play” that fans clamor for, the pass will be used to keep defenses off balance so the run game can take time off the clock.
Judging the passing game becomes more difficult with new parameters. Smith will need to raise his completion percentage over 60 percent. The receivers can’t struggle with drops, especially not Lynch. Heck, receivers won’t be used as decoys as often, so they need to block every play.
With so much turnover and scheme change on offense, there will be early growing pains. It helps that the receivers will work with Bob Bicknell, who developed wide receivers for the 49ers and Eagles. However, for the offensive game plan to balance out, the receivers must grow up fast.