Texas Tech football: Red Raider outside receivers have never been more inexperienced

Oct 16, 2021; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders wide receiver Loic Fouonji (19) runs the ball as Kansas Jayhawks safety Jayson Gilliom (10) attempts the tackle during the second half at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2021; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders wide receiver Loic Fouonji (19) runs the ball as Kansas Jayhawks safety Jayson Gilliom (10) attempts the tackle during the second half at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /
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Death, taxes, and wide receivers.  Those three things we’ve come to know as absolutes over the past twenty-plus years in Raiderland.  But entering the 2022 Texas Tech football season, we might not be as certain about the latter of that trio.  In fact, never in the Air Raid era of the program has Tech ventured into a season with as little production at the outside receiver spot as will be the case this fall.

This year, new head coach Joey McGuire and his highly-regarded offensive coordinator Zach Kittley will be relying heavily on a group of outside receivers that have yet to prove capable of being even average contributors at the college level.  Could that prove to be the stumbling block of the offense?

Right now, the most proven of the Red Raider outside receivers is Loic Fouonji, the third-year player out of Midland.  He currently has a meager 237 yards and 13 receptions to his name while finding the endzone just twice as a collegiate.  That is despite the fact that he was a 4-star signee in the class of 2020.  Last season, he saw action in ten games coming down with eight passes for 167 yards and one TD.  That made him just the sixth-leading receiver on the 2021 team in terms of yards.

Another player who figures to see his role increase this season is Trey Cleveland.  The junior has yet to fully realize his potential as a Red Raider hauling in just 19 career passes for 222 yards and two TDs.  Of course, at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, the Arlington, Texas native has all the physical tools to be a weapon in the passing game.  But now, he will be pushed to finally have a breakthrough season and be a key member of the two-deep rotation.

Perhaps the one wide receiver that fans and the media alike seem to be hyping the most is sophomore Jerand Bradley out of DeSoto, Texas.  A 4-star signee in the class of 2021 he’s already 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds making him perhaps the most physically imposing receiver on Tech’s roster.

As a true freshman last fall, he registered five receptions for 99 yards.  But he ended the season by making a splash in the Liberty Bowl win over Mississippi State by catching two balls for 64 yards including a nice 52-yard catch and run to set up a Red Raider TD.

While Bradley seems to be the most likely of the young Red Raiders to break out this season, there still remains a question about whether he can go from being a 99-yard receiver to a starting-caliber Big 12 pass catcher in one offseason.  Still, it seems as if he’s going to eventually be a key cog for Tech.  But whether that happens this year or not is one of the key questions that remains to be answered.

Sophomore J.J. Sparkman is also a large wide receiver at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds.  But thus far, he’s managed to catch a mere seven passes for 86 yards and a pair of scores in his two seasons on campus (though he did not play in 2020 as an injury cost him all of his true freshman campaign).

It all adds up to this being the most unproven group of outside receivers Tech has carried into a season since before the dawn of the Mike Leach era in 2000 when the forward pass became this program’s primary means of moving the ball.

In fact, even in Leach’s first season, he had more experience to work with at outside receiver than McGuire and Kittley have in their first season together on the South Plains.  When Leach arrived he had Derek Dorris entering his senior season with 56 catches for 826 yards and four touchdowns in his career.

Leach also had another senior, Tim Baker, who brought into the 2000 season 34 catches and 510 yards to go along with three TDs.  While those numbers are rather modest in terms of modern college football, especially over the course of three years, they would make Baker by far the most productive receiver on the 2022 roster.

Since then, only once has Tech entered the season with fewer career yards from its leading returning outside receiver.  That year was 2007 when Ed Britton came into the year with 122 career yards as a sophomore.

However, a huge asterisk needs to be placed next to that season given that redshirt freshman Michael Crabtree was set to debut that fall after torching the Red Raider first-team defense all year in 2006 as he sat out due to a dispute of his high school transcript.   Thus, Tech was fairly certain that they had at least one weapon to be confident in on the outside as they headed into what would be one of the more important seasons of the Leach tenure.

What’s more, that season Tech also had inside receiver Danny Amendola entering the season as a senior who already had amassed 1,001 career yards.  This year, Tech’s leading option at inside receiver is Myles Price, who has 823 yards and three TDs for his career.

Therefore, it is worth wondering whether or not this year’s crop of outside receivers is ready to help the Red Raiders compete in the Big 12.  The good news is that there are plenty of physically gifted players waiting in the wings but as of right now, none of them have proven that they are capable of being a primary target in the passing game.  And perhaps the entire success of the upcoming season may depend on this group of green players finding a way to step up.