Ball State's wide receiving corps from the 2016 season can be summarized in two groups. 1: The Performers and 2: The Underachievers.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Performers group loses its #1 option in all-time receptions leader Kevonn Mabon who will graduate. Also unfortunate is that after Mabon, only one other player can be constantly referred to as a performer, and that is Damon Hazelton.
In his true freshman campaign, Hazelton came out of nowhere to produce 51 receptions and 4 touchdowns. In a strange twist, he seemed to be a top downfield target while also averaging less than 10 yards a reception, something we all expect him to increase in 2017.
After Hazelton though, the production dropped off quickly.
Slot Receiver Corey Lacanaria seemed to be poised for a break out year. The diminutive WR caught a solid 45 passes and 4 touchdowns as a sophomore and more was expected from his junior campaign. Unfortunately, that did not happen. He slipped back to just 33 receptions, battled some injuries and disappeared in a few games when the offense needed him the most. We expect a rebound in a big way as Lacanaria transitions into his senior campaign. He is firmly capable of big numbers and will have talented newcomers pushing him for playing time.
Next in the group are outside receivers Jordan Hogue and Devin Reece. Hogue, a 6-0 183 guy that can slide into several different positions, looked coming out of spring to be the #2 starter next to Mabon on the outside and produce big numbers after slowly progressing his first two seasons. While he did progress from 11 receptions to 20 this past season, he still was largely a non-factor in the passing game and fell below the expectations of followers of the program.
Reece, a big 6-2 210 target, was probably the player with the highest expectations entering the season. After just 4 games on the field in his redshirt freshman campaign, expectations for a big year for Reece started in spring. While battling with the aforementioned Hogue for starting dibs on the outside, we all figured his size and speed would equate into solid production and a bright future. While that future still remains bright, the here and now did not happen. Reece started off solidly, but fell out of favor to older players later in the season and spent much of his playing time on special teams. Reece ended the season with just 10 receptions for 110 yards and 1 touchdown.
Luckily though, next year will bring new promise and the chance to perform at a high level and meet expectations for the upperclassmen on this list. But, it will not be without a fight from underclassmen looking for their shot at playing time.
Leading the charge are a pair of redshirt freshmen chomping at the chance to prove themselves.
Tyler Kirtz, who redshirted as a freshman last season, is a solid sized 6-1 target that put up amazing numbers in high school two years ago. Look for him to push Hogue and Reece on the outside and work to get playing time.
In the slot, Wyatt Plate, another undersized (5-9 170) target looks to push Lacanaria for snaps and catches.
Littles, who is an electric athlete, projects as a slot guy that can also line up outside in some situations. He has the talent to really push for playing time and gives the Cardinals an added element of speed in the position that is not currently on display.
Merriweather, fresh off a Class 6A State Title in Indiana, will push on the outside with his 6-2 frame and developing game.
Ball State is still on the market for WR talent to add to the group and surely one or two more names will be added on signing day in two months. No matter what happens between now and then in recruiting, one this is for sure and more production, separation and playmaking is necessary out of a group that largely underperformed a year ago.