Cincinnati's wide receivers proved to be the deepest position group on this Bearcats roster during the 2012 season. Five different receivers caught at least 25 passes, with the leading receiver catching 40. This proved to be a blessing and a curse throughout the year as you could not key on one "go-to" guy for the position, but you also had trouble figuring out who would be the receiver to trust when the Bearcats needed a key third down completion. All these factors led to one of the more interesting seasons for this position group in a long time.
A few guys showed the potential to have a breakout year with big games throughout the season, starting with Kenbrell Thompkins performance against Virginia Tech. Thompkins finished that game with seven catches for 134 yards and one touchdown, torching a talented Hokie secondary and looking like the go-to receiver all powerful offenses possess. While Thompkins did not have a bad season, he failed to duplicate this production after his big performance. Thompkins finished the season with 32 receptions for 523 yards and two touchdowns. While struggling to remain a consistent threat on offense, Thompkins was still one of the most naturally gifted targets UC put on the field. Blessed with good speed and leaping ability, Thompkins was a nightmare in single coverage, easily beating most cornerbacks and showing good technique on his routes.
Damon Julian was another Bearcat receiver who flashed his big play ability a few times throughout the season, but failed to do so on a consistent basis. Julians's breakout game mirrored Thompkins, as both performances came on the road against the normally stout Virginia Tech secondary. Julian, who was a junior college transfer getting his first major taste of playing time, had four catches for 89 yards and one touchdown. The touchdown, however, came with 11 seconds remaining, as Cincinnati drove down the field to secure the game winning score and preserve their undefeated record. The senior from New Jersey was the most physically imposing of the Cincinnati receivers, standing at 6-2 and weighing 210 pounds, and he used that size to his advantage. Julian was the jump ball specialist for the wide receiver unit, used mostly in red zone situations, allowing him to use his height and strength to battle smaller cornerbacks in the air for position. This helped Julian finish second on the team in receiving touchdowns with four. His final season stats sat at 24 receptions for 377 yards and the previously mentioned four touchdowns.
While the receivers did a good job as a group, it was actually a tight end who separated from the pack and became quarterback Brendon Kay's favorite target. Senior Travis Kelce started the season slow, accumulating only seven catches and one touchdown through the first four games, and seemed like he would never reach his potential. However, after UC turned the keys to their offense over to Kay, Kelce exploded onto the scene, finishing with five receiving touchdowns over his last five games and finding a spot on the first team All-Big East squad at the end of the season. Kelce's size, he stood at 6-6, 260, and athleticism helped him become one of the most dangerous tight ends in the nation by the end of the season. Too quick for linebackers to cover and too big for safeties to run with, he became the matchup nightmare that all quarterbacks dream about when drawing up their ideal tight end. Kelce's second half of the season resurgence helped him to finish the year with 40 catches for 599 yards and a team leading seven receiving touchdowns.
While the position as a whole may have been a disappointment from a production standpoint, the Cincinnati wide receiver/tight end group prided themselves on quantity over quality, and it showed during the 2012 season.