The 2016 season for the wide receivers was a good microcosm for the Southern Miss season as a whole. There were games the wide receivers looked polished, seasoned, and at times unstoppable. At other times, there were moments in which the unit seemed as if they struggled in the most simple of tasks. Eye popping at times, downright frustrating at times, this group does have reason for some optimism in the season ahead.
Hope springs eternal, right?
To outsiders, the season of Allenzae Staggers would have been a surprise, but to anyone who has seen the talented Wide-out play at East Mississippi, they weren't caught off guard. Staggers came to Hattiesburg with all the tools to be a great wide receiver. Once he and Nick Mullens developed chemistry, he became the go to man. With the departure of Michael Thomas and Casey Martin, Southern Miss needed someone to step up and take the lead. Staggers proved to be that guy for Mullens this season.
The name of the game for Staggers was his speed. He could make a catch in traffic, but his ability to run away from the defense in space made him very valuable. Ask the Rice Owls. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQZ4FYvi-0w
In that game, Staggers became the first WR in the last 10 years to have three TD catches of 75 yards or more. On the season, he led the team with 63 catches for 1,165 yards and 7 TD's. His long was a 93 yard catch and score. The good news for the Eagles and whoever the QB is to replace Mullens? Staggers is just a Junior and will be back to try and make his way into the NFL next season. He still has a lot to play for.
Senior D.J. Thompson didn't have the type of season on the field that he would have liked, although his off the field leadership will be sorely missed next year. Thompson was second on the team in receptions (47) and had 510 yards and 6 TD's. All those were second among the receiving core. However, it wasn't the break out senior year on the field that D.J. was hoping to have with Nick Mullens.
Korey Robertson showed flashes in his sophomore season. He was 4th on the team in receptions (do it all Ito Smith was third) with 37 for 437. Korey has really good size and great hands. He'll look to improve his speed and ability to separate from the defense in the off-season. I expect him to come back in the fall leaner and faster than he's been in his career. He'll need to really step up next season, he'll be counted on to be a play maker as USM will welcome in a new quarterback next season. Korey finished very strong with a nice bowl game against Louisiana Lafayette and showed everyone what he could be for the Golden Eagles.
You'd be hard pressed to find someone more disappointed in his season more than Isaiah Jones. After an eye opening first game against Kentucky (and tremendous fall camp at that), Jones looked to be the next great 88 to wear the black and gold. In fact, after that first game, he drew a lot of comparisons the way he made yards after the catch. One of the most critical catches of the season was just before the half against Kentucky when USM was getting blown out. He caught a beautiful over the middle pass from Mullens and took it to the house, for around 70 yards. That catch turned the tide of the entire game, and opened up the 2nd half beat down for USM.
Somewhere in the middle of the season, things just started to go south for Jones. He lost confidence in himself and struggled to even make a routine catch. Once that started to happen, the staff had no choice to but sit him out. Maybe the second half of the season will light a fire under Jones and his senior year will be about proving everyone wrong. Southern Miss fans can certainly hope. We've all seen what he can be. The talent is there, but can everything else make the necessary adjustments for him to be an elite receiver next year? It will be a critical spring for Jones.
Chase Whitehead was a transfer from South Florida who was a really nice surprise for the Eagles this season. The rising Junior really become a nice outlet for Mullens late in the season. The last 5-6 games were his best. At times, he even reminded people of Casey Martin, which was high praise for a USM receiver. I expect Chase to really fit into the equation more and more and become even more of a target next season as he learns the offense and system. He ended up with 18 catches for 286 yards.
Marquise Ricard is a guy USM really needs to find himself and his role on this team. Both he and T-man Holmes have ability and seemed to be guys that would really be impact players for the Eagles as true freshmen. They saw the field often then, but as their seasons have progressed, both have seen their playing time wither. Not sure if they are in the coaches' doghouse (this goes for Monken's staff too), or if they are just having a difficult time picking up the system. With both having such promise as freshmen, everyone had hoped this season would be big for both. Unfortunately, it hasn't turned out that way. Once again, they'll have the chance to prove themselves this spring.
Jordan Mitchell is one that might be out of the mix for next season. He had a back injury that kept him sidelined, then there were also rumors he'd be transferring. I'm not sure if he'll be back, but he has a long way to go to earn some playing time if so.
An early spring story line could be the emergence of Quez Watkins, who redshirted last season and wowed in fall camp. Signed as a burner, he was just that and made some plays in scrimmages that made everyone wonder if he'd get the shirt pulled this season. Fortunately, he didn't lose that year and will come back as a freshman next year with a full season of work under his belt. He's a play maker, a highlight guy who can break away. The Eagles sorely need this and it will be fun to watch him next season.
Trevor Terry has signed with Southern Miss and will be able to participate in the spring with the Golden Eagles. The JCJC wide-out was largely under the radar because his team didn't pass the ball much. Terry will come in and compete right away, which the Eagles signed him to do. They will need depth at the position. While not a game breaker, Terry is a solid possession receiver who has really good hands. He's a hard worker who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He was lightly recruited and is out to prove others wrong about him.
For the wide receivers, consistency is a must for next season. As a whole, they've got to be better next season. With a new QB and offensive linemen to replace, the WR's have to be a group that can be counted on to make plays for this offense. If they do, this offense can continue on. Certainly, there is talent and depth, if everyone develops as USM fans are hoping.