Like any football team, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they to be absent for any reason. In fact, that may be the best way to conceive of the critical players—they are the performers the team could least afford to lose.
With this series, we will take a reverse order look at the Red Raider football players we consider most invaluable.
6' 0" 205
Wichita Falls, Texas
If this series were simply about the best rather than the most important Red Raiders, Eric Ward would be ranked in the top three. He is a polished and very talented receiver who will almost certainly play on Sundays. Texas Tech has produced numerous superb wideouts over the course of the last dozen years or so, and Ward absolutely belongs in their company.
But therein lies the rub. The current version of the Red Raiders, like the program in general over the years, is well stocked with receiving skill. In addition to Ward, Jace Amaro is an immense talent, Jakeem Grant may be poised to do great things, and Bradley Marquez should be an iron horse. Throw in August arrivals D. J. Polite-Bray, Dylan Cantrell, Devin Lauderdale and Gary Moore, and it's easy to see that quarterback Michael Brewer will hardly lack for quality targets!
The problem with that freshman depth, however, is that it's completely untested. And depth returning from a year ago is frankly a bit of a concern. Derreck Edwards, Ward's current understudy, had a dismal spring hallmarked by dropped passes, an issue that also dogged him last season. Reginald Davis, Marquez's presumed caddy, could slide in behind Ward, but he wasn't much more consistent than Edwards in the spring. Put it all together and depth, if not starting talent, could be an issue for Tech's receiving corps.
All of which means it is very important that Ward stay healthy. He sat out the past spring with an injury, although he could have played if the coaches felt the need to evaluate him. They didn't, however, and certainly did not want to run the risk of losing Ward for any portion of the season. That fact is an index of his importance to the team. And fortunately, Ward will be one hundred percent healthy once fall camp begins.
A healthy Ward brings a bit of everything to the Tech offense. He is probably the best blocking receiver in the Big 12. He is a hugely strong receiver who defeats press coverage with ease, and runs very good routes after doing so. Ward has very good if not elite speed, and is a good deep threat. And not only does he have the best hands on the team, Ward's mitts are some of the best seen in the Tech camp in many a moon. He routinely makes mindbogglingly acrobatic grabs.
Receivers with Ward's skill set sure don't grow on trees. And Tech will need Ward to be available for every single game if the Red Raider offense is to even approach being special.