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 of 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 absent.
In terms of sheer talent, Derrick Willies could be one of the top five players on the Texas Tech roster. He has size, strength, explosion, physicality, vertical leap, toughness, and reasonably good speed. When Willies chose Texas Tech over the likes of Oklahoma, Georgia and Oklahoma State, he did so as one of the top five junior college players in the recruiting class of 2016. And you can be sure that if Willies has a big senior season, NFL scouts will scrutinize him with great interest.
But that is the rub. The general expectation was that Willies would make a massive impact last year. Part of the problem, obviously, was the fact that he missed four games due to injury.
Even still, his numbers were lower than one would have expected. Willies caught only 18 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns. The bright point in his stat line is that he averaged 16 yards per catch. All in all though, this was a disappointing season for Willies, and it was plagued by various drama on and off the field. Indeed, there is some reason to believe that one of his injuries occurred during one of these adventures.
So the challenge for Willies in the upcoming season is to simply keep a clean slate from August through November. He needs a season free from distraction and destruction so that he can home in on his duties for the team.
And those duties are considerable, particularly given receiving corps attrition. Until fairly recently receiver depth was the last concern for the Texas Tech football team. But with Ian Sadler’s injury-induced retirement, and the transfers of Jonathan Giles and Tony Brown, this group actually looks a bit thin. Should injuries strike, and they usually do, players could be shuffled around and required to double dip at various spots in the receiver lineup. Hence, all receivers, but particularly those with some experience such as Willies, will be extra valuable.
Furthermore, Willies is the only veteran and remotely proven commodity at X receiver. Behind him are sophomore Quan Shorts and freshman Antoine Wesley. Shorts is a specimen, and he showed flashes in the spring, but is still an unknown quantity. Until proven otherwise, Willies is the X man next season. And if he manages to play up to his vast potential, his value to the team will prove somewhat greater than his rank in this series.