Without departed senior Jordan Shipley, one of the top slot receivers in college football history, the same group of wideouts who were generally a strong group in 2009 struggled to find openings in 2010. In general, the group ran poor routes — often they failed to get open in key situations or ran routes shorter than the first-down marker — and even had problems catching the ball at times.
Even worse, two of Texas's top three wideouts by yardage — James Kirkendoll and John Chiles — won't be around for Longhorn signal callers in 2011. The duo combined for 81 catches, 1,125 yards and three touchdowns. Kirkendoll served as the Longhorns' most consistent threat, while Chiles was arguably the team's top receiver when healthy.
But there's plenty of room for optimism, led by Mike Davis, who set a UT freshman record with 47 catches in his freshman season. Perhaps most impressively, he did it after missing at least a game and a half with an injury. Those 47 catches went for 478 yards and two scores. With Kirkendoll and Chiles gone, Davis will open the 2011 season as the Longhorns' top vertical threat.
The Longhorns face a bit of a choice at the other outside spot. One choice is Malcolm Williams, whose production hasn't matched his athletic talents. Williams displayed his potential with a huge day against Texas Tech as a freshman, but nabbed just 24 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns last year. Now heading into his senior season, Williams still boasts an excellent size- (6-foot-3 225 pounds) to-speed ratio. But the Texas coaches have conceded that it's tough to pull Williams from special teams, feeling that he's among the top all-round special teamers in the league.
That opens up time for sophomore-to-be Darius White. A five-star prospect out of high school, White didn't have the polish that Davis had right away, but may have even more potential. He's physically imposing and a threat on jump balls. If White can emerge as a blocker, he'll find himself rotating with Williams, and he might wind up getting more snaps than the senior, helping to keep him fresh.
Marquise Goodwin is the team's fastest player, but the smallish slot receiver has seen his development stunted by spending springs with the track team. Texas coach Mack Brown has said that Goodwin has the potential to be the Longhorns' next 90-100 catch player, following in the footsteps of players like Shipley and Quan Cosby. But Brown has also said that the staff won't push Goodwin, a potential Olympian, to skip track, meaning he'll again start the fall rusty and won't have the opportunities to develop that the other receivers will have.
That means that players like junior DeSean Hales, who had an outstanding spring and showed moments in the fall, could slip in, especially if Davis spends some time in the slot. Hales appeared to have a connection with quarterback Garrett Gilbert, and did a nice job of both getting open and catching the ball when it came his way.
With some uncertainty in the slot, Jaxon Shipley could factor in offensively right away. The Class 3A Offensive Player of the Year, Shipley combines outstanding hands with excellent route-running and superb burst in and out of his cuts. Shipley was the top slot receiver in the state, and was at least in the discussion with Trey Metroyer for the best overall wideout in Texas. He'll play early on, and the smart money is for him to fight his way onto the two-deep as a true freshman. He could also play early at punt returner, where he's outstanding. Onyegbule is more of a developmental prospect. A hard worker, Onyegbule played quarterback as a senior at Arlington High School. He has outstanding size potential, and will likely play between 220 and 230 pounds once he fills out. He should also be able to keep his speed — Onyegbule claims a 40 in the mid-4.5 range — at that size and play a role similar to that of Williams, an imposing special teams demon who can win the jump ball.
Future Outlook: Texas will take at least one receiver in the 2011 class, and potentially as many as three, with three players in the rotation — Malcolm Williams, Marquise Goodwin and DeSean Hales — entering their junior or senior seasons. Cayleb Jones, a hometown guy from Austin High School, appears to be the no-brainer selection. He's a big target at 6-2 who is fearless going over the middle. Dallas Skyline speedster Thomas Johnson could be another to earn an early offer.