Just a few short seasons ago, in 2010, Texas was among the Big 12's worst wide receiving corps. The Longhorns' best playmaker might have been a true freshman in Mike Davis, and players like Malcolm Williams, John Chiles and James Kirkendoll just weren't able to put it all together.
Fast forward three years, and the Longhorns' receiving corps just might be among the league's best. Davis is still the team's best playmaker, but now, he's grown into that role, rather than assuming that spot by default. Davis was ninth in the Big 12 in receiving yards following a season where he caught 57 passes for 939 yards (16.5 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. Even more, he made seriously clutch catches that won the Longhorns the Oklahoma State and Kansas games, while swinging other contests like the Texas Tech game. Every receiver above Davis on the Big 12 chart played in an up-tempo offense, and with the Longhorns moving to that kind of group themselves, he could see his production skyrocket. Only three league wideouts who had more receiving yards return in 2012 — Oklahoma State's Josh Stewart, Texas Tech's Eric Ward and Baylor's Tevin Reese.
He'll be flanked by do-it-all threat Jaxon Shipley, one of the league's most dangerous possession threats. Shipley has 103 career catches in two seasons, including a team-leading 59 catches last year for 737 yards and six scores. He's incredibly valuable in that Shipley can really play any spot in the Longhorn lineup. Last year, he was the starter at the 'Z', or flanker spot, but this year he could slide inside to the slot on a number of downs to open up a spot for Cayleb Jones. Shipley injured his hamstring earlier this spring, but should be fine for conditioning and the start of the season.
Jones is the newcomer to the starting lineup, and his emergence (along with the graduation of speedy slot Marquise Goodwin) has likely placed him in Shipley's old role, while Shipley slides inside at times. Jones has been ultra-competitive on jump balls, and has really showcased nice athleticism and a great set of hands this spring. Of course, in order to keep this spot and get a chance to show the talent that made him such a highly recruited blue-chip talent in the class of 2012, he'll have to stay out of trouble and convince the coaches to trust him again after his assault charges this spring.
MOVING ON UP — Kendall Sanders
Sanders has spent time working with the ones this spring, and with good reason. He's Mike Davis's most likely replacement for 2014, and even before then, he figures to factor into a ton of three and four wide receiver sets this season. Physically, Sanders is exactly what you look for in an 'X' receiver. He's taller than 6-feet, has long arms and sub-4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash to stretch defenses downfield. The biggest thing for Sanders has been learning his craft and gaining confidence.
In the two early spring practices, he looked to have done just that, and he's an exciting talent waiting in the wings this season. If the staff decides to go away from Jones, for whatever reason, Sanders is up next in line, and even if Jones maintains his spot, Sanders will still see plenty of time.
KEEP AN EYE ON — The Slot
It might be cheating to not list a specific player here, but Texas has a number of intriguing options at the slot receiver position. Shipley might get most of his snaps there, but he could also slide outside at times to open things up for somebody like Daje Johnson. And don't sleep on Bryant Jackson, who has made huge strides in the past few years. Jackson has had a nice-looking spring and has some athleticism to go with a rangy frame. It isn't a stretch to say that he might have started for the Longhorns a few years ago. And also don't forget everybody from John Harris as a bigger flex option to somebody like cat-quick slot Jacorey Warrick once he arrives. Texas can go a number of ways with that position, and there isn't one single player who figures to fill all those roles.
As with several offensive positions, the first key for the Longhorns was to get to where they had a strong front lineup. Texas finally accomplished that a year ago, as Davis broke out, Shipley continued to develop and Goodwin showcased his speed as a deep threat. Now, Goodwin may be gone, but the Longhorns appear to have taken that next step and begun to build some depth. That's what Wyatt is looking for — a wide receiving corps like what he had at Oklahoma where the Sooners could rotate through 5-to-7 guys with little-to-no drop-off. And with the development of guys like Jones, Sanders, Jackson and Marcus Johnson, the Longhorns are starting to get to that point.
What will be truly interesting will be to see just how far Texas has come once an underrated crop of newcomers hits campus. Jake Oliver has the size, toughness and polish as a route-runner to factor in quickly. And if Warrick is healthy, he can provide a jitterbug-type player that the Longhorns don't really have. And last, but not least, Montrel Meander may be somewhat raw, but there's value in a 6-foot-3 player who runs a sub-22-second 200-meter dash. Don't be surprised if he finds some way onto the field in certain sets, not unlike the way a raw Goodwin did his freshman year.
Either way, Texas appears to be deeper and more talented at this position than the Longhorns have been in quite awhile.