As unpopular as this might be, it's true: Iowa State's receivers are not the best unit on the 2015 Cyclone squad. The top line talent might be in the top third of the league, but issues with consistency, health, and depth linger once you get past the big three of Allen Lazard, Quenton Bundrage, and D'Vario Montgomery. When you factor in the departure of do everything tight end E.J. Bibbs the questions become more prominent.
That's not to say this group will not have success. It's perfectly fine to assume the best with this group based on the past performances of the Big Three alone. However, there are little missing pieces to the puzzle that offensive coordinator Mark Mangino must put together if the group takes the next step and brings the offense with it.
Who creates a match up problem in the middle of the field? How do you replace Jarvis West's play making ability? Who becomes the dependable 4th or 5th receiver when the Big Three need spells?
This is your 2015 preview of Iowa State's receiving corps.
The Depth Chart
"The first man in and the last one to leave" is a cliché used everywhere when it comes to on field leadership, and Quenton Bundrage lives up to it. Having his 2014 season taken from him four plays in lit a fire under Q's ass that has him determined to be the leader of this group.
It's a necessary change as Bundrage had a penchant for disappearing during his breakout season in 2013. Allen Lazard may have more natural talent and can do everything, but only Bundrage has the size to mix with game breaking speed and really stretch a defense.
The X Factor
Is it Dondre Daley? Or Jauan Wesley? Maybe Brett Medders will turn in to a stretched out version of Wes Welker, or maybe he channels John Neal and just keeps sticking it to Iowa and only Iowa.
I JUST DON'T KNOW.
Daley has been getting some runs with the 1s this fall, which should be expected in a system that will rotate up to eight receivers on a single drive depending on tempo. Wesley showed potential late last season and is a great candidate to replace West in the slot. Alas, this isn't a situation where one player can drastically change the unit, but rather how well can a 2nd string be developed by receivers coach Tommy Mangino.
A Relevant Stat
E.J. Bibbs and Jarvis West combined to account for 25% of Iowa State's receiving yards, 32% of receptions, and 43% of receiving touchdowns in 2014. Worse yet, eight of those touchdowns went to Bibbs alone.
That production has to be picked up somewhere, and it won't all come from the Big Three.
Someone gets All Big XII First Team honors and someone else gets at least honorable mention. Two All Big XII receivers means Sam B. Richardson had plenty of weapons to spread the ball around to and those weapons were effective with the ball.
No single receiver over 1,000 yards, yards per reception fails to increase from the 10.6 average in 2014, and no one emerges as the weapon that this offense desperately needs.
The Final Verdict
The wide receivers are in need of the same development as the offensive line: consistency and health. Bundrage was robbed of his junior season by a freak injury and now that he has the chance to shine he has to perform. Lazard had one of the most successful freshman campaigns in Iowa State history but it left fans wanting to see what his ceiling really looks like. Montgomery came on strong at the end of last season, but he suffers from the same affliction that Bundrage had in 2013: being a threat every time he's on the field.
Although all of those guys have obstacles ahead of them we're all but guaranteed that they will perform and they will do so at a high level for stretches. What might be the ultimate deciding factor in the success of this unit as a whole will be how the second unit of Daley, Wesley, and Medders fare when they're given the opportunity to perform.
A Postscript on the Tight Ends
It's unfair to largely exclude the tight ends from this analysis, but it's hard to follow in the footsteps of Bibbs. Ben Boesen is a perfectly capable tight end who is a blocker first. He's a rangier Derrick Catlett from earlier in Rhoads' tenure. Justin Chandler and Cole Anderson will get reps as Boesen's back up, but all face the same problem: are they functional in space?
But even with the loss of Bibbs there's a silver lining for this tight end group in the form of blocking. Bibbs wasn't an exceptional blocker but Boesen has earned playing time in the past for his ability to engage and seal the edge. Talk out of camp is Chandler is in the same mold, and there has been a two tight end set deployed at times to jump start the running game. And you know what the best thing about that development is?