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2018 Football Position Previews: Wide Receivers

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Arguably Iowa State’s strongest position group in 2017 has reloaded...and probably gotten better.

TCU v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

Heading into the 2017 season, the wide receiver group was touted as the Cyclones’ strongest position group, even being rated as the 13th best receiving corps nationally by Athlon Sports.

2017 Season Recap:

Everyone knew that Allen Lazard was going to be the star of the show, and he absolutely delivered to the tune of 71 catches for 941 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was dominant in every single matchup, and was one of the best third down and red zone receivers in the country.

Beyond Allen Lazard, we knew there was talent, but it was largely unproven. Deshaunte Jones was the most proven, as he recorded 37 catches for 536 yards and 6 touchdowns in his freshmen season. Hakeem Butler had shown flashes of excellence in his freshmen season, but needed to show more consistency. Former sprinter Trever Ryen and Illinois transfer Marchie Murdock also played in 2016, but largely had more limited roles. Highly regarded JUCO transfer Matt Eaton was set to enter the fold, but JUCO players tend to take a little while to adjust to FBS football.

The most impressive 2017 season outside of Lazard goes to Hakeem Butler, as he caught 41 passes for 697 yards and 7 touchdowns. Butler most often lined up in the slot and utilized his combination of size and speed to repeatedly punish the linebackers and safeties that were often forced to match up with him. The Hakeem Butler Touchdown Play seemed to work fairly often.

Trever Ryen came into his own as well, hauling in 47 passes for 469 yards and one long touchdown on a screen that led to Iowa State’s upset over Oklahoma in Norman. His speed made him invaluable in both the horizontal and vertical passing game, and was the biggest reason Deshaunte Jones was forced to split time in the slot with Ryen.

Marchie Murdock came out of nowhere to become an extremely reliable pass catcher in the slot, as he caught 41 passes for 513 yards and 5 touchdowns. His production caught a lot of people off guard, as most didn’t necessarily have him pegged to be one of Iowa State’s top pass-catchers in 2017.

As expected, Matt Eaton took some time to work his way into the lineup, but by the time the middle of the season rolled around, Eaton became one of the most reliable redzone targets for Kyle Kempt. He only caught 21 passes last season, but was fourth on the team with 4 touchdown catches. His 5.25 receptions/touchdown was the best on the team.

Departures:

Allen Lazard, Trever Ryen, and Marchie Murdock all graduated. Lazard and Murdock are pursuing NFL careers with the Jaguars and Cowboys, respectively, and Trever Ryen is working as a strength and conditioning coach at Bowling Green.

New Guys:

True Freshmen:

Sean Shaw (Jones, OK)

Carsen Schleker (Allen, TX)

Joseph Scates (Dayton, OH)

Tayvonn Kyle (Valdosta, GA)

Beau Coberley (Nevada, IA)

Tory Spears (Houston, TX)

Zach Shipman (Council Bluffs, IA)

Redshirt Freshmen:

Josh Johnson (Little Rock, AR)

Tarique Milton (Bradenton, FL)

Of this group of true and redshirt freshmen, Joseph Scates, and Tarique Milton should be the first two names that you keep an eye on. The coaching staff has been raving about Milton for over a year now, and Scates was a highly-rated recruit coming out of high school. You can just about put it in the bank that Scates will see the field in the four games that the new redshirt rule allows him to play in.

Expect Milton to directly replace Trever Ryen. He’ll be splitting time with Deshaunte Jones in the slot, but there’s a very good chance that you’ll see both of them on the field at the same time at some point.

Leader of the Pack:

Hakeem Butler. No doubt. The 6’6” junior from Baltimore burst onto the scene last year as arguably Iowa State’s best deep threat, including the insane long touchdown catch against Baylor.

Dark Horse:

Tarique Milton. We haven’t seen him play in a Cyclone uniform yet, but the coaches have not stopped raving about him since he stepped on campus. On an episode of Down the Pipe & Natty Lite from this past summer, Marchie Murdock mentioned him as the guy we all need to keep our eye on this fall. I think I’m going to take their word for it.

2018 Projection:

Hakeem Butler was extremely impressive last season, and I see him getting even better. There’s a very good shot that he challenges the single season touchdown catch record, but I think he’s almost a lock to break the 1,000 yard mark. It’s tough to say if he has a shot at being a Biletnikoff Award finalist, but I think it’s definitely in the realm of possibility.

I also expect Matt Eaton to have an expanded role with an uptick in production. Something around 40-50 catch mark with about 5 touchdowns seems most likely to me. Essentially a direct replacement for Marchie Murdock’s production.

Deshaunte Jones’ “sophomore slump” was largely due to him having to split time with Trever Ryen, which he may have to do with Tarique Milton this year, but I still see him seeing a bump up in production.

Beyond those three, Milton, Jalen Martin, Josh Johnson, and Landen Akers will likely be the next in line for catches. Matt Campbell has specifically mentioned Akers as being one of the best deep threats on the team, and Jalen Martin made a few nice grabs last season that showed promise for this coming season.

Carson Epps will be returning from injury after a productive 2016, so there’s a solid chance that he will see some playing time as well.

For the redshirt freshmen, Joseph Scates is the main guy I expect to have a good shot at playing in his allowed redshirt games. Speedsters Tayvonn Kyle and Carsen Schleker, and Sean Shaw, also have an outside shot at some playing time.

In summation, this receiving group is absolutely loaded, and has a really good chance to be even better than the 2017 group that featured the greatest wide receiver in program history.

Choo choo.