We continue our exploration of the Gophers offense by putting the wide receiving corp under the microscope. Lets start by examining exactly how 2011 played out for our wide receivers. Sadly, you may need a micrscope to examine some of these stats. During 2011 Gopher wide receivers accumulated 1,450 yards while catching 98 balls and 5 TDs. Just for fun, during 2011 All American Oklahoma St. Wide Receiver Justin Blackmon caught121 balls for 1,522 yards and 18 TDs!
Not surprisingly, DaJon McKnight led the way in 2011 with 51 catches for 760 yards and 4 TDs. DaJon accounted for over half of the Gophers 2011 production at the wide receiver position and he has graduated, so there is a large hole to be filled. The only other wide receivers to net double digit receptions were Brandon Green with 15 and Malcolm Moulton with 14. It is clear the passing game struggled in 2011 and I think we can point to a myriad of factors. We have already analyzed the quarterback position and identified that MarQueis is not a polished passer. The receivers are dependent on the quarterback throwing catchable balls, so their success is tied to the quarterback's ability. In defense of MarQueis, I think our wide receivers often lacked the ability to generate separation from Big 10 defenders, which forces MarQueis to throw into tight windows. The good news is that an influx of talented young wide receivers should lead to a brighter future at the position.
Malcolm Moulton: will be a junior wide receiver in 2012. Malcolm was a new addition to the Gophers in 2011 after coming into the program as a JUCO from Fort Scott Community College. He was considered the #31 JUCO player in the nation and is 5'11" 186 pounds. He provides speed at the wide receiver position but has shown a frustrating pattern of dropping key passes. I think Malcolm will see significant playing time in 2012 thanks to his athletic ability.
Marcus Jones: will be a sophmore in 2012 after playing in the first 7 games as a true freshman. Unfortunately, his season was cut short by a knee injury. The good news is, according to Jerry Kill, Marcus will be ready for spring practice. Marcus is small at 5'8" 170 lbs, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in dynamic speed and athleticism. His talent displayed itself against Purdue in Week 6 when he took a kickoff all the way back for a touchdown, which no Gopher has done since 2007. The injury is the key issue for Marcus, if he proves to be fully recovered from the injury I look for Marcus to get a lot of work out of the slot in 2012.
Isaac Fruechte: is a JUCO member of the 2012 recruiting class and joins the Gophers after spending one season at Rochester Community and Technical College. While at Rochester he caught 29 passes for 788 yards and 8 TDs. He was able to enroll early and will take part in off season conditioning and spring practice. He is 6'3" 202 lbs and will be a sophmore in 2012. By all accounts, I have read Isaac can run under 4.4 in the 40. Clearly, Isaac provides the measurables you look for in a wide receiver and it will be exciting to see how he fares against higher level competition.
Conclusion: The Gophers have struggled greatly in recent years to develop playmakers at the wide receiver position. Eric Decker and DaJon McKnight have been the only high level performers at the position over the past few years. However, I think I see a turning point occurring. Devin Crawford Tufts and Marcus Jones contributed as true freshman and demonstrated dynamic playmaking ability, which should only improve with more familiarity with the offensive system and time spent in the weight room. The three newcomers Fruechte, McDonald and Harbison bring a level of talent to the wide receiver position that I don't believe Gopher fans have seen in years, if not decades. You could possibly argue that the 5 best wide receivers on the team are Devin, Marcus, Isaac, Jamel and Andre which are all sophmores or freshmen. As a result, I think we have a extremely solid foundation established at the wide receiver position. If Philip Nelson proves to be the quarterback many think he is, this wide receiving corp could turn into something truly special.