MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With Marcus Simms on his way into the NCAA transfer portal, West Virginia is left with quite a void to fill at wide receiver this season.
The remaining receivers on the roster have combined for fewer career receptions (45) than Simms had in his junior year alone (46). Without Simms and the already departed Gary Jennings, David Sills and tight end Trevon Wesco, West Virginia brings back just 26.4 percent of its pass-catching production from a year ago.
Here is a look at the wide receivers West Virginia will need to rely on this season listed by their approximate position on the depth chart at the conclusion of spring practice.
First-string: Junior T.J. Simmons (28 catches, 341 yards in 2018), redshirt freshman Sam James (2 catches, 2 yards)
Next up: Redshirt freshman Bryce Wheaton (no stats), Redshirt freshman Randy Fields (no stats), sophomore Ricky Johns (no stats), redshirt freshman Dillon Spalding (no stats)
Simmons has been appointed the alpha dog of a receiving corps in need of leadership. He has seen the best do it, starting his college career at Alabama before transferring to West Virginia.
“He’s stepped up a lot since Gary and David left. We call him our old-head,” James said of Simmons. “He was able to catch on faster because they did similar concepts at Alabama [as we are now], and he helped us catch on with that. We’re a young receiver corps, and he knows more.”
Neal Brown described Simmons as WVU’s offensive catalyst this spring.
“He’s been our most consistent receiver,” Brown said.
James has the inside track to be West Virginia’s No. 2 player at the position.
“Every time [Simmons and James] are on the field, they’re working,” said quarterback Austin Kendall. “They have ups and downs, but when they have their downs, they’re like ‘Alright, we need to work on this.’”
James is the only other outside receiver to record a stat, benefitting from the first year of the new NCAA rule allowing players to maintain a redshirt season while playing in up to four games. The field is wide-open for one of four inexperienced players to become a consistent third option on the outside – or even the second option since Simmons has also practiced in the slot.
First-string: Sophomore Isaiah Esdale (no stats) or junior Tevin Bush (14 catches, 209 yards)
Next up: Redshirt freshman Kwincy Hall (1 catch, 43 yards)
The slot position is one that figures to feature different players for different situations. The 6-foot-2 Simmons offers the most size at the position. The 5-6 Bush has already shown that he can be a burner in his first two seasons as a Mountaineer. Esdale, who transferred from Eastern Arizona Community College last August, could become a reliable third-down possession receiver if defenses double-cover Simmons on the outside.
“He’s a hands guy,” James said of Esdale. “His routes are good. Anything thrown to him, he can catch it. That’s what type of dude he is.”
Signees: Terence Doston (5-10, 160), Ali Jennings (6-2, 186), Winston Wright (5-11, 166)
Transfer: Sophomore Sean Ryan (12 catches, 162 yards at Temple)
If Ryan gets a waiver to play without sitting out a season, he’d already be West Virginia’s most experienced receiver behind Simmons and Bush.
True freshmen will have a far greater chance to make an immediate impact than they have in the past few seasons, though it will take training camp and possibly the first month or so of the season to determine how much of an impact that will be.