Wide receiver is a key position for the Bulls in 2014, not in small part due to the fact that they had very, very few reliable options there in 2014. If the USF offense is going to improve this season, they need a few more reliable targets for whoever wins the quarterback job.
Last year the Bulls had Andre Davis and... that was just about it. Davis, by all measures, had a pretty fantastic season despite having an array of incompetent quarterbacks throwing him the ball at the beginning of the year. Perhaps the most encouraging thing is that he seemed to form an immediate rapport with Mike White-- he had just 277 receiving yards through the first seven games of the season, then once White took over against Houston, had 444 in the next four games. That's an average of 39.5 yards per game that spiked to 111 (!!) as soon as White took the reins. That's very encouraging, as White seems to have the smallest edge on Steven Bench for the starting job if the last depth chart is anything to go by.
No matter who's throwing him passes, Davis is by far the biggest weapon on the Bulls' offense and will almost certainly rewrite the USF record books this season-- he needs just 107 yards to pass Carlton Mitchell for most career receiving yards, while 15 catches will put him ahead of Hugh Smith for the number one spot in receptions, and with five touchdowns he'll pass DeAndrew Rubin for all-time receiving TDs. He already holds the single-game and season records for receiving yards, and with some better QB play has a decent chance at becoming USF's first-ever 1,000 yard receiver. He can't do everything by himself, though. In his blistering four-game stretch, he accounted for 45.6% of USF's receiving yards. That's incredible, but it's certainly not sustainable. If White indeed wins the job, he needs to have another option apart from Davis.
Here's the catch: Willie Taggart's offense often has two, or even three tight ends on the field at one time, and has some very good options in Sean Price, Mike McFarland and JUCO transfer Marlon Pope. This offense doesn't require an array of productive wideouts, but it certainly needs more than it had last season if the Bulls are to have any sort of big-play potential. Let's take a look at some breakout candidates.
Had you asked me a month ago, the first name I would've mentioned was Chris Dunkley-- who by the end of the season was finally starting to display some of the athleticism that made him a blue-chip recruit at the University of Florida. However, it appears that he's been moved to defensive back for the time being, which is a move I'm not going to pretend makes the slightest bit of sense to me. If Dunkley can contribute more at corner than receiver, then by all means move him, especially since our depth in the secondary is a little shaky... but can he really contribute more at corner than receiver? Taggart's comments on the matter were equally unclear.
Point is, it doesn't seem like Chris Dunkley is going to be the guy at receiver. Another option is the player who was listed a spot ahead of Dunkley on the most recent depth chart, Deonte Welch. Welch is the most proven receiver the Bulls have outside of Davis, but his production has plummeted ever since a breakout freshman season. His numbers have dropped from 433 receiving yards in 2011 to 183 in 2012, to just 123 last season. Some of that can be attributed to the decline in quality of quarterback play, but it's still troubling. If Welch can regain his freshman year form, it would be a huge boost to an offense in dire need of playmakers.
Beyond that, each option is unproven as the next. The returner with the most receptions as a Bull is senior Jordan Duval, who has two over the course of three seasons. The next name on the depth chart is sophomore Alex Mut, who has yet to catch a pass at the collegiate level.
It's more likely that help will come in the form of an incoming freshman or transfer. The Bulls have two transfers that are immediately eligible-- Rodney Adams from Toledo, who was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and caught two passes as a freshman with the Rockets, and graduate transfer Eric Dungy, son of Tony and former Oregon Duck, who caught seven passes in three seasons in Eugene. Of the two, Adams appeared to be making a bigger impact in camp and looked like a contender for a starting role, but recently suffered a mysterious foot injury and is listed as day-to-day. Pray that heals as quickly as possible.
It seems obvious that at least a couple of true freshmen will see immediate playing time, and the options there are promising. Four-star Ryeshene Bronson is the crown jewel of the bunch, boasting good size at 6'3" and offers from UF, FSU and Miami as well as half the SEC, but three-stars Tyre McCants and Stanley Clerveaux also have an opportunity to play right away. McCants had a long list of offers that included Florida State and UGA, while Clerveaux chose the Bulls over Cincinnati and a handful of mid-major offers. I'd also keep an eye on Zach Benjamin, who redshirted last season but has the best size in the unit.
This is a young, promising unit that will be well-stocked after Davis' departure, but the present tense is a little troubling. Whether it's Welch, Adams, or a freshman, someone has to step up as a reliable second option at receiver if the Bulls want to have any semblance of a downfield passing game.