Virginia’s wide receivers made a strong case to be the program’s best position group in 2019, at least on offense. Bryce Perkins shined at quarterback, but the depth behind him remained a question.
At wide receiver, the Cavaliers never missed a beat.
Joe Reed, Hasise Dubois and Terrell Jana formed a dangerous group of top receivers. Each player hauled in at least 73 receptions. As a trio, they combined for 225 receptions, 2,619 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns.
Unfortunately for Robert Anae’s offense, the Cavaliers lose Dubois and Reed to graduation. Luckily for Anae, Jana returns, and a few upperclassmen have experience at the position.
“If there’s anything that characterizes our staff in comparison to our opponents is that one element of developing players,” Anae told the media in April.
The Cavaliers hope their developmental success can lead to continued stellar wide receiver play in 2020.
Let’s take a closer look at UVa’s wide receivers and tight ends.
Jana, Billy Kemp IV and Tavares Kelly Jr. are the most proven wide receivers returning. Jana, a rising senior, snatched 73 receptions for 878 yards and three touchdowns last season, and he appears ready to step into a leadership role.
Kemp IV brought in 35 receptions for 289 yards and a touchdown. He’s listed as a halfback on the team’s roster, but only received two carries a season ago and is used much more as a slot receiver or receiving option out of the backfield.
Kelly Jr. only caught 14 passes a season ago. Both Kemp IV and Kelly Jr. are rising juniors. They’re also both around 5-foot-9 and project best as slot receivers due to their quickness and lack of size.
Another key returner is rising sophomore Dontayvion Wicks. His teammates praise his athleticism, and he’s a bigger build than both Kemp IV and Kelly Jr. Wicks makes sense as a player to line up out wide.
There’s no doubting the talent level for the receiver from Louisiana, but he’s yet to prove himself at the Division I level. He needs to prove himself when the Cavaliers next take the field for their receiving group to reach its potential.
At tight end, Grant Misch emerges as a potential No. 1 option. The redshirt sophomore saw time a season ago and can make plays as both a wide receiver and a blocker.
The Cavaliers have a few other talented young receivers without much experience. Whenever football activities resume, those players will have a chance to develop their games.
Dubois and Reed are the most notable departures. Both players excelled in their senior seasons and were extremely reliable receivers. Both Dubois and Reed made critical plays in big games, and the duo caught just about everything thrown their way.
In addition to losing those two players, Terrell Chatman and Dejon Brissett also graduated. While neither player made a major impact, they did add depth to the 2019 group.
At tight end, the program loses Tanner Cowley to graduation. He’s the most noticeable loss at the position.
Losing Dubois and Reed leaves a big hole in the position group and the loss of Cowley hurts at tight end.
A pair of wide receivers, Lavel Davis and Demick Starling, will join UVa for the 2020 season. The incoming freshmen are three-star recruits with different strengths.
Don’t be surprised if Davis competes for playing time immediately. At 6-6, Davis brings size that nobody else in the receiver room can replicate. His size helps him on jump balls and could earn him time on the outside as a freshman wide receiver.
Starling, on the other hand, stands six inches shorter but brings with him track speed. Starling was a late addition to the 2020 class, and UVa was his only Power 5 offer, according to recruiting site 247 Sports. He’s more of a project, but he stands a chance of developing into a quality FBS wide receiver.
“Demick blossomed late in his high school career, didn’t attend summer camps, a bit of a diamond in the rough,” Bronco Mendenhall said in February. “We were fortunate to have one of our analysts, Zach Bradshaw, identify him. He’s an amazing, amazing athlete.”
Joshua Rawlings joins Virginia as an incoming freshman tight end.
Barring the late addition of a grad transfer, the 2020 outlook for the wide receiver position should cause some concern for UVa fans, at least entering the season. Virginia breaks in a new quarterback while only having one returning player with at least 300 receiving yards a season ago.
Jana enters 2020 as a proven weapon at wide receiver. The other options at the position possess plenty of talent, but most of UVa’s wide receivers have yet to make major impacts at the collegiate level.
The same goes for the tight end position. There’s talent, but there’s also a noticeable lack of returning talent.
Wide receiver and tight end are question marks entering the 2020 season.