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South Carolina’s young receiving corps looks to grow up fast in 2016

A thin group of wideouts could have some growing pains, but have shown some potential of future success. However, they’ll need to be ready from the get-go.

North Carolina v South Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Who’s gone: Jalen Christian (transfer), Pharoh Cooper (drafted), Shaq Davidson (transfer) D.J. Neal (transfer), Carlton Heard (graduation), Shamier Jeffrey (graduation)

Who’s back: Matrick Belton, Devin Dingle (redshirt in 2015), Javon Charleston (redshirt in 2015), Terry Googer, Christian Owens (redshirt in 2015), Deebo Samuel, Jerad Washington (redshirt in 2015)

Who’s new: Korey Banks, Bryan Edwards, Randrecous Davis, Chavis Dawkins, Kiel Pollard

It was bad enough news to see the Gamecocks’ leading receiver and best overall player forgo his senior season to pursue a future in the NFL. Even worse news came when three players who probably would have figured into the playing time discussion ended up transferring before the spring, maybe a part of the expected attrition that comes with a new staff but still painful nonetheless.

Which brings us to 2016, where the leading returning receiver for the Gamecocks football program (Deebo Samuel) made just twelve catches for 161 yards in 2015. Granted, Samuel missed all but five games last year, and looked very promising against #1 Clemson in the final game, but that’s still not a situation you want to be in.

2016 Wide Receivers (with 2015 stats)
Player Games Played Rec Yds TD
Deebo Samuel (so.) 5 12 161 1
Matrick Belton (RS sr.) 12 11 121 0
Terry Googer (RS so.) 11 5 74 0
Korey Banks (fr.) - - - -
Javon Charleston (RS fr.) - - - -
Dreak Davis (fr.) - - - -
Chavis Dawkins (fr.) - - - -
Devin Dingle (RS fr.) - - - -
Bryan Edwards (fr.) - - - -
Lorenzo Nuñez (so.) - - - -
Christian Owens (RS fr.) - - - -
Kiel Pollard (fr.) - - - -
Jamari Smith (RS jr.) - - - -
Jerad Washington (RS fr.) - - - -

Long story short: Samuel and this entire unit is going to need to grow up really fast, because there’s just so much inexperience here. Samuel will essentially be viewed as the team’s #1 receiver this upcoming season because, frankly - and this is not to take away from his talent level at all - they simply don’t have a ton of other options at this point. Terry Googer (only five catches, 74 yards in 2015) comes into camp slotted behind Samuel on the two-deep and is another guy that will need to take a huge step forward. Matrick Belton (just 11 catches for 121 yards in 12 games last year) wasn’t even on the post-spring depth chart, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement from Will Muschamp. However, Javon Charleston - a walk-on redshirt freshman - not only was on the depth chart, but was listed behind true freshman Bryan Edwards. Charleston looked pretty good during the spring game and may very well earn himself a scholarship when it’s all said and done.

That brings us to Edwards. The very fact that he entered camp atop the depth chart tells me that the staff has tremendous faith in him being a difference maker at the WR position. Much of that is due to whomever is passing the balls to said receivers, but it doesn’t matter if you have Brett Favre under center - if your receivers don’t have the ability needed to cut it at the college level, you’re in trouble. I have no doubt that Edwards will be successful here. His recovery from a leg injury suffered during his senior year of high school was a concern entering spring camp, but everything that’s been said about him suggests that he’s bounced back from it nicely. As far as the other newcomers, Korey Banks, Dreak Davis, Chavis Dawkins and Kiel Pollard will be battling through camp to make a good first impression. Former CB/RB Jamari Smith, who took some snaps at wideout last year, will be making the switch full-time. Tight end Hayden Hurst switched to wide receiver part of the way through last year and is slotted back at TE this season, but should factor into the receiving game once more. (I didn’t put him in the table above, or any pass-catching TE for that matter. I also left out running back David Williams, who made 11 catches for 93 yards.)

A big note to highlight is the transition of quarterback Lorenzo Nuñez to a wideout option while still seeing some QB time at times. I wrote about the possible impact that the sophomore could have on the position, but just to summarize, there are several ways he can be used to take advantage of his athleticism - primarily in the Wildcat formation - while his dual threat tendencies could also equal several jet sweeps and end arounds added to the Gamecocks’ playbook. As far as a receiver, my feeling is that he could be a good option in the slot and in slant patterns, using his quickness to help work the ball down the center of the field. I foresee him essentially filling a role that Kurt Roper had Brandon Connette in at Duke, but in more short-yardage situations as I doubt he’ll get an overwhelming number of snaps under center.

There are sure to be some growing pains at WR for the Gamecocks in 2016. At the same time, there are some promising athletes at the position, and while it may take a little time for them to grow into their roles, the hope is that they turn out to be in good shape and can continue to develop heading into the future.