Happy Friday. Our journey through spring practice with the UNLV Rebels brings us to the wide receivers. The entire UNLV team was crippled by injuries in 2016, but no unit was more affected than the wideouts.
Seriously. Things got real bad. So bad that Dalton Sneed was the UNLV starting quarterback in October and pushed into receiving duties by November. He’d catch a single pass in his career as a Rebels wide receiver.
2017 brings a renewed hope for the Rebel faithful, though. When at full strength it can be argued that Tony Sanchez has no greater asset than his talented group of receivers.
And he’ll need significant contributions from each one of these guys if his squad is to improve upon last season’s four-win effort in the scoreboard shattering Mountain West Conference. Quarterback Armani Rogers is one of the top recruits UNLV’s welcomed in a long time, and he’s got the weapons to get the Rebels into a bowl game for just the fifth time in school history.
Mekhi Stevenson wasn’t expected to contribute much last season as a freshman but was pushed into action courtesy of those injuries to the receiving corps.
He certainly saw the field plenty, even if his numbers don’t illustrate that. Stevenson will not be the focal point of the Rebels aerial attack, but will play a critical role. He’ll also be given the opportunity to add a dynamic element to the UNLV punt return team.
At 6-foot, 180 pounds, Stevenson may not stand out much when compared to other Mountain West Conference receivers, but don’t be mistaken. He’s a fast guy in a fast league. Expect to hear his name called plenty in 2017.
Darren Woods Jr.
Like Stevenson, Darren Woods Jr. was not expected to play much as a freshman but quickly saw his workload increase. Unlike his classmate, Woods was not able to avoid having his season cut short by injury.
He was good while he was out there, though. His top performance of 2016 was a four-catch, 66 yard effort against Idaho on September 24th. At the time of his season-ending knee injury on October 1st, Woods was second on the team in receptions and receiving yards.
He’ll see plenty of passes in 2017, and will likely be assigned kickoff returning duties as well.
I don’t really have to say it do I? Brandon Presley’s season was cut short by injury. In fact that’s just agree that if I don’t say otherwise, you can assume the player we are talking about suffered a season-ending injury.
This one is even more of a hard luck case. Pressed into action after Kendal Keys went down for the year before the season opener against Jackson State, Presley played in one game and caught one pass for 14 yards before he joined Keys on the sidelines thanks to a foot injury.
Presley appeared in 11 games as a freshman in 2015. If this unit is able to stay healthy, he could see plenty of opportunities as MWC secondaries focus more on the final two names on our list.
Kendal Keys could be the real game changer in the UNLV offense. It was expected that at some point he and Devonte Boyd would create a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and entering 2016 it look like it was time. Then the August knee injury happened.
Keys saw his productivity spike considerably between his freshman and sophomore years. In 2015 he corralled in 43 balls for 515 yards and six touchdowns.
So the UNLV aerial assault had to wait a year. It will be worth it. At 6-foot-4 Keys can pull in the jump ball better than most receivers in the Mountain West. With the knee injury healed, expect Sanchez to go to the redshirt junior early and often in 2017.
This is the guy that will make it all happen. By any metric, Devonte Boyd is among the greatest receivers in UNLV history.
Entering 2017 he ranks 7th in school history in receptions and 3rd in receiving yards. If he stays healthy and things break the right way, he could climb up to number two in both categories.
Boyd played in nine games last season, then missed the final two with a broken arm. He’s an NFL talent, so there’s plenty of motivation to bounce back as a senior. Boyd’s name will be featured prominently on All-MWC teams before the season gets underway. The muscle of Keys and the speed of Boyd means we could finally see the fireworks we’ve been waiting for.
There are plenty of Devonte Boyd highlights I could share with you. Here’s just one to enjoy. UNLV football spring coverage continues next week.