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Boise State Spring Preview: Wide Receivers

The Broncos return a talented group with plenty to prove

NCAA Football: Boise State at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

On the surface, you would think that wide receiver would be major question mark for the Broncos entering the 2019 season. They lost their top two receivers in Sean Modster and AJ Richardson. However, the Broncos are as deep as they have ever been at wide receiver, and I cannot recall a group with more speed and explosiveness. Wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau has proven to be an elite recruiter and developer of talent. Let’s take a look at who will play and how much they will contribute.

John Hightower

Hightower was a candidate for breakout player of the year in 2018. The junior college transfer is the most diverse receiver on the roster. He has breakaway speed and is great at high pointing the ball and coming away with difficult catches. Hightower had 31 catches for 504 yards in 2018. The biggest questions surrounding Hightower are his ability to stay healthy and get it done in the classroom; he missed the bowl game due to academic eligibility. As long as he can get those issues ironed out, he has an excellent chance to be the leading receiver on the team.

Chances of starting: 90%

I would make it 100% if it weren’t for academic issues.

Akilian Butler

Butler is an intriguing candidate to start. He will be a redshirt senior who has dealt with a lot of adversity in his career. Butler returned from a major, knee injury this past season to become a consistent target for Brett Rypien. Butler had 25 catches for 204 yards in 2018. He won’t be the “sexy” candidate to start, but Harsin and his staff often favor experience.

Chances of starting: 30%

CT Thomas

Thomas is the leading returning receiver for the Broncos. He finished the 2018 campaign with 41 catches for 535 yards. Thomas proved to be a reliable target on third and long where he had most of his impressive catches. Thomas does not have a ton of size, but his speed and sure-handedness make him a likely starter.

Chances of starting: 90%

Octavius Evans

This is a tough one. Evans showed flashes of brilliance in his freshman campaign and was awarded the vaunted number one jersey at the end of Fall camp. Coaches had high expectations for Evans in 2018, but injuries plagued him throughout the season. He only played in five games, where he recorded two catches for twelve yards. I am a big believer in Octavius Evans, and I think if he is healthy, he will be the leading receiver for the Broncos. With that being said, I’m giving him a 50/50 chance of starting.

Chances of starting: 50%

Khalil Shakir

The highest rated receiver in Boise State history did not disappoint as a true freshman. Whether it was a game winning catch or lining up in the backfield, Shakir showed why he was such a highly rated recruit. Shakir suffered a season ending arm injury against Fresno State in their first matchup, just as his role was starting to increase in the offense. I expect a lot out of Shakir in 2019; I think he will get more carries out of the backfield and will contribute in the quick passing game which will eventually allow him to stretch the field. I think it is unlikely that he will be listed as a starter, but he will get as many snaps as the starters.

Chances of starting: 30%

Damon Cole

Cole is a redshirt sophomore that has not recorded a catch. Cole had some impressive highlights coming out of high school and has good speed. He is an intriguing candidate to be a fourth or fifth receiver.

Chances of starting: 1%

Billy Bowens

Bowens was one of the true freshmen that played and is still able to use his redshirt. He played early against New Mexico, and the coaches gave us an idea of how they may use him. I expect Bowens to play a significant role on special teams, and I think the coaches will have some plays designed specifically for him.

Chances of starting: 5%

Stefan Cobbs

Cobbs received a ton of hype coming out of 2018 Fall camp. There were plenty of pictures and videos of him making highlight catches, but he was injured at some point and did not see any action. I think Cobbs has a bright future for Boise State and will be a contributor this year.

Chances of starting: 5%

Khyeem Waleed

Waleed was a recruiting coup for the Broncos. The electric wide receiver had offers from Michigan State and UCLA among others. If any true freshman receiver gets the opportunity to see the field, it will likely be Waleed.

Chances of starting: 1%

Shea Whiting

Whiting is falling below the radar; he is one of the most under-rated recruits of this class. He reminds me a lot of a young Austin Pettis. He has great hands and does an excellent job of locating the ball and coming away with difficult catches. I think Whiting could have been a candidate to play in past years, but the depth at wide receiver will allow him to redshirt.

Chances of starting: 0%

DK Blaylock (Expected to sign in February)

6’5” wide receivers with great speed don’t come around often. The former Iowa State commit chose the Broncos over Indiana and Illinois and is an intriguing prospect. A year in the weight room will do Blaylock good, as he will need to put on some weight and muscle.

Chances of starting: 0%

The Broncos have had some great talent at wide receiver, but they have never had this much depth. It will be a wealth of riches for co-OC’s Eric Kiesau and Zak Hill. Stay tuned, as next week I will be previewing tight ends and the offensive line.