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Nevada football 2020 spring position preview: Wide receivers

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - Nevada v Ohio
Wide receiver Elijah Cooks leads the Pack receiving core heading into the 2020 season.
Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

First off, before I begin, I want to thank every single first responder, doctor, nurse, health professional and every essential worker around Nevada (where I reside) and the United States who are working to help us keep safe and defeat this pandemic. I hope everyone is, and remains safe during these troubling times. We will all get through this together.

Now lets get into it.

As Nevada football season approaches (despite spring football not being postponed until the foreseeable future), we will be breaking down each position group of the Nevada football team every Monday.

Today, we will be looking at the wide receivers.

Previous weeks:

3/30: Quarterbacks

4/6: Running backs

Anyone departing?

Kaleb Fossum

Nevada v Hawaii
Kaleb Fossum #3 of the Nevada Wolf Pack Maes catches a pass in stride against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.
Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

Fossum caught 102 passes for 1,062 yards and one touchdown in his three seasons with Nevada. The one touchdown came on a 28-yard dart from Ty Gangi versus Colorado State in 2018. Last year, Fossum was limited to 10 games after suffering a shoulder injury in Nevada’s 17-13 win over San Diego State. He was fifth on the team in receiving yards with 292 on 28 receptions. He caught a pass in every single game he played in, including a season-high six catches for 58 yards versus Purdue. Coming back from a season-ending leg injury in 2017, Fossum had a breakout junior season in 2018. He led the team with 70 receptions for 734 yards and a touchdown. Fossum had two-plus receptions in 11 of his 13 games and tallied five-plus receptions six times. In 2018, his best game came against Toledo, hauling in 15 catches for 147 yards — both collegiate career highs. Fossum ranked sixth in the Mountain West with 5.12 receptions per game in his junior season. The 5-foot-9 wideout was agile and quick out of the slot and was a key component out in the Pack’s passing game. Although Nevada has plenty of receiving weapons, Fossum’s pass-catching ability will be missed next season.

Ben Putman

NCAA Football: Idaho Potato Bowl-Ohio vs Nevada
Nevada Wolf Pack wide receiver Ben Putman (10) runs after a catch in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against the Ohio Bobcats.
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Putman departs with one of the great stories you will hear. After spending his first two collegiate seasons with Santa Rosa Junior College in 2015 and 2016, Putman still had one offer from the University of Sioux Falls, a Division-II school. He used a redshirt season in 2017, hoping to improve and land a Division-I offer. Putman didn’t get a scholarship offer, but the Wolf Pack offered him a preferred walk-on spot prior to the 2018 season. The 5-foot-9 wideout did not earn an immediate opportunity, but the he shined when the lights turned brightest. After star wideout McLane Mannix elected to transfer at the end of the regular season, the Pack needed some wideouts to step up in increased roles for the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl versus Arkansas State. Putman did just that, putting together the game of his career. Putman led the Pack with four catches for 114 yards, including a 44-yard reception that put Nevada at the opposing 1-yard line with under a minute remaining in the 4th quarter. Because of his heroic and clutch performance, head coach Jay Norvell placed Putman on scholarship immediately after the game.

In his senior season, Putman had 26 receptions for 297 yards. He had a knack for the bright lights, with his best game coming in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Ohio where he hauled in six catches for 73 yards. His 26 receptions were 6th-most on the team.

Brendan O’Leary Orange

Nevada v San Diego State
Brendan O’Leary-Orange (17) of Nevada runs with the ball against Kameron Kelly (7) of San Diego State.
Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images

O’Leary Orange exits Nevada with 61 career catches for 941 yards and eight touchdowns. O’Leary Orange peaked in his sophomore season in 2017, totaling career-highs in receptions (39), receiving yards (618) and yards per reception (15.8). He had four receiving scores on the year. The 6-foot-4 target had 11 receptions for 214 yards and three touchdowns versus San Diego State that year — definitely the best game of his career. His 214 receiving yards were the 18th-most in a single game in program history — the most since Trevor Insley (the best receiver in program history and one of the best in NCAA history) totaled 212 in a 72-10 loss versus Oregon in 1999. O’Leary Orange played 11 games in his junior season, but could not find his groove after suffering an injury in the second game of the season versus Oregon State. He had just 14 catches for 214 yards, but tied his 2017 mark with four receiving scores. Last year, he appeared in just six games with five catches for 85 yards. O’Leary Orange had a season-high three catches for 28 yards in the regular season finale versus UNLV.

Dominic Christian

New Mexico v Nevada
Wide receiver Dominic Christian (14) of the Nevada Wolf Pack is hit by linebacker Alexander Vainikolo (30) of the New Mexico Lobos.
Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

Christian, while spending all four years with the Wolf Pack, did not see much of the field until a breakout senior season. After not having more than four receptions in each of his first four seasons, Christian totaled 35 catches for 321 yards and two touchdowns. His first career collegiate touchdown came on a 38-yard pass from Carson Strong (it was also Strong’s first collegiate TD, too). Christian registered at least one catch in each game last season and had multiple receptions in all but one game. The 6-foot-1 wideout hauled in 11 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown versus UNLV — the only game of the year where he had more than three receptions. Christian finished his Wolf Pack career with 41 catches for 365 yards and two scores.

John Humphrey

Humphrey, in his lone season with Nevada, had four receptions for 28 yards in six games. Prior to Nevada, Humphrey played at Arizona State. Originally an Oklahoma commit, Humphrey transferred to ASU prior to the 2016 season. He played one full season in 2017, registering 13 catches for 177 yards and a touchdown with the Sun Devils. He suffered a torn achilles prior to the 2018 season, requiring season-ending surgery and never took a snap with ASU again.

Anyone returning?

Elijah Cooks

NCAA Football: UNLV at Nevada
Nevada wide receiver Elijah Cooks (4) and wide receiver Dominic Christian (14) celebrate after a touchdown against the UNLV Rebels.
David Calvert-USA TODAY Sports

Despite failing to make any All-Mountain West teams last season, Cooks has emerged into one of the best receivers in the conference and a potential NFL draft prospect. Cooks finished sixth in the conference in receptions (76) and receiving touchdowns (8) and eighth in receiving yards (926). He also earned the team’s Offensive Player of the Year award last year. Cooks was Carson Strong’s favorite target, catching at least three passes in 12 of his 13 games and had five-plus receptions eight times. Cooks was dominant in the final five games of the season. Over that span, the 6-foot-4 target finished with 40 catches, 502 yards and four touchdowns. He had 26 catches for 348 yards and two touchdowns in the final two games alone — including a career-high 14 catches for 197 yards and one score in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl versus Ohio. His 14 catches tied a Nevada bowl record, set by Alex Van Dyke in the 1995 Las Vegas Bowl versus Toledo. Cooks’ 197 yards set a new Wolf Pack bowl record, eclipsing Van Dyke’s 176 yards in that same 1995 contest. The Atascadero, Calif., native has caught 100 passes in his career and has 14 total touchdowns. Scoring a touchdown every seven catches is at a very efficient rate. Cooks displays tremendous athleticism with quickness and has significant hands on the outside — a good recipe for any receiver to possess. The high school basketball standout — who also appeared on Eric Musselman’s 2017-18 Wolf Pack team — high points the ball like he’s going up for a rebound. If he can continue to serve as a big play threat as Nevada’s No.1 target on the outside, Entering his final season of eligibility, Cooks should be able climb draft boards and potentially hear his name called next April, barring any significant regression.

Romeo Doubs

Portland State v Nevada
Wide receiver Romeo Doubs (7) runs with the ball after catching it on a kick-off by the Portland State Vikings.
Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

Doubs, with two years of eligibility remaining, has been a tremendous contributor during his time with Nevada. Doubs’ immediate impact in his freshman year propelled him to being third on the Pack in catches (43) and receiving yards (562). He had four games with 70-plus receiving yards and two cracking triple-digit marks. His best game came against Colorado State, totaling 120 receiving yards on eight receptions and two touchdowns — his only receiving touchdowns on the season. The 6-foot-2 target built off his previous marks in his sophomore season. Doubs, earning All-Mountain West Honorable Mention honors last season, registered 44 catches, 649 yards and four receiving touchdowns — ranking second on the team in each category. Similarly to his freshman season, Doubs cracked 70-plus receiving yards four times with two 100-plus yard receiving seasons. His two triple-digit 100-plus yard games were 146 yards versus San Jose State and a career-high 167 yards versus New Mexico. Doubs also tallied a career-best 11 receptions versus New Mexico, the first time in his career cracking double-digit reception marks. Both Doubs and Cooks are big-bodied, athletic wideouts on the outside that can be deep ball threats for Strong.

Melquan Stovall

NCAA Football: Idaho Potato Bowl-Ohio vs Nevada
Nevada Wolf Pack wide receiver Melquan Stovall (1) in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Ohio.
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Stovall totaled 19 receptions for 171 yards as a freshman last season. He had at least one reception in seven of the nine games he played in, including two games with a career-high seven receptions against Wyoming and Ohio. He had 57 receiving yards versus Wyoming and career-high 84 yards versus Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. A three-star recruit per 247sports, Stovall chose Nevada over Florida Atlantic, Fresno State, Hawaii and Howard. Stovall had 40 carries for 279 rushing yards and 171 catches for 2,552 yards and 35 total touchdowns — 32 receiving — in his high school career per maxpreps.com.

Justin Lockhart

As a freshman, Lockhart played in four games with the Wolf Pack last year. He registered five catches for 33 yards. He had two games with two-plus receptions against New Mexico and Fresno State. Lockhart, a two-star recruit in high school per 247sports, selected Nevada over Fresno State, Utah and Utah State.

Cole Turner

Turner has appeared in 25 of the 26 eligible games in his first two years with Nevada. Turner has racked up six combined receptions for 88 yards and one touchdown in his career. He had four catches for 51 yards last season. A three-star recruit in high school, Turner chose Nevada over Oregon State, BYU, Air Force, UC Davis and Portland State, among others.

Charles Ross

Ross, a three-star recruit per 247sports, redshirted in his freshman season with Nevada last year. A three-star recruit out of Culver City High School, Ross chose Nevada over multiple schools, including SDSU, Hawaii and New Mexico. He recorded 43 catches with 1,500 yards as a junior in high school. He finished his high school career with 28 total touchdowns.

Jeshua Fixel

Fixel, a native of Sparks, Nev., redshirted as a freshman last year. He was arrested during last season by Reno Police and charged with DUI. Fixel, a first-team all-league as a junior and senior at Excel High School, registered 3,694 rushing yards and 75 total touchdowns — 52 rushing — in his high school career.

Will Barnard

Barnard did not see the field as a sophomore with the Pack last season. Barnard, a local native of Reno, Nev., played one season at Wayne State College in Wayne, Neb. He appeared in nine games with the special teams as a backup receiver. Barnard totaled two receptions for nine yards in his Wildcat career.

Carson Walters

Walters did not see the field with the Wolf Pack last season, earning one of the team’s Scout Team Player of the Year awards. He spent his first two seasons at Nebraska-Kearney — one as a redshirt — primarily played quarterback. He completed his only pass attempt in 2018 for 11 yards, rushing for 22 yards on four carries. As a quarterback in Lincoln East High School in Nebraska, he passed for 4,200 yards and 40 touchdowns. He also earned second-team all running back as a senior, so he is quite versatile.

Any new faces?

Isaac Jernagin

Jernagin was Nevada’s top recruit in its 2020 class per 247sports.com. Jernagin was recruited as an athlete, but is expected to fill the receiver role with Nevada. He chose Nevada over USC, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Utah State, among others. Jernagin specialized as a running back, wide receiver and a defensive back in high school. He totaled 21 catches for 248 yards and five touchdowns, adding 47 carries for more than 600 yards with seven rushing scores. Jernagin also recorded 30 tackles with an interception.

Here is MWCConnection’s site manager and recruiting guru Mike Wittmann said about Jernagin in Nevada’s 2020 recruiting breakdown:

“Isaac is a great athlete the Wolf Pack were able to secure in this class. He is a smooth route-runner who possesses plus speed and an uncanny ability to make people miss. Jernagin is small in stature but maximizes his frame due to his athletic ability and body control. He was physical and athletic enough to play on defense in high school. Isaac has the talent to play right away and should develop into quite the playmaker in the Nevada offense.”

Jamaal Bell

Bell, Nevada’s highest rated recruit in its 2019 class per 247sports.com, joined the team this spring and missed last season due to academic issues. Bell — the 70th-best wideout and the 574th-best nationally in the 2019 class — is Nevada’s fifth-highest rated recruit ever that 247sports has ever tracked. Bell chose Nevada over Arizona State, Colorado, Indiana, Oregon State, UCLA and Utah, among others. In his junior and senior seasons in high school, Bell totaled 34 carries for 302 yards with nine rushing touchdowns and caught 70 passes for 1,272 yards and 17 receiving touchdowns per maxpreps.

Here is what Wittmann said about Bell in Nevada’s 2019 recruiting breakdown:

“Jamaal Bell was a great get for Nevada when he announced on signing day. Bringing immense talent a skill set that can play at running back or slot receiver, he is versatile. Bell is at his best in the open space where his speed and quick change of direction stand out. That will suit him well as a returner and designed plays like screens or passes to the flat to get him the ball in space. Jamaal can be a productive player for the Wolf Pack from day one and once he adjusts to the college game, he will be an impact player for many years.”

My thoughts

This is arguably Nevada’s best unit as a whole. The Wolf Pack retain two receivers with All-MWC potential in Doubs and Cooks. As I mentioned earlier, they both are two big plays waiting to happen. They aren’t just big, stiff receivers — but are rather athletic, agile and truly do-it-all talents. Both of these receivers, like we saw last season, can beat you at different times. Cooks, while performing well all throughout last season, cooked (no pun intended) mainly at the beginning and definitely in the end; Doubs did a big bulk of his work in the middle portion of the season. Regardless who opposing secondaries choose to put their best corner on, the other could perform at a high level. Overall, with continuity at the quarterback, I expect this unit to continue to perform at a high level last season. Losing Fossum and Christian hurt, especially in the slot, but keep eyes on Stovall, Turner, Jernagin and Bell to fill in and contribute to this core in 2020.