How will West Virginia replace NFL Draft choices Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and J.D. Woods on the offensive side of the ball? Here’s a look at 5 new arrivals that could step into some important roles at the wide receiver position this fall.
1. Kevin White– A 6-foot-3 junior college transfer out of Scranton (Pa.) Lackawanna Community College, White is a big physical specimen at 211 pounds. He’s much different than Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey size wise. Essentially a freak of nature, White made some exciting plays in the spring game and WVU fans should fully expect him to see quality playing time at the wide receiver position. WVU will need him to be a big target for the inexperienced quarterbacks to rely on, even though White himself will be adjusting to the Division 1 level. He’ll be a junior this season and has two years of eligibility left including this one, unless he were to take a redshirt season, which is unlikely because teams often go the JUCO route for immediate help and WVU hopes White can provide just that.
2. Shelton Gibson– A true freshman out of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Gibson is a very highly touted prospect at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds. He played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and finished his senior season with more than 700 receiving yards and scored 11 touchdowns. He should provide WVU with plenty of versatility as he scored by way of receiving, rushing, kickoff return, punt return, and even threw for a touchdown during his senior season. He was a 4-star recruit according to Rivals, ESPN, Scout, and 247 Sports. Gibson fielded an impressive offers list including the likes of Ohio State, Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, and Nebraska before eventually deciding on WVU. He’s been clocked in the low 4.4’s in the 40-yard-dash, so he’ll provide some game-breaking speed in the return game and most likely be a good fit for the slot position. Although I could see him playing at any of the receiver positions due to his natural play making ability. WVU must get him the ball in open space. No one is capable of replacing a special talent such as Tavon Austin, however in time, Gibson could very well create a legacy of his own.
3. Vernon Davis– A redshirt freshman from Miami, Fla., Davis transferred from the Hurricanes and sat out last season to meet the NCAA eligibility requirements. This spring he impressed coaches so much with the ball in his hands they decided to switch him over from cornerback to the offensive side of the ball. Coach Holgorsen likes the way he runs forward with the ball in his hands and Davis looked like a player with good play making potential during the spring game. He runs well in open space and is a shifty runner with an ability to make defenders miss in the open field. He has yet to play a meaningful down of college ball, but I liked what I saw during the spring game. I suppose there’s always a chance he could be moved back to defense, but there’s plenty of time for WVU’s coaching staff to let things play out in camp and then go from there. Davis is 5-foot-10, 176 pounds and is majoring in sport management.
4. Mario Alford– A 5-foot-9, 175 pound junior college transfer out of Georgia Military College, Alford shows great speed on tape and a knack for making plays when taking handoffs out the backfield. He could play running back or receiver because of his versatility and natural running ability in open space. I see him falling into the mold of a slot receiver and kick-off return specialist. Alford is another one of those jitterbug type players that will be difficult for Big 12 defenses to get their hands on. He led Georgia Military College in rushing with 541 yards on 52 carries and scored six touchdowns. Alford averaged 10.4 yards-per-carry in 2012 and had eight receptions that went for 199 yards and two touchdowns. He was a four star recruit according to 247 Sports and ESPN, and the number one JUCO wide receiver according to 247 Sports. The Mountaineers swiped him away from former coach Rich Rodriguez and the Arizona Wildcats staff on national signing day. He’ll add some solid depth to an unproven wide receiving bunch and should have plenty of chances to earn his way onto the field when competition heats up this fall.
5. Daikiel Shorts– At 6-foot-0, 201 pounds, Shorts projects to be more of a possession receiver. He’s a true freshman that enrolled at WVU in January and played in the spring game. Shorts averaged 21.4 yards-per-reception in only three games during his senior season at Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton, MD. When I watched the spring game he showed nice soft hands and an ability to make some people miss after the catch. I expect him to add solid depth and he could even decide to opt for a redshirt season if he wants to. I doubt he will though because he enrolled early most likely with playing time on his mind. With a plethora of wide receivers vying for spots this fall, Shorts should get a few opportunities to prove himself, and could definitely make the two-deep receiving rotation when fall camp breaks. He’s enrolled in general studies.
West Virginia always has plenty of room at receiver in Dana Holgorsen’s wide open offense. With not much set in stone, opportunities are everywhere for young players this fall and any one of them could break onto the scene.