This week, we’re answering what we think are the five biggest questions facing the UCF Knights as they enter the 2019 college football season. The second entry in this series explores the current competition at slot receiver.
While everyone wants to know about the Knights’ quarterback competition, there’s another battle underway mainly between three individuals who are hoping to be one of the new QB’s favorite targets.
Wide receiver Dredrick Snelson recorded almost 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns over the past two seasons before departing for the pros. Now, redshirt senior Jacob Harris, junior Marlon Williams and junior Otis Anderson will try to fill Snelson’s shoes as UCF’s lead slot receiver.
Harris has had an atypical journey to possibly being an offensive playmaker. He didn’t even start playing football until his senior year at Palm Harbor University High. He spent 2015 with Western Kentucky, where he lined up as a wide receiver for the first time in his life.
After taking a year off, he walked on at UCF and joined the scout team in 2017. He earned a scholarship last October while being a special teams ace. And for 2019, according to head coach Josh Heupel, “we’re hoping that he is going to become a great player on the offensive side of the ball as well.”
Harris’ first reception this fall will be his first in a regular-season college football game, but the 6-foot-5, 211-pound athlete gave everyone a preview of what he can do when he caught two touchdowns in April’s spring game.
Plays of the Game— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) April 13, 2019
A 6-pack of highlights from the 2019 Spring Game pic.twitter.com/oIRmEPkarC
Although Harris might find a home in the slot, he probably won’t live there exclusively. He can play receiver and tight end, out wide and on the line. So, even if Harris doesn’t win this competition, you should still expect to see plenty of him this season.
“Just been waiting for my opportunity and here it is,” he said.
Show #171 - And We’re Off!— Black & Gold Banneret (@UCF_Banneret) August 1, 2019
We recap @UCF_Football Media Day and #UCF’s first practice.
Guest: @UnderdogDynasty’s @EricCHenry_ https://t.co/mEBxfHq3gM
NFL wide receivers commonly break out in their third season; Williams thinks he is ready to do the same in his third season with the Knights. He set foot on campus as a top-90 high school WR recruit, according to 247Sports, and after being coveted by the likes of LSU and USC.
In 25 games thus far, he has tallied just 35 catches for 504 yards and two scores. However, Williams has found other ways to impact the game. He saw a lot of time last year on kick-return duty, took five carries for 25 yards and even completed a 23-yard pass to Darriel Mack Jr.
But at 6 feet tall, 222 pounds and with speed to spare, Williams can be a matchup nightmare for slower and smaller nickelbacks and safeties out of the slot.
“In this offense, the slot is for a bigger receiver who can come across the middle and catch the ball, and I think I can do that and I can be that,” Williams said.
Here’s the guy with whom Knights fans are probably most familiar. Anderson has been the biggest contributor on offense of this trio, racking up 1,350 yards in his first two collegiate campaigns and scoring seven times each year.
UCF didn’t even bother listing him at a single position last year. Instead, Heupel placed Anderson on the depth chart simply as “Utility.” This staff has intended to get him more involved as a receiver than Scott Frost and Co., even though Anderson’s usage and yardage numbers slumped across the board from 2017 to 2018. Heupel said Monday there were plans to use Anderson more last season that didn’t come to fruition either due to the score of the game or minor injuries that clouded Anderson’s availability heading into multiple games.
But over the summer, Anderson committed to taking care of his body and getting in better shape. Submitted as evidence:
UCF RB Otis Anderson @Gumby_football appears to have put in serious off-season work in the weight room pic.twitter.com/oPKZgYk2zn— UCFSportsInfo (@UCFSportsInfo) June 20, 2019
With that extra muscle and improve conditioning, Anderson is hoping for a healthier 2019. If that happens, he will likely surpass his 16 catches and 230 yards as a receiver last year while also remaining a factor on punt returns.
So What Happens Now?
It’s a cop-out answer, but UCF is going to cycle through players here, much like they do at every position besides quarterback. All three of these guys are going to play out of the slot, and so maybe none of them alone will be able to match Snelson’s stat line. But as a group, they can help the Knights become even deeper at the skill positions.
I want to see how Marlon Williams takes a step forward as a junior. I want to see Otis Anderson stay healthy and reach his ceiling. But above all else, I want to see what Harris can provide. You don’t want to draw too many conclusions from a spring game, but that was quite the tease. He has the type of skill set — the athleticism, the size, the versatility — to be a consistent playmaker. Granted, he knows he has to continue improving his hands, but if Harris can take all of his traits and make them translate in games that matters, he probably should be this team’s leader in the slot.