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Five Biggest Questions for UCF Football in 2020: Which Wide Receivers Will Step Up?

Even without Gabe Davis, don’t expect any falloff from this group.

Marlon Williams takes a swing pass 75 yards for a touchdown in the 2019 Gasparilla Bowl.
Derek Warden

The UCF Knights’ program has a history of producing some outstanding talent at wide receiver. In just the last 15 years, Brandon Marshall, Mike Sims-Walker, Breshard Perriman, and Tre’quan Smith have not only left their mark on this program, but have gone on to play in the NFL.

The Knight’s leading receiver in 2019, Gabriel Davis, was the latest player to get drafted. He’s also the latest to leave a significant gap in production from his departure. Of the 17 Knights that caught a pass last year, Davis was responsible for almost one third of all receiving production. He accounted for 27% of receptions (72), 30% of yards (1,241), and 33% of TDs (12). With that production gone this year, it would be understandable to be concerned about who is going to step up, but with a handful of returning veterans and a stable of young talent, QB Dillon Gabriel will have plenty of options when he drops back.

This graph compares Gabe Davis’ receptions each game against the returning veterans. A couple trends to point out: Marlon Williams’ receptions more than doubled between his first six and last six games, and Otis Anderson doubled his between his first seven and last six games. Tre Nixon’s production was steady all year. Most noticeable should be the increase in distribution among the WRs over the last few games. One could interpret this as Dillon Gabriel using Gabe Davis as a safety net until he become more comfortable with his other receivers.
Stats from sports-reference.com

The Old Guard

Tre Nixon
Photo: Derek Warden

Tre Nixon (R-Sr) is the most likely candidate to take over as the primary receiver. He was third on the team in receptions, with 49, but second in yards (830) and touchdowns (7), and he led the Knights in receptions of over 20 yards with 15. He is at his best when using his speed outside the numbers to get behind his defender; if he can limit his drops, he could be the next 1,000 yard receiver for UCF.

UCF WR Marlon Williams
Marlon Williams
Photo: Derek Warden

Marlon Williams (Sr) is not a typical Josh Heupel wideout. He’s not tall - like a Jacob Harris - nor does he possess the vertical speed to take the top off a defense like Tre Nixon. Nor is he quick and shifty like Otis Anderson; he’s a ‘tweener. But he is strong! Recall his freshman year against Cincinnati, where he lined up in the backfield and dragged almost the entire Bearcat defense behind him for a gain of over 40 yards. Or last year against Stanford, shaking off a pass interference to catch the touchdown with the defender still on his back. But what should excite Knight fans the most, is that his production from the first six games he played in for 2019 was doubled in the last six: receptions per game jumped from 2.7 to 5.8; receiving yards from 46 to 74 per game, and 2 TDs in 6 games to 4.

Otis Anderson UCF
Otis Anderson hits the R2 button against FAU
Derek Warden

Otis Anderson (Sr) may be UCFs best player on offense. Mr Do-It-All is a focus of the run game, the pass game, and punt returning, placing 1st (rushing yards), 4th (receptions - 31), and 1st (PR yards) on the team. He is a threat every time he touches the ball (just ask the FAU defender who whiffed on a tackle attempt). In Heup’s first year, he admitted to not using Otis as much as he should have, and last year Anderson led UCF in all-purpose yards (107/gm). Look for those numbers to increase this year with more experience in this offense.

Jacob Harris
Derek Warden

Jacob Harris (R-Sr) has not been playing wide receiver as long as his fellow seniors, but that didn’t stop him from finishing 4th in yards (448) and first (of those with more than two catches) in yards per reception at 23.6. Part of that may be due to a desire to keep getting better, and part of it may be due to his height (6’ 5”), which is the tallest of all the wide receivers. As the saying goes, “you can’t teach height.”

Jake Hescock
Derek Warden

Jake Hescock (R-Sr) led all tight ends in receptions (9), yards (87) and touchdowns (2). He primarily was used as a blocking TE, but Coach Heupel’s offenses tend to get the TEs more involved, so expect Jake’s numbers to rise this year.

The Young’uns

The key phrase with these guys is, “Speed. Hot, nasty, bad ass speed”, to quote Eleanor Roosevelt (per Talladega Nights). These relatively unknown freshmen and sophomores will be called upon to take a larger role this year, and when they do, will look to take advantage of their quickness and top-end speed. There’s a very good chance that the next great UCF wide receiver is hiding in this group, waiting to take their place at the round table.

Amari Johnson
Derek Warden

Jaylon Robinson (R-So) - transfer from Oklahoma, with great YAC elusiveness. Expect to see him in the slot often.

Ke’von Ahmad (R-So) - third year in the program. Was a track star in high school, running 10.4 in the 100-meter dash.

Amari Johnson (So) - led team in YPC in 2019, at 33.5, though it was from two catches. Ran track in high school.

Ryan O’Keefe (So) - versatile. Has been compared to Otis Anderson.

Ja’Cyais “Stretch” Credle (Fr) - 6’4” receiver who has caught his coaches’ attention during fall camp. Expect to see him often this year.

Justin Menard (R-Fr) - practiced at DB last year.