Under the watch of former Virginia wide receiver and quarterback Marques Hagans, Cavalier football fans have watched the receiver position become an area of strength for the offense. Some of the biggest playmakers on the roster in the last three seasons, including Olamide Zaccheaus, Joe Reed, and Hasise Dubois, have come from this position group.
In turn, the play of the wide receivers has been instrumental to the Cavalier offense’s success in recent years. As noted below, this position has averaged 21 receiving touchdowns per year the last three years. That represents a massive jump in production that mirrors the offense’s – and team’s – increased success since Bronco Mendenhall arrived. In the 10 seasons from 2006-2015 prior to his arrival; the receivers never even reached 15 combined touchdowns in a season much less the current three-year average of 21.
3-year production – receivers
- 2017: 218 receptions, 2,695 receiving yards, 20 receiving touchdowns, 48 carries, 294 rushing yards (6.1 YPC), 2 rushing touchdowns
- 2018: 193 receptions, 2,411 receiving yards, 22 receiving touchdowns, 25 carries, 119 rushing yards (4.8 YPC), 0 rushing touchdowns
- 2019: 290 receptions, 3,302 receiving yards, 20 receiving touchdowns, 15 carries, 92 rushing yards (6.1 YPC), 0 rushing touchdowns
3-year average: 234 receptions, 2,803 receiving yards, 21 receiving touchdowns, 29 carries, 132 rushing yards (4.6 YPC), 0.67 rushing touchdowns
- 2017: Olamide Zaccheaus, 85 receptions, 895 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns, 27 carries, 182 rushing yards (6.7 YPC), 1 rushing touchdown
- 2018: Olamide Zaccheaus, 93 receptions, 1,058 receiving yards, 9 receiving touchdowns, 16 carries, 83 rushing yards (5.2 YPC), 0 rushing touchdowns
- 2019: Hasise Dubois, 75 receptions, 1,062 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns
Olamide Zaccheaus set the tone early in the Bronco Mendenhall era and demonstrated how impactful a dynamic wide receiver can be in building a successful football team. His athleticism and play-making ability constantly kept defenses on their toes. His play and work ethic also inspired the younger guys in the room at the time. Those same guys were the ones that led to one of the most efficient wide receiver corps in the nation this past season.
Three of the top four receivers in the ACC last season in receptions came from Virginia. Hasise Dubois, Joe Reed, and Terrell Jana each had more than 70 catches on the year. Dubois joined Zaccheaus in the 1,000-yard club, giving UVA 1K wideouts in back-to-back seasons. Reed had the most receptions with 77 and tallied 679 receiving yards to go with 7 touchdowns. Jana emerged after strong spring practices in 2019 and put up 73 catches for 878 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
All three receivers proved reliable as targets too. Last year, the Virginia offense had the lowest team drop percentage in the NCAA by dropping only 1.7% of its passes, according to Pro Football Focus. They earned the trust of their quarterback and coaching staff – rightfully so – and this faith led to the Cavaliers being able to run more plays that involved throws into tight areas.
2020 Virginia football look ahead
The receiver group definitely will be hurt by the graduations of Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed – that’s much like the impact at quarterback where record-setter Bryce Perkins finished his Cavalier career too. No matter how you look at it, there’s a lot of production exiting the offense with just those three players.
The question, of course, is who is in the wings ready to step forward. That’s where things like position depth and succession planning come in to play.
The top candidate to step in and step up is Terrell Jana, who is expected back for his senior season. Nobody exemplifies the growth and development of players in this position group under Hagans better than Jana does. Prior to last year, Jana had only made 13 catches for 172 yards in his collegiate career. In his 2019 campaign, he amassed 73 catches for 878 yards.
Virginia is hoping other wide receivers will take this massive leap that Jana did in the upcoming season. Two main guys to watch as they hopefully take this next step are Billy Kemp and Tavares Kelly. Kemp made 35 catches for 289 yards and a touchdown last season, while Kelly grabbed 14 for 152 yards and a touchdown. The previous year as a freshman in 2018, Kelly had 10 catches for 121 yards.
Both players have been used as complementary targets the past two seasons, but they’ve logged significant on-field reps in the process. Both have speed and elusiveness that can give opposing defenses fits throughout a game. While they were used more for short passes and expected to make the first defender miss after catching the ball primarily so far, look to see if they are used down the field more with the departures of Dubois and Reed.
Mendenhall and UVA’s coaches also have spoken about the progress of Dontayvion Wicks, a freshman that saw some action last fall. He made just 3 catches for 61 yards and a touchdown, but he fits the mold of a big-body receiver that could have success moving into the roles vacated by Reed and Dubois. Wicks is listed at 6’1” and 205 pounds.
Beyond those few players, there are not a whole lot of known names for the Hoos. Could someone like Ugo Obasi, who played in 10 games as a true freshman but saw his second season cut short by injury emerge? What about redshirt freshmen like Dorien Goddard and Nathaniel Beal III (he briefly entered the transfer portal this offseason, but withdrew)? UVA also reportedly was checking into the grad transfer market again to bolster depth for this unit; the Cavaliers had two grad transfers in action last fall, but neither broke into the rotation consistently.
Long story short, the UVA receiver group next year is lacking in experienced players with proven production. Even so, Virginia fans should have learned by now to not count out Hagans and his players. Very few people outside of the program saw Jana’s 2019 season coming, for example, so who is to say it will not happen with someone else at the same position under the same position coach and offensive coordinator? The offense will need to find out who those players will be and that’s one interesting storyline for 2020.