The Idaho Press is counting down the top 20 questions facing the Boise State football team heading into the 2019 season. The next entry in our series is question No. 18: Will the wide receivers be a strength on offense?
It seems every year the Broncos lose a key wide receiver to graduation and we question whether the group will be able to produce without him. A few years ago it was Matt Miller. Then it was Thomas Sperbeck. Most recently it was Cedrick Wilson.
After months of worrying and questions about the group, the same thing ends up happening every time: somebody steps up at receiver and emerges, and the Broncos don’t miss a beat.
The Broncos are hoping the same thing happens again this year with the departures of their top two wide receivers from last year in A.J. Richardson and Sean Modster. The two had career years as seniors in place of Wilson, and leave the Broncos with a pair of legitimate holes to fill.
Modster had 68 catches for 968 yards and eight touchdowns, while Richardson was close behind with 54 catches for 825 yards and eight touchdowns. The two had more production last season than in the rest of their time at Boise State combined.
It would be easy to look at those numbers and be worried about the group heading into the fall, just as it was in previous seasons. But if the Broncos have proven anything, it’s that somebody will step up and fill the void. Boise State’s recruiting, coaching — whatever it is — has the next guy ready to emerge every year. And there’s no reason to think it won’t happen again.
Maybe the top candidate to take over as the No. 1 receiver is CT Thomas, who was third on the team with 41 catches for 535 yards and had three touchdowns. He nearly tripled his production from his freshman to sophomore year, and could be ready for an even bigger junior season with Modster and Richardson both gone.
The top big-play receiver could be John Hightower, who had 31 catches for 504 yards and six touchdowns. He likely would have finished with better numbers than Thomas had he not missed three games due to injury. He also was academically ineligible for the First Responder Bowl in Dallas. If Hightower can take care of his classwork and stay healthy, there’s no reason he couldn’t become the top receiver in 2019.
Khalil Shakir figures to be in store for a Thomas-like breakout as a sophomore. He had similar numbers to what Thomas did as a freshman, finishing with 16 catches for 170 yards and a touchdown. He would have had even better numbers had he not missed the last three games with a knee injury.
Others including Akilian Butler and Octavius Evans — a big question mark due to his health — have shown they can be counted on. The Broncos also have a number of young players that redshirted last season, including Stefan Cobbs and Billy Bowens, that they feel can contribute.
A new quarterback will make things interesting with four-year starter Brett Rypien now playing with the Denver Broncos, but the Boise State Broncos are confident they have the group at wide receiver to help bring the quarterback along.
Boise State must replace nearly 54 percent of both its receptions and receiving yards from last season, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to panic. The trio of Thomas, Hightower and Shakir is a nice core to build around, and the Broncos have others ready for their shot behind them.
Wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau has done an impressive job building quality depth the past two seasons, and the Broncos should again be strong at wide receiver next season. The question will again linger about whether the receivers can be a strength this year, but the answer will probably be the same as it's been the past few years: yes.
Countdown to Camp Questions
No. 20: Can Boise State's injured players return to form?
No. 19: Do the linebackers have enough talent and depth to produce?
No. 18: Will Boise State's wide receivers be a strength?