We all know that the UVA passing game last season was horrendous. As a team, the Hoos ranked 81st in passing yards, but they 199th in passing efficiency and dead last (123rd) in yards per completion. In the first 4 games of the season, Wahoo WRs (mostly Tim Smith, Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell) totaled 38 receptions for 316 yards. Do the math and that's an average of about 9 receptions for 79 yards per game, or fewer than 9 yards per reception. The Hoos 123rd ranking yards per reception figure was 9.18, so you can see just how bad that number is. And that is from the WRs, who are supposed to be the big plays guys. It's understandable when RBs and TEs have short completions, because they are often outlet passes or quick hitters.
Following the Pitt game, during which the Hoos totaled just 188 yards of offense, the coaching staff made a change. Gone from the starting lineup were Tim Smith and Darius Jennings. Entering the starting lineup were redshirt freshman Kyle Dockins and true freshman Keeon Johnson. Dockins had played, sparingly, in the previous 4 games, but Johnson was getting his first shot on the field. Some fans wondered, "Why burn his redshirt now, 4 games into the season?".
Maybe the question should've been, "Why didn't we burn his redshirt earlier?".
In the 5th game, against Ball St, the Hoos' WRs had just 6 receptions, but averaged over 20 yards per catch. Sure, much of this was due to Tim Smith's 46 yard grab, but who's to say the threat of Keeon Johnson wasn't a big part of that play?
Once Johnson (and, to a lesser extent, Dockins) entered the starting lineup, Wahoo WRs averaged about the same number of catches (10 receptions per game), but the yards per catch went up to nearly 13. That figure would've been good for 38th among FBS teams last year. Again, that is from WRs as opposed to total team and the total figure would be dragged down by shorter receptions by Kevin Parks and the rest of the RB corps. Still, it goes to show how much of an impact the new WRs had on the offense right away. And let's keep in mind that all of the Hoos WRs were impacted by the poor play of QB David Watford.
For the season, Johnson averaged 14.1 yards per reception, 2nd behind Tim Smith who was at 15. But Smith was a 5th year senior and Johnson was a true freshman. Johnson also had at least 1 catch in every game he played. Smith had 2 catchless games.
In today's college football, WRs simply need to be big enough to fight off aggressive defenders and make tough catches over the middle. A 6'3" 215 pound WR is a much tougher matchup than a 5'11" 180 pound WR, even if the smaller guy is faster.
Entering this season, Johnson is pretty much undisputed as one of the starting WRs. Smith is gone, Jennings and Terrell have pretty much been banished to the bench, despite their status as experienced seniors.