For the penultimate portion of our offensive preview series, we return to the skill positions with a look at the wide receiving corps. While Virginia didn't have the most dynamic aerial attack last season the wide receivers showed marked improvement over the 2013 season. Overall last year's wideouts caught 27 more passes (145 to 118), gained 719 more yards (2,058 to 1,339) and found the end zone six more times (11 to 5) than the 2013 crew. In order for that progress to continue, however, this season's group will have to overcome the departure of some program mainstays and a potential star.
Departures: Darius Jennings, Miles Gooch, Jamil Kamara, David Watford
The Cavaliers lose just two wideouts to graduation from last season's team (Jennings and Gooch) but they finished second and third respectively in receiving yards (Jennings: 521 yards, Gooch: 371) and lent needed veteran leadership to what was a fairly young position group. Additionally, Virginia lost rising sophomore Jamil Kamara, who transferred to Cincinnati, and converted quarterback David Watford, who left for Hampton. While it's unlikely Watford would have played much of a role in the receiving game this season, the loss of Kamara stings. Despite hauling in just one catch for six yards last season, Kamara was still just one season removed from high school where he was rated as a 4 star recruit and the #17 wideout prospect in the country, leading many fans to expect a jump in his production this season. Overall these four departures accounted for 44% of the total yards from last year's wide receivers and three of the groups 11 touchdowns.
Key Returners/Additions: Canaan Severin, TJ Thorpe, Andre Levrone, Keeon Johnson
Before we get into this section, let's take a moment to reminisce and revisit one of the highlights from last season:
Virginia fans would undoubtedly love to see more of that this season, and thankfully they'll have the opportunity as Canaan Severin returns to headline this season's wideouts. Severin broke out and led the team in all major categories last season with 42 catches, 578 yards and five touchdowns. In the process he became the first Cavalier to amass over 500 receiving yards in a season since Kris Burd hauled in 913 in 2011. Joining Severin at the top of the depth chart is TJ Thorpe, a graduate transfer from UNC. During his time in Chapel Hill Thorpe totaled 42 catches for 574 yards and five touchdowns, but it was his breakout performance in the spring game (where he caught four passes for 58 yards and a TD) that took the excitement about his arrival to new heights.
Rounding out the wide receivers are returning players Andre Levrone and Keeon Johnson (Doni Dowling would be included here but a redshirt still seems to be the most likely option as he recovers from an ACL tear in February). Levrone and Johnson combined to produce 28 receptions, 386 yards and two touchdowns last season and both will need to step up their production for UVa's offense to reach its potential.
While they may not be the most experienced group, the Cavalier wide receivers have more than enough talent to put up some impressive numbers in the upcoming campaign. Severin and Levrone's big play ability should open up the downfield passing game, which in turn will lead to opportunities for Thorpe to work underneath and on designed jet sweeps that take advantage of his speed. No one will be mistaking UVa for an air-raid offense anytime soon, but continuing to build off last season's progress certainly seems attainable.