Nov 1, 2014; University Park, PA, USA; Maryland Terrapins wide receiver Marcus Leak (82) reaches for a pass that would fall incomplete in front of Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Jordan Lucas (9) during the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium. Maryland defeated Penn State 20-19. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
By now, you’ve heard the news that Maryland star wide receiver Stefon Diggs has decided to forgo his final season with the Terrapins and enter the NFL Draft.
Diggs was the face of the Maryland program for the past three years after he shocked the football world and chose to stay home instead of committing to one of the many elite programs that offered him. The Good Counsel star now leaves Maryland with a pair of gaping holes at the starting wideout position. Senior Deon Long was going to be leaving regardless, but with Diggs also departing, the Terps are going to be forced to shuffle some things in terms of their depth chart.
So without further ado, just how will Maryland replace Diggs next fall?
One of Maryland’s top producers from the 2013 season could help fill the void. Levern Jacobs was projected as one of the Terps starting receivers during training camp before being suspended for the entire 2014 season. Jacobs was suspended for violating the student code of conduct, stemming from an incident in July where Jacobs was charged with second-degree assault. The charge was later dropped in December on the grounds of self defense.
In 2013, Jacobs led Maryland in receiving as he totaled 47 catches for 640 yards and three touchdowns. The Temple Hills native has a similar build to Diggs as he is only 5’11, and also can make several of the same explosive plays. In six of Maryland’s games during the 2013 season, Jacobs had a catch that went for 30 yards or more.
While Jacobs may not have the exact same big-play ability as Diggs, he has the ability to absorb contact and has some of the best hands around. After Diggs and Long suffered broken leg injuries in the Wake Forest game that season, Jacobs’ numbers increased tenfold. For the remainder of that season, Jacobs averaged 6.8 receptions-per-game and 79 yards-per-game in both star wideouts’ absences. In the first game following the injuries, Jacobs torched nationally-ranked Clemson to the tune of eight catches for 158 yards, including a 71-yard catch-and-run on Maryland’s opening drive.
As long as Jacobs puts the 2014 incident behind him, he should be one of Maryland’s biggest producers in 2015.
After Jacobs, there’s still plenty of experience with this group.
Marcus Leak returned to the team for the 2014 season after sitting out the previous campaign due to personal issues. Leak proved to be a solid down-the-field threat that brought tremendous athleticism to the Maryland offense. While he isn’t an absolute burner, the North Carolina native does have decent size and can flat-out go get the football in the air. If you’re unsure of just how good Leak can be, check out this catch that he made against Syracuse early on this past season. Leak isn’t what you describe as a possession receiver that will register five to eight catches per game. He is a boom-or-bust type of asset. If Maryland’s quarterback (presumably Caleb Rowe) is able to open up the field with shorter intermediate routes, Leak’s potential becomes even bigger.
Two of the biggest x-factors next season could be running-back-turned-wideout Jacquille Veii and sophomore Juwann Winfree. Veii was used in a variety of ways, which isn’t surprising given his history as a highly-touted running back. The Avalon star totaled 335 yards from scrimmage (230 receiving) in his first full season as a wideout, including three touchdowns. Obviously, Veii wasn’t the first option with guys like Diggs, Leak, and Long being targetted before him. However, he provided a different dynamic as a quick player that can line up anywhere on the field. With Maryland’s struggles in the backfield at times, Veii’s experience at the position proved to be beneficial to the Terps. He will likely be used in a similar fashion in 2015, but could see more touches depending on how some of Maryland’s young receivers progress entering the start of the regular season.
On the other hand, Winfree is arguably one of the Maryland wideouts with the most upside. In limited action in 2014, the highly-touted New Jersey receiver caught 11 balls for 158 yards and a pair of touchdowns. While it’s not a very small sample size, it’s pretty easy to see that Winfree has a ton of potential. His best game came against Michigan State where he caught four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Standing at 6’2, Winfree is a tall target that can get the necessary separation from defenders. His size is a key asset in the red zone whereas guys like Diggs and Veii may be limited in that area due to their height.
On top of all that, junior Amba Etta Tawo and incoming freshmen D.J. Moore (Imhotep High School, Pa.) also could figure into the rotation.
All in all, despite losing a dynamic playmaker like Diggs, Maryland still has the necessary pieces at the wide receiver position. There’s plenty of guys with speed mixed in with some guys with size. While Diggs is an elite type of athlete that doesn’t come around every day, the Terps should be well equipped as they enter their second season in the Big Ten.