For the last few years of Bill Snyder’s tenure in Manhattan, the bitter departure of wide receivers from the program seemed to be an annual ritual. So it was a legitimate surprise when Snyder’s retirement was followed by the departure of the team’s top target in 2018 in Isaiah Zuber, compounded by the fact that he decamped for a team on this year’s schedule.
Zuber’s exit, followed by the sudden arrest and exile of Hunter Rison in the spring, was all the ammunition anyone needed to declare that Kansas State would struggle in the passing game this year, and while it’s our position that the concerns are drastically overblown, there are in fact still concerns. It’s just that they revolve mostly around depth.
There were zero surprises in the first depth chart of the season. Dalton Schoen and, titularly, Wykeen Gill have been named the starters. That Gill got the nod over Malik Knowles is perhaps a mild surprise, but the reality is that all three will probably be on the field for the majority of the team’s snaps in 2019 barring injury. Further, when all three are on the field it’s probably a safe bet that it will be Schoen and Knowles posted on the outside, with Gill in the slot.
Schoen is the most-known quantity of the three. The senior captain exploded onto the scene two years ago as an unexpected deep threat — over 20 yards per catch — before a late-season injury. Although his stats were mostly better last season, catching nine more passes for 50 more yards, there was still a bit of a perception that he’d regressed rather than improved because the 2017 version of Schoen seemed to catch everything thrown in his zip code while last year’s version had a number of baffling drops.
Still, Schoen is probably just one catch away from reaching the 1,000 yard career mark, and he ranks fourth in school history in yards per catch. He’ll be a frequent target for Skylar Thompson, with whom he’s had a great working relationship since they both hit the field in 2017.
Gill, who redshirted in 2016 and disappeared in 2017, finally got on the field last year and was impressive in very limited duty. He’s also performed well in two straight spring games, and left basically zero doubt that he’d be a starter in fall practice.
Knowles only saw action in four games last season, preserving his redshirt. In those four games, he managed ten catches for exactly 100 yards, and scored twice. Not bad production for a guy who didn’t burn a second of eligibility. Knowles has the potential to be a truly electric talent, and a strong connection with Thompson this year could entirely salvage the situation at receiver and make a lot of experts look foolish.
The backups behind Gill are redshirt freshman Phillip Brooks, who saw action as a primary kick returner during his four-game foray into not using his eligibility, and sophomore Landry Weber of the K-State Athletics Webers. You know his dad, you know his brother, and you may even know his sister McKenzie, a senior on the volleyball team. They get around. Weber, like his brother before him, was a special teams beast last year; unlike his brother, he has managed to push his way into the rotation on offense.
Sophomore Chabastin Taylor has some experience, including a touchdown against Iowa State last year, and the problem with K-State’s receiving corps is now laid bare as we’ve completely run out of receivers with any experience at all to discuss.
But it’s not the end of the discussion.
Although he didn’t crack the depth chart, freshman Joshua Youngblood has been ringing bells all year. A running back at Berkeley Prep in Tampa, Youngblood will almost certainly see significant game action at some point; the staff has even stated that preserving his redshirt is not necessarily a priority. If he can push his way into the rotation during his first four games, he’ll stay there all year.
Quarterback Chris Herron, who has a shot at being the quarterback of the future in Manhattan, isn’t going to be getting any reps there in 2019 as a true freshman. But Chris Klieman seems to want to take advantage of his athletic ability, so he’s been getting work in at receiver and will probably get some snaps while he bides his time. He’s big and tall, which is a pair of attributes the corps could use this year.
The rest of the crew is all freshmen; of that group, Keenan Garber has the best chance of getting some real action. Part of the Great Lawrence Robbery of 2019, Garber was one of the top four players in Kansas last year according to literally everyone who matters.
Finally, two names you’re not used to us discussing in this particular preview: senior Blaise Gammon and sophomore Nick Lenners. They both actually caught passes last year as Snyder finally remembered it’s okay to throw the ball to your tight ends, and Klieman seems even more inclined to use them as receivers. However, Courtney Messingham’s offense views the tight ends and fullbacks as part of the same unit, so we honestly don’t know what their role will ultimately be.