When I broke down the commitment of Joshua Youngblood after he committed at the end of January I said, “Finally, he could be a returner and gadget player early in his career. I would be shocked if he isn’t given an opportunity to return kicks.”
Needless to say, I wasn’t shocked.
Since Mr. Youngblood matriculated from sunny Tampa, Florida to the Flint Hills of Kansas, all he has done is shatter expectations and collect awards. After just one season in the program, Josh is going to need to invest in a larger trophy case.
Joshua Youngblood Accolades
2020 Preseason All-Big 12
2019 All-American Kick Returner (ESPN)
2019 Second Team All-American Kick Returner (CBS Sport, Football Writers Association of America)
2019 First Team Freshman All-American All-Purpose Athlete (The Athletic)
2019 First Team All-Big 12 Kick Returner (Coaches)
2019 First Team All-Big 12 All-Purpose Athlete (AP)
2019 Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year (Coaches)
2019 Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week (Iowa State)
2019 Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week (Texas Tech)
You can now add 2020 Preseason First Team All-American (CBS Sports/247Sports All-American) to the list. Even with the paired down conferences, Youngblood was all but a lock as a first team selection after taking three kickoffs to the house last season.
Returning kicks is obviously on the docket for Josh this season, but a funny thing happens when you return three kicks for touchdowns in one season...teams tend to stop kicking you the ball. This, in and of its self, isn’t terrible. When you stop kicking it to a specific guy, you ask your kicker to perform a task he’s not used to executing. Kickoff specialists are asked to kick the ball as far as they can, generally straight down the middle. When you ask them to aim, bad things tend to happen. You’re going to see numerous kicks out of bounds, kicks squibbed short, and some plain shanked in order to avoid putting the ball in the hands of the most explosive kick returner in college football.
On the downside, you’ll see the ball in Youngblood’s hands less on special teams. Having him stroll into the endzone on the return team will improve the Wildcats field position, even if he doesn’t get to touch the ball, but from what I’ve heard about Josh, merely being a threat in the return game won’t satisfy him.
He recently went on the record saying he wants to be a 1,000/1,000/1,000 player. That’s 1,000 rushing yards, 1,000 receiving yards, and 1,000 return yards. To put that in perspective, the closest Reggie Bush got to 1,000 x 3 was his Sophomore season when he put up 908 rushing yards, 509 receiving yards, and 913 combined punt and kick return yards.
While 1,000/1,000/1,000 seems a bit...ambitious (especially in a shortened season), it does give you a clue about his expanded role for the 2020 season. Last season he put up 510 combined return yards, 55 rushing yards, and 73 receiving yards. Needless to say, he needs to be significantly more involved in the offensive game plan to get close to his goal. I think it’s fair to anticipate that in 2020.
Keep in mind, he was a high school quarterback and his main job was to take the snap and run. In fact, in his high school film, he looks like a kick returner playing quarterback, probing the defense for a gap and then exploding into the open field.
When he committed I compared him to former Clemson player (and Tampa legend) Ray-Ray McCloud. Ray-Ray was an excellent kick returner, but never an All-American, giving Josh a leg up on that comparison already, but I was more interested in his transition from high school quarterback to wide receiver. Ray-Ray was a record setting running back in high school, but at a slender 5’9, 175 pounds, it was apparent that his future rested at wide receiver.
Much like Josh last season, it took Ray-Ray a year to grasp the intricacy of playing wide receiver. As a freshman, McCloud caught 29 passes for 251 yards, mostly on screen passes. As a sophomore, he expanded his game, catching 49 passes for 472 yards. I expect the same jump from Youngblood this season. Coach Jason Ray has been working diligently to get Josh up to speed as a wide receiver, and I have no doubt that you’ll see the dividends of that hard work on the field this season. I anticipate seeing more than drag routes and screens in his arsenal this year. The first crisp option route he breaks off to pick up a 1st down on 3rd and 6 will almost certainly garner a fist pump from Coach Ray.
We all know Josh can do the big things. This year, we see if he can do the little things as well. Personally, Youngblood is the last person on this roster I would bet against.