Kansas State has been struggling for years at the receiver positions; the last time the team had a first-class corps was when Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, and Chris Harper were helping Collin Klein prove he wasn’t just a running quarterback.
Klein is now in charge of the offense, and for the first time in years K-State might have the tools to effectively spread the field. More importantly, they might have the right position coach in place to help them excel. Thad Ward, who had two receivers combine for nearly 2,000 yards receiving in 2019 at Temple, of all places, takes over as wide receivers coach for the Wildcats. Ward was also the receivers coach at Northern Illinois over the latter half of their run as kings of the MAC Western Division.
Ward will depend primarily on two returning seniors with a boatload of talent. Malik Knowles and Phillip Brooks will anchor the Wildcat receiving corps, providing a wealth of experience. While both have been far more notable during their time in Manhattan for their prowess in the return game, they’ll be important targets for Adrian Martinez.
Early in his K-State career, Knowles combined obvious talent and electricty with a seeming lack of focus and a string of nagging injuries. That all seemed to change in 2021. In the wake of a false report that he was hitting the transfer portal, Knowles appeared to have something to prove. Over the final stretch last year Knowles finally became Skylar Thompson’s security blanket, capping off the season with a fantastic game against LSU in the Texas Bowl. Knowles is already in K-State’s top 10 all-time in receiving touchdowns.
Brooks also made big strides in 2021 after primarily being a special teams weapon. Prior to last year the senior was mostly a checkdown target, but he actually led the team in 2022 with 543 receiving yards and 43 receptions.
The third primary piece of the receiving corps will again be Kade Warner, who will have the benefit of being the only receiver to whom Martinez has already thrown a pass in a regular season game, as they were former teammates at Nebraska.
Tight end Sammy Wheeler is the most prominent returning pass catcher at that position, having hauled in 15 passes last year. After a year at fullback Ben Sinnott has returned to the tight end group, where he may also contribute.
Although he’s a running back, a preview of the Wildcat receivers would be incomplete without mentioning Deuce Vaughn. He’ll once again effectively function as a receiver option; he’s amassed 902 receiving yards in just two seasons, and as such is threatening to end up in K-State’s top 10 all-time in the big three receiving categories before he’s done.
Behind the two veterans, depth might be an issue — especially after the sudden departure of Chabastin Taylor over the summer. Taylor had been expected to break out in 2021 after showing some talent the previous season, but suffered through injuries which limited him to just one catch; having received his degree and a good job offer, Taylor decided to move on.
Redshirt freshman RJ Garcia, junior Keenan Garber, and Ole Miss transfer junior Jadon Jackson appear to to be the primary backups at this point, and Seth Porter — who finally made the step up from special teams late last season — has played his way into a second-string slot along with freshman Xavier Loyd, who earned accolades in camp. Erik Pizarro, a senior transfer from Lamar, might also make a little noise; he started every game for Lamar from midway through his redshirt freshman season.
With a couple of exceptions, everyone else in the receivers room is either a freshman or has solely played on special teams.
And we would be remiss in not noting that there is now yet another Lockett in Manhattan. Sterling Lockett, Tyler’s younger brother, is now on campus as a freshman. There hasn’t been much noise about him, so it’s unclear whether he factors into K-State’s 2022 plans — but a sudden breakout as a freshman from any Wildcat receiver named Lockett cannot be ruled out, can it?