Who is in the mix?
When Aaron Jones declared for the NFL Draft, the attention truly turned to the UTEP passing game for 2017 production.
After a spring, and fall camp, the UTEP wide receiver and tight end corps might surprise a few people during conference play, but questions still remain.
Who will step up to help Metz? Can someone have a big-time breakout year? And will UTEP finally develop a vertical passing game?
The pieces are there as UTEP returns guys like Warren Redix, Kavika Johnson, Tyler Batson, Eddie Sinegal and Terry Juniel who all saw plenty of snaps last season.
Someone from this group must emerge as a guy who can haul in 30 or more catches, and be able to make plays on third down, as well as provide a big play factor.
All five can mostly be labeled as possession type receivers, but watching Redix and Juniel in camp brought out some much needed explosiveness on simple routes they were able to stretch after the catch.
Batson battled through injuries last season, and could bounce back as a deep threat, while Johnson continues to grow as a reliable and physical wideout.
Sinegal had an 100-yard receiving game last season, and has a natural connection with Metz as a guy to really watch in his sophomore season. The Andress grad was the Miners second highest targeted wide out last season, and averaged 7.2 yards per target.
So while all five have somewhat established themselves over the past season, JUCO transfer Alan Busey could be a major impact player.
Busey has great ball skills, and is certainly taller than he’s officially listed at 6’1. Many around the program feel Busey is the vertical threat the Miners have been missing.
One of UTEP’s most interesting prospect at wide out is sophomore transfer Kenyan Foster who will play out of the slot. Foster could be the Miners fastest slot receiver, and could crack the regular rotation with his speed.
At tight end, UTEP is basically rebuilding after losing Hayden Plinke to graduation.
Josh Weeks and David Lucero are very capable pass catchers who excel on the simple out, and crossing routes UTEP usually dials up for the tight ends.
Sterling Napier has been UTEP’s blocking specialist, and physical enforcer, but could be asked to produce in the passing this season.
Lucero and Weeks could develop into a productive tandem, but consistency will separate whether who gets the most targets and whether they do end up producing.
Plinke led the Miners in targets last season, so making most of them will be an important mark when you look at how tight ends are used in UTEP’s offense.
Predicting a break out player
When looking at this group, you can make a case for every single player named to make an bigger impact in 2017.
I’ll go with Redix, Weeks, and Busey as the main breakout guys.
Not saying a Batson, Johnson, Sinegal or Juniel can’t break out, but these guys have broke out before, and will get their chances to shine this season as well.
Redix is simply due for a big breakout junior year, Weeks looked really solid on crossing routes in camp, while Busey could bring a “WOW” factor that has been missing from UTEP passing game.
Sinegal is still young enough to predict he will develop into a major impact player sooner than later, and Foster has the potential to be a home run hitter with his speed.
Another guy who might not see the field this year, but has FBS talent is El Paso’s Richie Rodriguez.
I saw Rodriguez torch secondaries across El Paso while he was at Eastwood, and there is no denying his talent, speed, and big play ability. Simply put, he’s a play maker, and can produce in C-USA.
A red shirt year could be beneficial for his strength, but Rodriguez is legit and will become a fun player to watch in the future.