Air traf­fic

OSU re­ceivers look to con­trol the pass­ing skies

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS - John Hel­s­ley jhel­s­ley@ ok­la­homan.com

Ma­son Ru­dolph found enough rea­sons three years ago to leave Rock Hill, S.C., for Still­wa­ter.

In the end, how­ever, the real rea­son was sim­ple.

“The sole rea­son I came here was to throw to peo­ple like James Wash­ing­ton and Mar­cell Ate­man and Chris Lacy and Jalen McCleskey,” said the Cow­boys quar­ter­back, “the list goes on and on.”

The list, a menu of Ok­la­homa State wide re­ceiver op­tions at Ru­dolph’s com­mand, now in­cludes touted LSU trans­fer Ty­ron John­son, and more, com­bin­ing for a group that’s gain- ing at­ten­tion as the top re­ceiv­ing corps in the coun­try.

Phil Steele, re­spected for the de­tailed anal­y­sis mark­ing his an­nual col­lege foot­ball pre­view mag­a­zine, pegs OSU’s col­lec­tion at No. 1 in his rank­ing of wide re­ceiver groups. Same with Bleacher Re­port and Athlon Sports and oth­ers.

The re­spect be­gins with Wash­ing­ton, who re­turns as the na­tion’s ac­tive leader among Power 5 con­fer­ence schools in ca­reer re­ceiv­ing yards and yards per re­cep­tion and tops all FBS re­ceivers in ca­reer touch­down catches. Yet the depth of pre­mium tar­gets, stretch­ing from McCleskey to Ate­man to Lacy and now to John­son is what makes this Cow­boys col­lec­tion spe­cial.

With the sea­son ap­proach­ing, marked by the be­gin­ning of Big 12 Me­dia Days Mon­day in Frisco, it’s con­ceiv­able that each of the five could be No. 1 tar­gets at plenty of schools across the coun­try.

“We re­ally have a threat ev­ery­where,” Wash­ing­ton said.

Wash­ing­ton, one of only five OSU play­ers in his­tory with mul­ti­ple 1,000-yard re­ceiv­ing sea­sons, en­ters 2017 as a unan­i­mous Pre­sea­son All-Big 12 se­lec­tion, tot­ing an im­pres­sive ré­sumé high­lighted by 152 re­cep­tions, 2,923 yards, 26 touch­downs and a whop­ping 19.2 av­er­age per catch that speaks to his ex­plo­sive­ness.

“I’m not sure why Wash­ing­ton doesn’t get much (na­tional) pub­lic­ity,” said ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., who slots the OSU wide­out at No. 24 on his early Big Board for 2018. “He’s out­stand­ing and has pro­duced for three years.”

The quick and shifty McCleskey ac­tu­ally led the Cow­boys in re­cep­tions a year ago with 73 out of the slot, two ahead of Wash­ing­ton’s 71. Ate­man, af­ter miss­ing 2016 with a foot in­jury, re­turns to of­fer his phys­i­cal 6-foot-4 pres­ence out­side. He en­joyed a break­out two years ago, av­er­ag­ing 17.0 yards on 45 re­cep­tions for 766 yards.

Lacy, who’s be­come known for his down­field block­ing, would be a wel­come top tar­get on many teams. One of four OSU re­ceivers to post a 100yard re­ceiv­ing day last fall, he fin­ished with 31 catches for 489 yards and three TDs. And he fol­lowed with a big spring game, most re­mem­bered for his 39-yard leap­ing catch over cor­ner­back Ro­dar­ius Wil­liams.

“You can’t dou­ble up on ev­ery­body,” Cow­boys de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Glenn Spencer said, pro­ject­ing the dilemma for op­pos­ing de­fenses this fall. “We took James away on a cou­ple plays and some­body else caught balls. That pro­vided a pic­ture of what this year could be. There’s only so much you can do.

“Good for us on of­fense, right?”

John­son, the high­es­trated of the Cow­boys re­ceivers out of high school, is a for­mer fives­tar prospect who bolted LSU in search of an of­fense more com­mit­ted to pass­ing. He to­taled 181 re­cep­tions, 3,022 yards and 34 touch­downs his fi­nal two years at War­ren Eas­ton High in New Or­leans, and flashed big-play skills reg­u­larly at OSU in the spring, even ri­val­ing Wash­ing­ton in that de­part­ment.

“As if (Mike Gundy) didn’t al­ready have an em­bar­rass­ment of riches, get­ting LSU trans­fer Ty­ron John­son to come to Ok­la­homa State was a mas­sive coup,” said Bleacher Re­port’s Brad Shep­ard.

And OSU’s stash of re­ceiv­ing ta­lent ex­tends be­yond five deep.

Dil­lon Stoner, who carved out a role as a true fresh­man a year ago be­fore be­ing shut down by in­jury, is back and healthy. Red­shirt fresh­man Tyrell Alexan­der earned a lot of ac­tion in the spring and the next wave is on its way, led by four-star re­cruits Ty­lan Wal­lace and LC Green­wood.

“I see us be­ing dou­ble what we were last year,” Wash­ing­ton said. “When you have that many good re­ceivers, you can go any­where you want with the ball.”

That’s why Ru­dolph is here – still here, af­ter pass­ing on the op­por­tu­nity to jump to the NFL af­ter last sea­son.

Left, right and mid­dle, he’s got op­tions. And each of those op­tions can go get the ball. And go score.

“The Cow­boys – who also have my top-ranked se­nior quar­ter­back, Ma­son Ru­dolph – will be fun to watch,” Kiper said.

[PHO­TOS BY SARAH PHIPPS, NATE BILLINGS AND CHRIS LANDSBERGER/ THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Chris Lacy (15), James Wash­ing­ton (28), Jalen McCleskey (1) and Mar­cell Ate­man (3) are con­sid­ered by most ex­perts to be the best re­ceiv­ing corp in the coun­try.

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