OSU receivers look to control the passing skies
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.
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.