Oklahoma football: Early look at 2021 wide receivers

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles previewing the Oklahoma football position groups for the 2021 season.

The wide receiver position has perpetually been a strength for the Sooners since the calendar turned to the new millennium.

Since 2015, OU has seen bona fide stars like CeeDee Lamb, “Hollywood” Brown, Dede Westbrook, and Sterling Shepard come to Norman and dominate en route to the NFL. The Sooners are never hurting for talent when it comes to catching the football.

Last season, the emergence of Marvin Mims was a sight to behold. In the wake of a knee injury to former five-star recruit Jadon Haselwood and Trejan Bridges’ bizarre suspension, the Sooners were suddenly looking thin at a position that was supposed to be loaded with premium talent.

The Sooners added two wide-receiver transfers in Theo Howard (from UCLA) and Obi Obialo (from Marshall), neither of whom contributed much production.

Theo Wease, one of three five-star receivers in the 2019 class, emerged late in the season as a reliable target after dealing with a small drop issue early on. Drake Stoops , son of former Sooners head coach Bob Stoops, became an unlikely contributor as well, catching some clutch balls and proving to be one of the best blockers at his position.

2021 wide-receiver outlook

The Sooners return all three five-star receivers from the 2019 class (Haselwood, Wease and Bridges), and added another five-star recruit for 2021 in Mario Williams. Add Mims in that mix and you have a spoil of riches at the wide-receiver position.

With the glut of receivers currently on the Sooners roster, and a Heisman candidate returning at QB, 2021 is shaping up to be a massive year for the passing game. But a troubling statistic from 2020 looms large; A whopping NINE passes were dropped in the end zone by OU receivers in 2020. Some of them were Rattler’s best throws.

If the Sooners are going to make a championship run like most experts think they can, OU will need it’s elite receivers to be, well, elite.

Who’s WR1?

You might be inclined to pencil in Marvin Mims as the top target for the Sooners going into 2021, and there’s ample reason to do so. However, Jadon Haselwood has the most star potential. He flashed this kind of playmaking ability sporadically in 2019 and 2020. He dealt with an ACL injury last season which sidelined him for most of the season.

Haselwood’s biggest strength is his toughness in both catching tough balls in traffic as well as running after the catch. In the Big 12 Championship game, Haselwood showed that toughness by making a difficult grab in double coverage through plenty of contact.

Theo Wease has flashed big play ability. In 2020, he hauled in 37 balls for 530 yards and four TD’s. Wease did struggle with a few drops, but proved that he was as good as advertised down the stretch.

Wease is very elusive in the open field, and can turn short throws into long gains. He also made some extremely tough grabs in tight coverage against Texas that went a long way in securing that Red River rivalry overtime victory.

Last but not least, Mims has potential to be the top receiver again if he continues to improve. He’s an elite route runner who seems to always be open. He has a knack for the end zone too; he caught nine touchdowns in 2020. As a freshman talent, Mims was a welcome surprise to the Sooners last season, but his 2021 campaign could be even better.

What about the rest?

This is where things get interesting, and possibly a little dicey. With three more five-stars vying for playing time, an elite receiver in the sophomore Mims, and a solid contributor in Drake Stoops, how do all of them share the wealth?

The Sooners depth at the wide-receiver position could look a lot different next season depending on how things shake out. With Haselwood and Bridges back in the fold, and the addition of Mario Williams, will Mims or Wease see a slightly diminished role in the offense? Could Drake Stoops see a significant decrease in playing time?

I don’t think it’s likely that Mims or Wease see any significant decrease in production in 2021 due to the vastness of the Sooners’ depth at the position. However, it will be interesting to see how playing time is balanced between that many potential stars. It’s a good problem to have for head coach and offensive mastermind Lincoln Riley.

The real challenge comes after the 2021 season is over. If any of these talented receivers don’t see the kind of time or production they would’ve hoped, they could hit the transfer portal. When Haselwood opted out of the Cotton Bowl, there was fear among Sooner fans that he might leave for greener pastures. Thankfully, that didn’t come to pass.

With that many cooks in the kitchen, it’s hard to imagine the Sooners can hang on to that many elite receivers in today’s climate. The transfer portal is in vogue, and makes building depth that much harder. There’s only so many snaps in a football game. It will be a challenge to keep that many stars happy.

The future is bright for this Sooner offense. Then again, the Sooner offense never really slowed down. Lincoln Riley will struggle to keep his five-star receivers happy in 2021, but all things considered, that’s a good problem to have.