Oklahoma football: Early spring look at the 2023 receivers group

Dec 29, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Drake Stoops (12) catches a touchdown pass as Oregon Ducks cornerback Trikweze Bridges (11) defends in the first half of the 2021 Alamo Bowl at Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 29, 2021; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Drake Stoops (12) catches a touchdown pass as Oregon Ducks cornerback Trikweze Bridges (11) defends in the first half of the 2021 Alamo Bowl at Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Expert’s note: This is the fifth installment in our series of articles taking a spring look at the offensive and defensive position groups ahead of the 2023 Oklahoma football season. Today we focus on wide receiver and tight end.

The Sooners lose some major production in the receiving corps with the departure of Marvin Mims, Brayden Willis and Theo Wease. Mims and Wease are off to the NFL and Wease has transferred to Missouri.

Those three players alone accounted for 40 percent of OU’s pass receptions last season, 51 percent of the receiving yards and 17 of the Sooners’ 30 touchdowns through the air.

Running back Eric Gray was also used as a receiver out of the backfield in the 2022 season and caught 33 passes for 229 yards. Jovantae Barnes and Gavin Sawchuk, the two returners expected to see the most action at running back this season, caught a total of six passes a year ago.

All of this to say the wide receiver group is the most inexperienced of all the OU position groups as the Sooners train and prepare for the 2023 season.

Junior Jahlil Farooq and sixth-year Sooner Drake Stoops are the most experienced of the 2023 wide-receiver group. Farooq is expected to assume the role of Dillon Gabriel’s prime receiving target, taking over for Mims, and Stoops is Mr. Dependable and the veteran of the group when a ball is thrown his way.

Farooq made 36 catches last season for 461 yards and five touchdowns, his most productive season in the two he has been at Oklahoma. Stoops doubled his production in 2022 from the previous four seasons with 39 receptions for 393 yards and three receiving touchdowns.

After Farooq and Stoops, sophomore Gavin Freeman is the Sooners’ most experienced returning receiver, and he had just three catches for 46 yards and a touchdown a year ago.

Barring injury, Oklahoma should be in good shape replacing departing tight end Willis. Austin Stogner has returned to Oklahoma after a one season at South Carolina. The former four-star recruit from the Sooners’ 2019 class caught 47 passes for over 600 yards and eight touchdowns in his previous three seasons at OU. He missed a good part of his junior season due to an injury. Last season. playing with former Sooner teammate Spencer Rattler, Stogner caught 20 passes for 210 yards, but really wasn’t used that much in the passing game.

The OU wide receiver group for OU this coming season may lack experience but not for talent and desire, given the opportunity. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel, for one, is not concerned about the passing game for the Sooners heading into their final season in the Big 12.

"“I like it,” the Sooner QB told reporters after practice last week. “I think they’ve competed well, and it’s a healthy room, which is good. We need that because the receiving room is a committee.”"

Oklahoma also brought in a new receivers coach in former Texas Tech assistant Emmett Jones. who has a strong reputation for the development of wide receivers at the Division I level, and the timing of his hire could be just what the young group of OU receivers need to take the next step in their career development and make expected contributions to the offense.

Expected to step up from the depth chart into larger roles in 2023 are sophomore wide receivers Jayden Gibson and Nic Anderson. At 6-foot, 5 inches, Gibson is the tallest wide receiver the Sooners have had in many a year, matching a growing trend currently in college football. Gibson caught just one pass his freshman year, and Anderson missed practically the entire season with an injury. Both are having a good spring.

Sooner fans should also keep an eye on two former transfers who played sparingly for OU last season: LV Bunkley-Shelton and J.J. Hester. Bunkley-Shelton caught 44 passes for 518 yards and a pair of touchdowns in two seasons playing at Arizona State. Hester caught 12 passes for 25 yards and two touchdowns in one active season at Missouri. Both were four-star prospects out of high school. Bunkley-Shelton was rated the No. 16 wide receiver in the 2020 class, and Hester was the No. 36 wide receiver in the same class, according to 247Sports

D.J. Graham is working out at wide receiver this spring. He was recruited in the 2020 class as a wide receiver/athlete but was converted to defensive back because of the depth the Sooners had in the receivers room. He played well on defense, but wide receiver is where he really wanted to be, and this season he will get that opportunity.

With the departure of Marvin Mims, Oklahoma’s biggest deep threat coming into the new season may be Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony. The 6-foot, 2-inch receiver is extremely fast. He had 19 catches for 328 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons at Michigan and averaged 21 yards per catch his freshman season. Anthony has two years of eligibility remaining.

A pair of 2023 recruits could also see the field this season. Jaquaize Pettaway is a four-star WR prospect out of Houston, Texas, and possesses elite speed and elusiveness. Keyon Brown, out of Tallahassee, Florida, is another big target at 6-foot, 3 inches that gives the Sooners an advantage on jump balls.

"“I love my classroom. I love my classroom,” Jones repeated in talking about the skill sets and coachability of OU’s wide receiver room.“I got all types of skill sets. The good thing about it is we’re kind of young, too. Young but eager to learn. Eager to get experience,” he said. “We got length. We got true slots, small-type bodies. Guys that have grit.”"

The mood is extremely positive regarding the OU wide receiver position. The raw talent is certainly there. Now we’ll see how it translates to the field.