UConn’s wide receiver group heading into the 2021 season presents a bit of a puzzle. On paper, the same group of wide players that return from the 2019 season has not shown much in the way of production. But these players have dazzled at times, demonstrating individual skill and providing Husky fans hope for the future at that position.
Cameron Ross, UConn’s 5-foot-9 sophomore, led the team with 723 yards receiving and four touchdowns in 2019, but nobody else stood out on the stat sheet. Their second-leading receiver was a graduate transfer who has since departed, and no other player had over 300 yards receiving. Out of the remaining receivers, sophomore Matt Drayton was the closest in yardage, with 278 yards receiving and two touchdowns on the year.
All signs pointed to Ross and Drayton as the top two receiving options entering 2021. Then Drayton suffered a preseason knee ligament injury that will have him out for the season. Now, a relatively unproven wide receiving corps led by Ross will have to step up to provide options on offense.
“I think from day one they have to go out and compete, they have to push each other,” receivers coach Aaron Smith said. “When the opportunity comes, we need to capitalize on it, making it a situation where we want to put the ball in the air.”
Ross was in the top five among freshmen in receptions, receiving yards, and yards per reception, using his quick feet and speed to create separation from opposing defensive backs. His talents flashed the brightest against ECU in 2019, where he had 169 yards receiving and two touchdowns, including a 94-yard catch and run touchdown to tie the game up in the second half. The sophomore lined up mostly in the slot, where his 5-foot-9 frame is best utilized. Offensive coordinator Frank Giufre also sent him on a number of jet sweep runs out of the backfield in 2019, a creative way to get the ball in the hands of your most talented players.
Each member of the UConn receiving corps behind Ross has flashed promise in their own way. With Drayton out, Cameron Hairston, a redshirt junior from Lee’s Summitt, Missouri, will have to step up as an outside receiver. He’s one of the bigger skill players on the roster, standing 6-foot-2 with sure hands, and had zero drops on 18 targets in 2019.
Along with Ross, senior tight end Jay Rose will provide leadership among skill position players heading into 2021. Rose caught 27 passes for 261 yards in the 2019 season. He might have to take on a bigger pass-catching role this year, with Ross the only returning proven receiving threat.
“The leadership part is the biggest thing I’ve seen from him,” tight ends coach Corey Edsall said. “He’s a lot more vocal, demanding of the tight ends and of the offense, [and] he does a really good job of getting guys going in practice.”
Backing up Rose will be another exciting young talent, sophomore Jayce Medlock. He only has eight receptions headed into 2021, but at 6-foot-2 and 230 lbs, he’s a physically imposing tight end who has improved his run blocking according to Randy Edsall.
Redshirt sophomores Elijah Jeffries and Heron Maurisseau will also have the chance to step into larger roles heading in 2021. Maurisseau caught 10 passes in 2019 for 114 yards in 2019, while Jeffries, the 6-foot-4 former track star, had 11 catches, 143 yards, and a touchdown.