Just like at running back, which Scott did a great job covering last week, Air Force loses quite a big of its 2018 firepower at wide receiver. Gone is Marcus Bennett, who led the receiving corps in the last two years in yards and catches. Gone is renaissance man Ronald Cleveland, who was not only lethal at WR, but also out of the backfield and as a return man. In fact, of the 10 receiving TDs scored by the Falcons last season, only 4 were by returning players. That doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare, however. It just means there will be an emphasis on some newcomers to step up and for some upperclass leaders to solidify their places as go-to targets for Donald Hammond, Isaiah Sanders, and the rest of the Air Force quarterback room. Let’s take a look at who is returning this year at the wide receiver and tight end positions!
Geraud Sanders seems like the natural bet to step into the void left by Bennett and Cleveland next year. He comes off a 2018 season in which he was third in both receptions and receiving yards behind the aforementioned Bennett and Cleveland, and he has shown flashes of being the go-to-guy in his career. In 2017, though he only started two games, he finished third on the team in receiving yards and tied for the team lead with three touchdowns. However, last year, even though he made some big catches, he was never able to find the endzone. If he is going to become the primary target for Hammond or Sanders, getting to paydirt four or five times next year will be critical to continuing to take his game to the next level.
Backing up Sanders on the two-deep is Benjamin Waters, a converted defensive back, who at least for now, appears to be poised to step into a role at wide receiver.
Starting opposite of Sanders on the post-spring depth chart is Ben Peterson, a converted RB, who, more than likely by committee, will be looking to step into that void left by Cleveland. His backup on the depth chart out of spring ball was Brandon Lewis, who caught five passes for 100 yards last year and has some game experience as a receiver. In addition to these two, there were a few other players who stood out in the spring game.
Both David Cormier and Jake Spiewak showed flashes of their potential during the spring scrimmage, and the two sophomores could provide some much needed depth heading into the season as the Falcons will be looking for contributors outside of Sanders early and often this year.
Of the four returning receiving touchdowns from last year, three of the four were caught by Kade Waguespack, a senior from Gonzales, LA who just might be the Falcons secret weapon in the redzone this year. The majority of the receiver position involves more blocking than catching in an option offense, and that is heightened even more for a tight end. Often lining up as a sixth lineman, the majority of the snaps are spent trying to open holes for running backs, but that means there is the occasional chance to slip behind the defense and grab a few receptions. No one did that better last year for Air Force than Waguespack, who hauled in nine receptions for 137 yards and the three touchdowns.
Backing up Waguespack is Lesley Dalger, a senior from Sunrise, FL. Be on the lookout for Luke Miller as well, who caught a touchdown in the spring game from Isaiah Sanders and good be poised to make some noise at the TE spot for the Falcons this fall!
What can we expect from the QBs?
We’ve already had our quarterback preview from Air Force contributor Scott Lopez. It was a great look at what both Donald Hammond III and Isaiah Sanders bring to the table. It would appear from an outsider’s perspective, which I certainly am, that Hammond is more likely to be named the starter heading into the fall, though they are both listed as co-starters on the depth chart. I bring that up, because the two of them are both capable of leading the Falcons offense as they showed last year, but they bring slightly different styles. Hammond appears to be a stronger runner overall, but Sanders probably has the better arm. That’s not to say either of them isn’t good at the other, and it won’t alter the offense too much, but I would expect more opportunities for the receivers and tight ends if Sanders gets the nod. It may not even be enough to really move the needle, and Calhoun will obviously go with whoever he feels gives him the best chance to move the chains and put points on the board, but it could have an impact on the utility and production of the wide receivers and tight ends in 2019.
Regardless, what is clear is that Geraud Sanders will need to emerge as the guy out of the receiver corps but will need some of the younger guys to step up and shoulder the load. And we can expect to see Waguespack finding the end zone even more than he did last year at tight end!
Is it football season yet?