By Jeff Milby —
Having lost its top two receivers in James Quick and Jamari Staples, the 2017 receiving corps return 48 percent of both receptions and yards from 2016, and 62 percent of receiving touchdowns.
Coming off of a season in which Louisville ranked fourth in the ACC in passing offense, here are the players that will vie for the opportunity to catch passes from Lamar Jackson in 2017:
Reggie Bonnafon, senior
2016 stats: 13 receptions for 159 yards (12.2 yards per reception) and five touchdowns
Once considered the heir apparent at the quarterback position, the local product from Louisville’s Trinity High School finds himself as the jack-of-all-trades for the Cardinals in his senior year. The 6-foot-3- athlete lined up in the backfield to bolster a depleted running back corps in the spring game, and fans can expect him to play there as well as out wide come fall.
Make no mistake, Bonnafon is a talented runner as well as pass-catcher. He actually has more yards rushing for his career (346 yards on 122 attempts) than receiving (264 yards on 23 receptions), albeit most of his rushing yards came in his days as a quarterback. Still, Bonnafon should provide a wildcard for Petrino to use in a variety of ways.
As one of the few seniors in this receiving corps with significant playing experience, Bonnafon will also be expected to fill the leadership role for this group.
Jaylen Smith, junior
2016 stats: 27 receptions for 599 yards (22.2 yards per reception) and six touchdowns
Smith is expected to be the star of this receiving corps in 2017. Louisville’s leading returning receiver in every major statistical category, he was time and again a big-play threat last season.
Smith sat even with Quick for second most receiving touchdowns (six) and his 22.2 yards per reception was good for third in the country. His 74-yard touchdown against NC State was the longest reception by a Cardinal player all season, and the second-longest play of any kind.
At 6-foot-4 and 219 lbs., Smith has the potential to be a stud this year, and he should be considered the favorite to lead this group.
Traveon Samuel, junior
2016 stats: 18 receptions for 230 yards (12.8 yards per reception) and one touchdown
The diminutive Samuel stands at a mere 5-foot-7, but the junior from Phenix City, Alabama has the speed and quickness to be a big play, home-run threat out of the slot for the Cardinals in 2017.
Samuel steadily improved as a freshman and sophomore, but will be counted on more heavily this year. No slouch in the versatility department himself, Samuel also features on special teams and in the running game, returning 11 kickoffs for 190 yards (17.3 yards per return) and rushing eight times for 61 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and a touchdown last season.
Seth Dawkins, sophomore
2016 stats: 11 receptions for 191 yards (17.4 yards per reception) and one touchdown
Dawkins began his college career about as well as anyone might have hoped, with his first collegiate reception going for a touchdown. A solid freshman campaign has built up some expectation for Dawkins in 2017, but he’ll have to continue to improve his ball skills and route running if he expects to make the leap into a big-time role this season.
Listed at 6-foot-3-and 206 lbs., Dawkins is a big athlete that has all the physical tools necessary to be a strong target for Jackson. If he can continue to develop the finer aspects of his game, Dawkins has the chance to be a big-time player.
Dawkins also featured in the kickoff return game as well, with 14 returns for 306 yards (21.9 yards per return).
Dez Fitzpatrick, redshirt freshman
2015 high school stats (Waterford Mott HS, Farmington Hills, Michigan): 60 receptions for 1,317 yards (21.2 yards per reception) and 23 touchdowns
A potential breakout star this season, Fitzpatrick was sensational in the Red-White spring game, catching nine passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yard grab that went all the way to the end-zone.
At 6-foot-2 and 200 lbs., Fitzpatrick has the size, skill and athleticism to seize as much playing time as he wants. But, just one showing in front of the crowd won’t be enough to guarantee a sizable role this fall.
If the former four-star recruit can continue to build chemistry with Jackson this summer, there’s a real chance for a standout campaign from Fitzpatrick in 2017.
Devante Peete, junior
2016 stats: Four receptions for 70 yards (17.5 yards per reception)
At 6-foot-6 inches tall, Peete has the lanky build to be an asset in the passing game, but has yet to fully display his attributes offensively. The Pampano Beach, Florida native contributed on special teams in 2016, though, posting 10 tackles as a captain of the unit.
Javonte Bagley, senior
2016 stats: Three receptions for 21 yards (seven yards per reception)
The 6-foot-3 Bagley has found playing time at Louisville hard to come by. He appeared in just seven games in 2016, and figures to have to fight for playing time this fall.
Emonee Spence, redshirt sophomore
2016 stats: N/A
After making one reception against Houston in his freshman year of 2015, Spence injured his foot in fall camp last season, forcing him to miss the entire 2016 season.
Keon Wakefield, redshirt freshman
2015 high school stats (Louisville Male HS, Louisville, Kentucky.): 15 receptions for 287 yards (19.1 yards per reception) and four touchdowns
A shifty and explosive hometown product, Wakefield won a state championship his senior year of high school. He showed some moments of promise in the spring game, and at 5-foot-10, could play a role behind Samuel on the depth chart in the slot.
Joshua Johnson, freshman
2016 high school stats (Woodward Academy, Atlanta, Georgia): 51 receptions for 1,111 yards (21.8 yards per reception) and 11 touchdowns
Weighing just 170 lbs., Johnson will need to fill out his 5-foot-10 frame to see the field in the future. Johnson chose Louisville over Boston College, Wake Forest, Utah, Illinois and Rutgers, among other schools. A very agile and versatile player, expect Johnson to play a role similar to Samuel and Wakefield once his physicals come around.
Justin Marshall, freshman
Newton HS, Covington, Georgia
Considered a four-star recruit, Marshall has good release off the ball and is athletic enough to pull down a jump ball. With above average ball skills and an ideal frame (6-foot-2, 190 lbs.) Marshall gained a lot of recruiting attention in the south. He chose Louisville over Cincinnati, Auburn, North Carolina, South Carolina State, Tennessee and Western Kentucky, among other schools.
Corey Reed Jr., freshman
Roswell HS, Atlanta, Georgia
At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Reed will walk onto campus already with the frame of a collegiate receiver. He is a very physical receiver that is aggressive with defensive backs in any situation. Speed isn’t his strong suit but Reed is a different player to bring down with one defender. He chose Louisville over Cincinnati, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Miami (FL), among other schools.
File photo / The Louisville Cardinal