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2011 Big Sky position rankings: Wide receivers
It’s a shame, really. But for all the talent in the Big Sky Conference at the wide receiver position, we could only put 10 on this list.
Guys like Eastern Washington’s Ashton Gant, Montana State’s Elvis Akpla and Sacramento State’s Morris Norrise – guys capable of having big seasons upcoming – were omitted. As were a couple mid-year transfers and a couple freshmen that could make an impact.
But there’s a reason for that, as you’ll see.
The best WR in the Big Sky Conference is …
NOTE: This is the third installment of a nine-part series in which we project the Top 10 players at each position in advance of the 2011 Big Sky Conference football season – summer transfers be damned!
After a national championship season – and with one of the league’s top quarterbacks in tow – Eastern Washington is well represented. As is Northern Colorado, which is not short on pass-catching talent. Sacramento State had one of the Big Sky’s top offenses a season ago, and the Hornets have a huge target on this list ready for a big-time year.
Here is how we broke it down …
TOP 10 WIDE RECEIVERS
1 - Brandon Kaufman, Jr., Eastern Washington
Comment: Big target led league in catches, yards and TDs.
2 - Jace Davis, Jr., Northern Colorado
Comment: As consistent as they come in the Big Sky.
3 - Austin Shanks, Sr., Northern Arizona
Comment: Go-to guy will ease loss of QB Michael Herrick.
4 - Chase Deadder, Sr., Sacramento State
Comment: Primed for big year in Hornets’ stellar offense.
5 - Everett Gilbert, Jr., Montana State
Comment: Has caught a pass in 22 of 23 career games.
6 - Jabin Sambrano, Sr., Montana
Comment: Looks to bounce-back after injury-plagued campaign.
7 - Nicholas Edwards, Jr., Eastern Washington
Comment: Possesion-type caught 57 passes and 7 TDs in 2010.
8 - Antwon Moutra, Sr., Montana
Comment: Led Griz in TDs and yards per-catch last year.
9 - Patrick Walker, Sr., Northern Colorado
Comment: Had 90 catches and 7 TDs in past two seasons.
10 - Tanner Bleskin, Soph., Montana State
Comment: Came of age as freshman; the sky’s the limit.
Nobody made a bigger catch last season than Brandon Kaufman. The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder snagged a late TD pass from Bo Levi Mitchell to erase a 19-point deficit and lift Eastern Washington to the FCS national title. But that was only the icing on the cake. Kaufman led the Big Sky in catches (76), yards (1,214) and touchdowns (15), and figures to be in for another big year with Mitchell returning at quarterback.
Jace Davis was named to first-team all-conference last year, and it’s no secret why. Davis caught a pass in every game for Northern Colorado last season, and eclipsed 100 yards three times. He had an 8-catch, 207-yard, 2-touchdown performance in a thriller at Montana State. For the season, Davis averaged 18.7 yards per catch and scored seven TDs.
Sure, star QB Michael Herrick is gone, but Austin Shanks is back, along with his 65 receptions from last season. The speedy Shanks – who never caught fewer than three passes in a game last year – is set to become Northern Arizona’s top pass-catcher in 2011. Shanks finished his junior season ranked second in the league in receptions per game (5.9).
Chase Deadder is one of eight returning starters on Sacramento State’s offense, a unit that exploded last year. Deadder, at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, had 788 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2010 while earning a second-team All-Big Sky nod. His 21.3 yards-per-catch average led the league. Deadder will be a big factor for the Hornets as they look to move into the upper echelon of the league following a much-improved season.
Everett Gilbert, with his combination of speed and quickness, can beat you in many ways. But his consistency has become a big benefit for Montana State perhaps more than any other factor. Gilbert has led the Cats in receptions the last two seasons, and has 94 catches for 1,130 yards and 8 touchdowns in that span. Solid.
He played in just nine games last year, but Jabin Sambrano still had more catches (39 total) and yards (584) than the season prior. Sambrano’s senior leadership will be big for the Grizzlies’ receiving corps. … Nicholas Edwards was left off the all-conference team, but he proved his worth in the playoffs. Edwards finished the year ranked fifth in the Big Sky in catches (53), while his seven TDs ranked second to teammate Brandon Kaufman. He had 26 catches for 281 yards and five touchdowns in the postseason alone. … Antwon Moutra’s talent is unquestioned. But he didn’t get the ball as much as he and the Griz would have liked last year (RB Chase Reynolds was UM’s top pass-catcher). Sill, Moutra’s 6 TDs and 16.7-yard average were tops on the team. … Along with Jace Davis, Patrick Walker will provide leadership in a young Northern Colorado receiving group. Walker made big strides by snagging six touchdowns last year. … Tanner Bleskin might end up higher on this list by season’s end. His 33-catch, 502-yard, three-TD performance as a frosh set the stage for a strong career at MSU.
By Greg Rachac, The Billings Gazette.