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CU position preview: Buffs loaded with talent at receiver

Laviska Shenault one of many weapons at Colorado

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado receiver Tony Brown was third on the team in receptions and yards in 2018. He is one of several weapons for the Buffaloes at receiver this year.
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Colorado fans are excited to see what Laviska Shenault can do this season on the football field, and understandably so. After all, Shenault is one of the best receivers in the country and one of the top all-around players CU has had in a long time.

Shenault, meanwhile, can’t wait to see what his fellow receivers do this year.

“So many weapons,” Shenault said, shaking his head. “We’re all talented and we all can do something special.”

Leading up to fall camp, which starts Aug. 1, Buffzone.com is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, the focus is on the receivers.

The focus for opposing defenses will be on Shenault after he exploded last season. Despite missing three games because of injury, he had a season that ranks among the best in CU history and his 9.6 catches per game led the country. Not surprisingly, Shenault has been named preseason all-American by several publications and is on the watch list for the Biletnikoff and Maxwell awards.

Even without Shenault, however, the Buffs have explosive talent at receiver.

KD Nixon, Shenault’s good friend and former high school teammate, had a great season of his own in 2018, proving himself as a deep threat.

Senior Tony Brown was the Buffs’ third-leading receiver a year ago and made some big catches, as well. Receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini often praises Brown for his consistency from day to day.

In addition to those three, sophomores Daniel Arias and Maurice Bell – who have one career catch between them – were exceptional in the spring game, and hopes are high for slot receivers Jaylon Jackson and Dimitri Stanley.

“We have weapons outside for sure,” quarterback Steven Montez said.

Because of Shenault’s talent, it’s easy for Montez to lock in on him as a go-to receiver, but the senior passer said with the talent on the roster, he’s got plenty of options.

“I think sometimes I do key in on Viska, just because we want to get that man the ball, because of what he can do when the ball in his hands, but there’s no shortage of talent in our receiving corps,” he said. “I go where the reads take me most of the time. You like every matchup we have across the board with the guys we have outside.”

It certainly starts with Shenault.

Under the previous coaching staff last year, and with Chiaverini calling plays, Shenault did a bit of everything. He lined up at five different positions and in addition to racking up big numbers as a receiver, he was the Buffs’ short-yardage runner, scoring five rushing touchdowns.

Now the Buffs are led by first-year head coach Mel Tucker and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson. Because of injury recovery, Shenault didn’t participate in spring to get acclimated to the offense, but said he believes his versatility will be utilized.

“I’m interested to see what my role is going to be like, but I love being in the trenches,” he said. “I know I’m going to be in the trenches.”

Tucker said Shenault’s versatility and unique combination of size, strength and speed, “is part of his value,” but added he believes the Buffs have other receivers – and running backs and tight ends – who also can be multi-talented weapons.

“I don’t think you’re ever going to have a good offense if it’s a one-man show,” Tucker said. “You don’t want to be predictable. You want to have as many guys that have a significant role as possible, and at the same time getting the ball to your best players.

“It’s hard to defend an offense that has four or five really good, NFL (caliber) players. That’s what it comes down to. We have to do that. Some of those guys that we have, they have shown that they have the potential to be explosive players that can hurt you. We have to develop them and in the fall get them the ball and see what they can produce.”

Shenault is sure to be in the leading role, but for the Buffs to be at their best, the supporting cast has to be just as important.

Position: Receivers

Returners (2018 statistics)

Daniel Arias, So., 6-4, 205 (1 catch, 37 yards, 1 TD)

Maurice Bell, So., 6-0, 180 (played in three games)

Tony Brown, Sr., 6-1, 195 (32 catches, 333 yards, 1 TD)

Jaylon Jackson, So., 5-10, 180 (8 catches, 44 yards)

KD Nixon, Jr., 5-8, 185 (52 catches, 636 yards, 4 TD; rush: 9 att., minus-8 yards, 1 TD)

Laviska Shenault, Jr., 6-2, 220 (86 catches, 1,011 yards, 6 TD; rush: 17 att., 115 yards, 5 TD)

Dimitri Stanley, Fr., 5-11, 185 (redshirted; 6 catches, 43 yards; rush: 1 att.,  minus-1 yard)

Curtis Chiaverini, So., 6-1, 195 (walk-on; played in two games)

Additions

Braedin Huffman-Dixon, Fr., 6-2, 180 (true freshman)

Tarik Luckett, Fr., 6-3, 190 (true freshman)

Vontae Shenault, Fr., 6-2, 190 (true freshman)

Dylan Thomas, Fr., 6-2, 185 (redshirt freshman)

Clayton Baca, Fr., 6-1, 190 (walk-on)

Jake Groth, Fr., 6-4, 195 (walk-on)

Alex Smith, Fr., 5-9, 185 (walk-on)

Losses

Kabion Ento (graduated; 12 catches, 161 yards)

Jay MacIntyre (graduated; 20 catches, 165 yards, 2 TD)

Juwann Winfree (graduated; 28 catches, 324 yards, 2 TD)

2019 outlook: Once again, the Buffs have a group of receivers that stacks up with just about any team in the Pac-12. Laviska Shenault is an all-American candidate and he leads the way. Shenault wasn’t as effective when he came back for the last three games of the 2018 season, but still posted 26 catches for 231 yards – numbers that project to 104 catches and 924 yards for a full season. Nixon figures to once again be a focal point, as well, with Brown being a reliable target. Beyond that trio, the Buffs will need young players to step up and replace the production of Winfree and MacIntyre. Arias’ size and speed make him and intriguing option on the outside, while Bell hopes to turn a great spring into a great fall. Stanley is primed for a big year in the slot. Jackson’s talent has always been off the charts; if healthy (which he has been for the past year), he’ll get his chances, as well. The trio of true freshmen have exceptional talent, but might need to wait a year for their turn. It’s possible that one of them – Luckett being perhaps the most likely – will move to cornerback because of the Buffs’ lack of depth there.