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Oklahoma Sooners 2018 Season Preview: On the receiving end

Not surprisingly, most of the speculation about Oklahoma’s offense in the upcoming season has centered around replacing larger-than-life quarterback Baker Mayfield.

What’s getting less attention is the cadre of receiving threats who stand to make life much easier for Kyler Murray and Austin Kendall. The Sooners have one of the best receiving corps in the country to go along with a loaded stable of running backs and one of the best offensive lines in the country.

Matchup nightmare Mark Andrews and his team-leading 62 receptions and eight touchdown catches from 2017 left the NFL. He was joined by pass-catching fullback Dmitri Flowers and deep threat Jeff Badet. Still, OU brings back nearly 60 percent of its receptions, receiving yards and TD catches from a year ago.

Although they won’t compile the same gaudy statistics as last season’s unit, the Sooners could ultimately have a superior group of receivers in 2018 by the end of the year.

OU has seen a bevy of talented wideouts come through the program in the last 20 years. Sophomore CeeDee Lamb (46 receptions, 807 yards, seven TDs in '17) has a higher ceiling at this point in his career than all of them. You won’t find a hole anywhere in his game, which is why he started at the X position from the jump as a freshman and immediately became one of Mayfield’s most reliable targets in any situation: third down, vertical routes, quick game, et cetera.

If Lamb does grow into OU’s best receiver this year, junior Marquise Brown (57 receptions, 1,095 yards, seven TDs) won’t trail too far behind him. The scrawny speedster started the ‘17 campaign slowly before taking off in the back half of the year. He ended up leading OU in receiving yards, picking up nearly 20 per catch.

Hollywood’s ability to take the top off a defense from the Z spot opens up space for the rest of his compadres. Don’t sleep on what he can do out of jet motion – it feels like Riley only scratched the surface with that action a year ago.

As for the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Andrews, that will fall to sophomore Grant Calcaterra. The lanky Californian (6-4, 221 pounds) possesses the best hands on the team, witnessed in a spectacular TD grab versus TCU last season.

Calcaterra lacks the frame of Andrews, who is an inch taller and was listed last year at 254 pounds. Yet, Calcaterra seems poised to become an even more consistent deep threat based on his effortless catching style. He could end up winning more than his fair share of 50/50 balls this season.

Finally, there is a scrum for playing time at the H position, the true slot receiver in Lincoln Riley’s offensive scheme.

It would make for a nice story if hometown hero Nick Basquine can overcome two major leg injuries to contribute in ‘18. The fifth-year senior out of Norman North High School caught 20 balls in 2016, including two touchdowns, and displayed great chemistry with Mayfield, even in limited action. Unfortunately, it should surprise no one if injuries have robbed him of the athleticism necessary to be a serviceable wideout.

Junior Mykel Jones looks like the strongest candidate for the returnees after averaging nearly 20 yards per catch on his 16 grabs a year ago. Nonetheless, Jones hasn’t quite clicked yet. It feels like there is more to his game than we’ve seen, and he’s running out of time to prove that to be true.

Jones has to feel Charleston Rambo nipping at his heels right now. The redshirt freshman is a smooth operator out of the slot, although at 6-1, 175 pounds, he doesn’t have a sturdy build yet. That could hinder his ability to make tough catches in traffic, as slots are sometimes asked to do.

-Allen Kenney