In part one of this series, I noted that JT Daniels has a rather extensive injury history and hasn’t played a full season, and has only played about 50% of his available games through four years of college. That is a concern, but what should be a reason for hope is the pure skill that JT Daniels brings. As noted, he was the at one point the number one prospect in the nation before he reclassified and still became the #2 overall quarterback prospect in his class. He has played like a top-tier quarterback during his times when he has been on the field.
In 2018, as a freshman, JT Daniels threw 363 passes, completing 59.5% of them while throwing for 2,672 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He had a 128.6 QBR. His first game of his collegiate career, he threw for 282 yards and a touchdown in a 43-21 win over UNLV. Two weeks later, at Texas, he threw for 322 yards. The very next week, he guided the Trojans down the field to a touchdown to take the lead in the fourth quarter as they hung onto a 39-36 victory over Washington State. In his final two games of the year, he threw for 337 yards against UCLA and 349 yards against #3 Notre Dame. All as a freshman.
Daniels suffered a devastating knee injury in the opening game of the 2019 season, still in one half of football (he was injured near the end of the first half), he threw for 215 yards and a touchdown.
In 2020, Daniels only played four games but continued to wow in those games. His first game since injuring his knee in 2019, he threw for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns against Mississippi State. He threw for 299 yards against #25 Missouri in the last game of the season before throwing for 392 yards against #8 Cincinatti in the Peach Bowl. Despite playing only 4 games in 2020, Daniels averaged over 300 yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game.
In 2021, JT struggled a bit, though he still showed flashes of his old self when he threw for 300 yards against South Carolina. When healthy, JT Daniels is the type of elite quarterback who can make game-changing plays and will his team down the field.
If JDT is healthy, there is no doubt he continues the long line of quarterbacks who have played well here at West Virginia, but the question that should be asked is, who is he throwing to and can they replicate the success previous wide receiving corps have.
In 2018, David Sills and Gary Jennings were both very close to breaking the 1,000 yard mark, finishing in the 900s.
In 2017, Jennings and Ka’Raun White both finished over 1,000 yards while David Sills finished just below. Three players were over 900 yards.
In 2016, Shelton Gibson finished 951 yards and Daikel Shorts finished with 894 yards.
In 2015, Shelton Gibson broke 880 yards.
In 2014, Kevin White broke 1,400 (!) yards and Mario Alford nearly broke 1,000, finishing with 945 yards.
2013 is the last time the Mountaineers didn’t have a single player finish with over 600 yards receiving. In the three years Neal Brown has been the head coach, not a single player has broken 700 yards receiving. Sam James had 677 in 2019, and Winston Wright had 688 last year. Winston Wright is now at Florida State.
Heading into the 2022 season, the wide receivers are both known and unknown. Sure, BFW and Sam James are known commodities and fans have seen them grow from freshman to seniors, but have you seen them GROW? Are they different players than they were in 2019? Are they capable of winning one-on-one battles? Are they capable of producing game-changing plays that dominate a defense? Are they capable of taking over? Being a GAM?
Could their lack of production to this point be a product of the quarterbacks who have played here in the past three years? Yes. That doesn’t absolve the receivers from being unable to win battles, get open, beat man-press or find holes in the zones.
Kaden Prather is a player many hope can take over that #1 role, capable of dominating on the outside, but he is a young player, unproven and untested. He’s being asked to learn a new offense and take on a bigger role, while getting familiar with a new quarterback and being pressed into action as defensive coordinators begin to focus on him. It is a lot to ask of such a young player.
If the wide receivers are who they have shown us to be, it may not matter how talented or healthy JT Daniels is. If they can’t win those battles, open up spaces for the others and find the holes necessary, defenses won’t respect the pass and won’t be fearful of the run.