UL coach Billy Napier certainly isn’t opposed to the concept of having a clear-cut No. 1 target at wide receiver.
During the 2019 season, for example, Ja’Marcus Bradley was that bell-cow receiver for quarterback Levi Lewis with 60 receptions for 906 yards with 10 touchdowns.
Was it a coincidence Lewis threw for a career-best 3,050 yards and 26 touchdowns with only four interceptions that season?
Perhaps, but something tells me there’s a connection there.
“It always helps if you’ve got an elite player like Ja’Marcus Bradley,” Napier said. “We all appreciated Ja’Marcus when we had him.”
That raises two big questions concerning this year’s receiving corps.
One, is there a Ja’Marcus Bradley somewhere in this year's bunch?
Two, exactly how important is it to have a No. 1 receiver?
There certainly wasn’t one a year ago when the Cajuns had to lean on a new crop of rookies due to a long list of injured veterans.
Naturally, the passing game struggled at times with Lewis settling for 2,274 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
In Saturday’s loss to Texas, Napier said he didn’t have an issue with the wide receivers after watching the film.
“We did a lot of good things in the throw game,” Napier said. “We can do better. That’s what we’re going to do.”
While it’s easy to believe the route-running was improved over last season in Iowa, the passing game still didn’t positively impact UL’s offense.
If there were any open receivers on third down, Lewis didn’t see them.
No significant damage involving receivers in the passing game took place until the Cajuns trailed by three scores.
On one hand, it was just one game and it was at Texas, so certainly the picture could change over the next three weeks.
On the other hand, no one emerged.
Senior Jalen Williams led the way with five receptions for 71 yards. Freshman Errol Rogers also had five catches for 50 yards.
At first glance, the most likely future No. 1 guy is freshman Kyren Lacy, who certainly delivered some elite moves on his 19-yard touchdown reception Saturday on his way to a three-catch, 40-yard effort.
But still in his second year in the program on a receiving corps with depth, will there be opportunity for Lacy – or anyone else for that matter – to separate from the pack?
“We played quite a few players in the game,” Napier said. “We’ll continue to do that. Then we’ll promote and demote based off how they practice and how they perform.”
Making the depth chart even more full is the emergence of redshirt freshman Jacob Bernard, who had two receptions for 19 yards.
“Jake’s had a terrific offseason,” Napier said. “He’s really gotten himself into shape. He’s quicker, faster, in better condition. He’s improved his route-running and ball skills.
“You’re talking about productive. He’s had a great camp. He’s been tough to cover, made a bunch of plays. We’re just rewarding what we see in that receiver room. It’s all based off of performance.”
When you suffer injuries at a position, like the offense did in the 2020 offseason, enjoying depth is critical.
If this receiving corps stays healthy, though, could that depth actually limit the passing game’s productivity?
Sure, it’s not a total apples-to-apples comparison, but many believe if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none.
So if you have eight wide receivers, how many do you actually have?
The other advantage to possessing a true No. 1 receiver is having someone the quarterback can usually lean on in a pinch. Bradley bailed out Lewis on several occasions two years ago, for example, because of a trust factor that develops with that kind of relationship.
There wasn’t any of that last week and very little of it all of last season.
Throughout history, there have certainly been effective passing games both ways.
But until the running game is ready to carry this offense, the biggest chore UL’s coaching staff may have is figuring out how to get the most production out of this deep receiving corps.