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Second Down: A look at Villanova Football’s wide receivers and tight ends

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The next part of our 2017 preview series, where we highlight Wildcat receivers and tight ends.

NCAA Football: Villanova at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We will be dissecting and previewing Villanova's football roster, breaking it down by position as part of our "Four Downs" series. Each week, we will highlight two positions.

Schedule:

First Down: Quarterbacks (Aug. 8) | Running backs (Aug. 10)
Second Down: Wide Receivers & Tight Ends (Aug. 15) | Offensive Linemen (Aug. 17)
Third Down: Defensive Linemen (Aug. 22) | Linebackers (Aug. 24)
Fourth Down: Defensive backs (Aug. 29) | Special Teams (Aug. 31)

It will transition right into Villanova's Sept. 2 season opener against Lehigh. We enter the second week of the series with a look at the receiving (and tight end) corps.


Returnees:

#24 Taurus Phillips (5-9, 185) Sr., WR
#80 Will Harris (6-1, 185) Sr., WR
#28 Alex Padovani (6-0, 205) Jr., WR
#5 Jarrett McClenton (5-7, 155) Jr., WR
#37 Andrew Smith (6-1, 180) Jr., WR
#12 Adeyemi DaSilva (6-1, 205) Jr., WR
#13 Sam Shaud (5-10, 185) Jr., WR
#15 Brandon Chadbourn (6-0, 200) So., WR
#82 Zac Kerxton (5-10, 190) So., WR
#88 Changa Hodge (6-1, 200) So., WR
#83 Hayden Sernyak (6-3, 210) So., WR
#26 Josh McGrigg (5-8, 170) RS Fr., WR
#85 Ryan Bell (6-2, 230) Sr., TE
#81 Simon Bingelis (6-5, 250) So., TE
#86 Todd Summers (6-5, 230) RS Fr., TE

Departures:

Robert Witman (6-4, 200) WR
Justin Causa (5-11, 190) WR
Lincoln Collins (6-3, 195) WR
Ethan Ericson (6-4, 215) WR
Fran Walsh (6-0, 260) TE
Ryan Morris (6-3, 250) TE

Newcomers:

#23 Julian Liaci (5-8, 170) Fr., WR — Nazareth, Pa./Nazareth HS
#87 Tahj Powell (6-0, 170) Fr., WR — Philadelphia, Pa./West Catholic
#84 Robert Brady (5-10, 180) Fr., WR — Bloomington, Ill./Central Catholic
#89 Jack Boomer (6-3, 210) Fr., TE — Ogden, Utah/Judge Memorial

Experience can only help a team grow and fortunately for the Wildcats, they will be bringing back every receiver and tight end that had an impact on the stat book last season. There will be plenty of continuity and familiarity in the passing game, which should bode well for Zach Bednarczyk and his many options to throw to.

While Villanova primarily spreads the wealth amongst its receivers, three Wildcats emerged to the forefront and led the team last season—Taurus Phillips, Jarrett McClenton, and Ryan Bell.

Phillips led the ‘Cats in receptions (36) and receiving yards (497) last year. He also had three touchdowns. He is a reliable weapon in the slot, slicing through defenses on crossing routes or medium-to-deep plays. A lot of his damage was made after the catch. It was his first real productive season on the Main Line, more than doubling his numbers from 2015-16.

As for McClenton, he’s still searching for that breakout year, despite being one of the Wildcats’ top three receivers statistically. McClenton can be a playmaker at running back and slot receiver, with his great speed easily translating between both positions. A former running back in high school—where he was a star at Archbishop Wood (Pa.) before coming to Villanova—he showed some strides last season in terms of growing accustomed to the wide receiver position. While he did take some snaps in the backfield as a running back, he’s looking to take his development even further as a receiver. Last season, he had 30 catches for 334 yards and touchdown. On the ground, he added 39 carries for 197 yards.

Bell enjoyed a breakout campaign, one that saw the rise from being just another name on Villanova’s roster to one of the top tight ends in the conference, as well as a third team All-CAA player. After barely seeing any playing time as a freshman and missing a majority of his sophomore year due to injury, Bell had 33 receptions for 434 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns in 2016-17. Bell was a key target in the red zone and goal line situations, and that should continue for his final season at Villanova. Like the two receivers mentioned before him, Bell is primed for an even bigger season.

Other receivers to keep an eye out for were the ones that saw a good amount of snaps in the Wildcats’ rotation—Brandon Chadbourn, Alex Padovani, and Zac Kerxton—as well as Adeyemi DaSilva, who converted from quarterback to wide receiver during the offseason.

Chadbourn saw action in each of Villanova’s 13 games. It was his first year coming off of a redshirt season, and he had 13 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown. Like Chadbourn, Padovani is another possession receiver, one that has seen a lot of action since coming off of his redshirt season in 2014-15. He’s played in almost every game since then. This past season, he had 12 catches for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Kerxton is the only sophomore that had a significant amount of playing time in Villanova’s rotation as a true freshman last season. He appeared in 12 of the Wildcats’ 13 games, finishing the year with 12 receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown.

DaSilva is a newcomer to the wide receiver position, after spending the last two seasons as a backup quarterback. With Bednarczyk about to be a third-year starter and a fellow junior, this seemed like DaSilva’s only option for earning playing time and possibly contributing to the team. Formerly known as a dual-threat quarterback, he appeared in six games last season, completing 9-of-20 passes for 79 yards. On the ground, he added 46 yards and a touchdown.

The Wildcats welcome Julian Liaci and walk-ons Tahj Powell, Robert Brady, and Jack Boomer.

Unfortunately for Liaci and the ‘Cats, the freshman wide receiver recently sustained a knee injury in practice and will be out. After a successful career at Nazareth High School (Pa.), he seemed like he could potentially make an impact right away as a freshman. Possessing breakaway speed and elusiveness, he was a threat for a big play whenever he touched the ball. A timetable for his return hasn’t been made yet.