Last season the Villanova Wildcats ran the ball quite a bit, racking up 2044 yards on the ground out of 3998 total yards of offense. With a young quarterback coming in as a result of John Robertson's season-ending injury, the 'Cats looked to set him up with a strong ground game.
Still, Zach Bednarczyk didn't keep the ball entirely grounded, passing for 1,396 yards in 2015, part of the team's total of 1956 yards in the air. To improve on that passing effort in 2016, Bednarczyk will need some targets to look for downfield.
Last season, the easy first-look in the passing game was Kevin Gulyas, who grabbed a team-high 40 passes for 608 yards. The Villanova grad quickly became one of John Robertson's key targets, and with his crisp route running and great hands, it was an easy transition for him to become the top option for Bednarczyk as well. It may not seem insurmountable to replace 608 yards in a world where a top NFL receiver can pick up more than 1,000 yards (2015's top NFL receiver had 1,871 yards in the air).
Gulyas averaged more than 25 yards per game more than the next receiver on the list last season. He caught a total of 88 passes for 1520 yards in his collegiate career.
It will be important to have one or more players step up this season to replace that production. Who are the players who are likely to break out in the passing game this season?
There's no easy answer. In addition to Gulyas, the Wildcats also lose their second and third top receivers from 2015, Aaron Wells (320 yards) and Gary Underwood (252) are also gone. That leaves sophomore receiver Jarrett McClenton -- who gained 177 yards on 22 catches -- as the top returning receiver.
So count McClenton in as a likely starter in the slot and an important option for Bednarczyk in the passing game. While it's perfectly possible to carve up defenses using your slot receiver as your top option (ask Tom Brady), having a legitimate threat on the outside is also important to stretch the field. Alex Padovani finished the season starting at one of the outside spots, and could step into a bigger role this season, and Lincoln Collins may finally break out to claim the other starting receiver spot.
Padovani was a freshman last season who finished the season starting across from Gulyas, pulling down 7 passes for 87 yards. He's the top returner for yards-per-catch at 12.4. Junior Taurus Philips was next on that list and tallied 157 yards in the Fall 2015 season, but sat third on the depth chart for slot receivers at the end of last season.
Lincoln Collins, meanwhile was the understudy to Gulyas on the two-deep at the end of last season -- despite having just two catches for 18 yards. Collins was a star receiver at BC High in Massachusetts where he showed off some athleticism and good hands. While he was a star in high school, he hasn't had a real break-out season yet for the 'Cats, though last year was a slight aberration. Overall, Collins has 182 yards on 16 grabs, which is gobf od for an average of 11.4 per catch.
The rising junior is perhaps the biggest mystery among the veterans in the passing game entering the 2016 season. He offers great height, 6'3", and good hands and will be in line to earn significant playing time this Fall. This could be his year.
Then there are some fresh faces as well. After missing last year with an injury, Brandon Chadbourne is healthy to start the season and has the potential to become a playmaker for the 'Cats. Three freshmen will enter the mix as well. Zac Kerxton and Josh McGrigg both have top-end speed, and Changa Hodge has good size at 6'1" and should compete for playing time on the outside.
If the staff can't find reliable targets for Bednarczyk, the Wildcats risk becoming a one-dimensional team and not taking the step forward on offense that's needed.