Positional Breakdown: Wide Receivers
By: Mike Reid
Mass. Pirates Writer
April 30, 2021
GM Jawad Yatim said earlier this off-season he wants the Pirates to line up with “The Big 4” Boston Sports teams in terms of talent on the field and showcasing a championship product to its loyal Massachusetts fanbase. He continues to add very talented pieces all across the team. That is especially true as Yatim has put together an offensive skill positional group that should be one of the tops in the Indoor Football League this 2021 season. Without further ado, here are the playmakers, the showstoppers, the men that will be lighting up the scoreboard for the Pirates this season – the wide receivers.
The leader of the receiver core is no doubt the reigning 2019 NAL Rookie of Year, Thomas Owens. He is the only wide out of the group that has played for the Pirates and the only one with any experience in the arena football game. After speaking with Thomas earlier this offseason, I expect a big-time sophomore season and plenty of TD’s from the man that goes by “TO”.
There are many things that make Owens a dangerous wide receiver. First off he has a solid frame, at 6’1” and 205 lbs there aren’t too many defensive backs he will go up against that are bigger than him. His build makes him a contested-catch and yards-after-catch machine as he breaks tackles often with relative ease.
Owens’ deep-ball concentration really stands out as well, which is a very important skill to have with the boundaries in play. He has the ability to make those high degree of difficulty grabs with a defender draped all over him. With some really nice chemistry already built between the two, starting QB Sean Brackett will be looking for TO early and often.
Owens’ stat-line of 59-577-10 in the 2019 season should be his floor this year. I think Owens is ready to become a house-hold name in the IFL and will show-out for the Pirates this 2021 season.
Speaking of house-hold names, GM Jawad Yatim made a cannon-ball sized splash in April signing former Pittsburgh Steelers standout WR, Martavis Bryant. It was not too long ago Bryant was terrorizing NFL defenses with his tremendous size, speed and open field ability. Pirates fans are in for a treat this season with the addition of Bryant to this already dangerous WR group.
At 6’4” and 210 pounds, Bryant is tall, long and has legit 4.4 40-yard dash speed. Blending that all together, he is a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs. His huge frame will make him an instant red-zone threat for the Pirates. Circus grabs and contested catches look effortless for Bryant. His acrobat, full-flip touchdown grab in the 2015 NFL Playoffs versus the Bengals is still one of most insane catches I’ve seen.
Bryant is simply just a big-play waiting to happen. His rookie season in 2014 with the Steelers was one of the most efficient a player could ever have. In just 10 games, Bryant recorded 26 receptions. He turned those catches into 549 yards and 8 touchdowns. That translated into an incredible 21.1 yards per catch and a touchdown rate of 3.25 (every 3.25 catches resulted in a touchdown for Bryant).
It would be no surprise to see Bryant leading the team in touchdowns or yards after catch. The 2021 Pirates offense will be an electric show to watch thanks to Martavis Bryant joining the crew.
A new face to the receiver core this year is former Michigan State Spartan, RJ Shelton. Shelton’s game is centered on being an all-around solid football player that will help move the chains for the Pirates offense this season.
Shelton isn’t a typical wide receiver that just lines up on the outside. He is a blend of wide receiver, running back and kick returner that will do the dirty work for his team. At MSU, Shelton had 84 career rushing attempts to go along with 116 receptions. He was used frequently on jet sweeps and in the backfield.
OC Chris Thompson will have some fun using Shelton as a versatile weapon. I can picture Shelton being moved all around the formation and helping the Pirates in the short passing game. I also envision Shelton as one of the team’s main kick returners. He was one of the most dynamic kick returners in MSU history. With over 1,855 return yards and a career average of 23.2 yards per return.
Darren Carrington II:
GM Jawad Yatim definitely wanted to add big bodies to the wide receiver room. Continuing on the theme of tall, big-play wide receivers joining the Pirates this year is Darren Carrington II. He is the son of former NFL player Darren Carrington Sr. and was a standout receiver in the Pac-12 for two schools, Oregon and Utah.
Carrington was originally signed for the 2020 Pirates season, he will now look to finally make his mark in the IFL this season. He brings a big frame (6’3” and 215 lbs.) and tremendous college production to the table. Carrington was a two-time All Pac-12 Second-Teamer (2015 with Oregon and 2017 with Utah), with a career average of 15.9 yards per catch and 21 touchdowns.
Carrington is a contested-catch machine and will immediately become a red-zone threat for the Pirates. He gives the team position versatility as well. Carrington should be aligning as a boundary receiver most of the time but he also has the ability to play in the slot and work the middle of the field. I see Carrington developing a pretty solid role in this Pirates offense as a true do-it-all receiver.
Breaking the mold of big-bodied WR’s for the Pirates is the smaller Laquvionte “Speedy” Gonzalez. Although he may be small in structure (5’10” and 185 lbs.), Gonzalez brings a jack-of-all-trades element to this 2021 Pirates offense.
Gonzalez has a fascinating football career path, playing for 3 different college programs from 2013-2017. He started his career as a true freshman and played two years at Texas A&M, followed by one year at Kansas, before finishing up his senior season at Southeastern University. But no matter where he was playing, Gonzalez flashed his speed and big-play ability.
I see a similar role to RJ Shelton in this Mass Pirates offense for Gonzalez. A guy who will not just line up as an outside receiver but more of a versatile offensive weapon. Getting Gonzalez out in space on pre-snap motions, jet sweeps, drag routes, and screens is a way that will utilize his speed and short-area quickness best.
GM Jawad Yatim never seems to sleep when it comes to bringing in top talent. He continued his splashy move ways and added another former NFL standout to the Pirates, Terrace Wiiliams. T-Will adds NFL veteran leadership and even more juice to this loaded 2021 Pirates receiving core.
Williams was a very underrated receiver during his six-year career with the Dallas Cowboys. The former 3rd round pick out of Baylor played a terrific complementary role in the Cowboys offense playing alongside Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Tony Romo looked for Williams on the money down (3rd down) often. He had 163 career receptions that went for 1st downs, to go along with 20 career touchdowns and 3,377 receiving yards (regular season).
I think Williams will be a security blanket on the money downs and in the red zone this season. Williams has ideal size, (6’2” and 210 lbs.), strong hands and just knows how to get open in big spots. Look for Williams to emerge as one of the Pirates top targets as the season moves along.
After landing former Steelers wide out Martavis Bryant, Jawad Yatim dipped his toe back into arguably the best WR factor in the NFL again, adding Demarcus Ayers. The slender but speedy receiver was a Pittsburgh selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, and rightfully so. Ayers was an electric playmaker and a two-time First-Team All-AAC during his college days at University of Houston. He looks the part of a future impact player in the IFL as well.
Ayers really passes the eye-test when you turn on his tape. His short-area quickness, catch-in-traffic concentration, and break-away ability stand out the most. A term that defines him best is slippery, it is not very often the first defender around will make the tackle on Ayers.
Fitting into this Pirates offense, Ayers projects really well as a key contributor in the slot. He will be a man Sean Brackett looks at as a chain mover in the short passing areas. Even as a late addition to the team, I think Ayers definitely has a chance to be one of the most highly targeted receivers on the team this season.
Rounding out the Pirates wide receiver core is another former Baylor Bear, KD Cannon. Not only does KD have a name that fits in perfectly with the Pirates. His last name is also very fitting to the type of player he is, explosive as a cannon.
After being one of the top HS recruits from his class, Cannon burst onto the scene at Baylor in 2014 as a true freshman with 1,030 yards and 8 touchdowns. He followed that up with a First-Team All-Big 12 selection, 1,215 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016. NFL.com even named Cannon as “College Football’s Most Explosive Player”.
I think Cannon fits in beautifully to the Pirates offense this season. I already know OC Chris Thompson must be fired up to get the ball in KD’s hands early and often. Using him on pre-snap motions, screens, drag routes, and vertical routes will almost be unfair to opposing defenses. Especially with all the other talented receivers around him, look for Cannon to use his 4.41 speed and blaze by defenders all season long.
This wide receiving core will only get better as the season progresses, with names like Bryant, Williams, and Cannon becoming more acquainted with the arena game. The unit is clearly amongst the most dangerous positional groups on the Pirates in 2021. Quarterbacks Sean Brackett and Alejandro Bennifield will be dancing all season long with these weapons in their back pocket.
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