As opener looms, Aggies suddenly have question to answer: Who will become Kellen Mond's new go-to WR?
Texas A&M received a huge blow last week when star receiver Jhamon Ausbon opted out of the 2020 season.
Ausbon was expected to be Kellen Mond’s top target after putting up 872 yards and 5 touchdowns last season. With him out of the picture, A&M is now without its top 3 wide receivers from a year ago.
Fortunately, the Aggies open Saturday against Vanderbilt, in theory allowing the new guys time to gain some reps before facing Alabama in Game 2.
Mond is looking to find more consistency in 2020, and losing his No. 1 receiver isn’t going to make that easy. He still has tight end Jalen Wydermyer, who led the Aggies with 6 TD catches last season and will become even more of a red-zone terror this season. And the Aggies still have talent at the receiver, but will have to lean on a lot of inexperience in their quest to the conference title. You already know about Wydermyer. Here is a look at 5 receivers who are primed larger roles after Ausbon’s announcement.
Demond Demas, Fr.
Demas is a true freshman but a rare talent. He was rated the No. 3 receiver and No. 25 overall player in the class of 2020 by 247Sports despite not playing his senior season (ruled ineligible due to transfer).
He has received rave reviews this offseason from Ausbon and coach Jimbo Fisher. At 6-3 and 180 pounds, he has the athleticism to be a top receiver in the conference eventually.
Demas already figured to play a big role this season but could become the No. 1 option now that Ausbon is gone. It’s not unthinkable. Remember the impact Christian Kirk had as a true freshman? He recorded his only 1,000-yard receiving season and led the Aggies in catches (80), yards (1,007) and TD catches (7).
It’ll be interesting to see how he fares about Vanderbilt, but the real test comes the following week against No. 2 Alabama. Few freshmen have the skills to make an impact in such a game, but the Aggies will have to hope Demas is one of those few.
Ainias Smith, Soph.
Smith is listed as a running back on the roster, but that was a position change he made last year right before the Texas Bowl. He played most of last season as a receiver.
Although Fisher kept Smith as a running back to start this season, he might be forced to move him back to receiver. His skills were on display in 2019 as he caught 22 passes for 248 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Aggies will likely have to get creative with Smith this season. Look for him to be used in a variety of ways.
Jalen Preston, Soph.
His role was small, but Preston played in all 13 of A&M’s games last season.
That experience will likely secure him more playing time in his second season, especially with the position now thinner. Primarily a special teams option last year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Preston jump to the second or third option this season.
He’s not a threat to stretch the field, but the Aggies need a consistent target on intermediate routes. Preston can fill that role.
Devon Achane, Fr.
Achane is another highly-touted freshman in the Aggies’ 2020 class. He came in rated as the No. 94 overall prospect, according to 247Sports.
He’s also another hybrid type running back with pass-catching skills.
He doesn’t figure to have as big of an impact as Demas, but could still be asked to contribute this year. Although he is also listed as a running back, had 32 catches for 694 yards and 10 touchdowns his senior season in high school at Fort Bend Marshall in Texas.
That at least shows he has receiving ability. Between Achane and Smith, at least one will be used plenty in the passing game.
Hezekiah Jones, Jr.
Jones sat out last season with an Achilles’ injury. The year before, he finished with 15 receptions for 134 yards.
He showed some flashes during his sophomore season, including a 5-catch, 51-yard effort against Mississippi State. The big question mark is whether he will be able to continue making progress coming off his injury. His impact before was so small, however, that he has a good chance to improve upon it this year.
Jones coming back to play a bigger part for A&M this season would be a welcomed feel-good story.
Expect Fisher to line him up in multiple spots, too, allowing for mixed rotations.
Versatility will be a common theme to A&M’s passing attack in 2020.
Without Ausbon, it’ll look different from a year ago, but it could be just as effective, if not more so.