I hope Evan Stewart proves me wrong.

I’d love to see a scenario in which he comes the 2022 version of Amari Cooper and he makes highlight reel catches galore for a fun, explosive A&M offense. As we saw last year with Brock Bowers, watching a true freshman pass-catcher become a prolific force for a contending team is a sight to see. When a Jaylen Waddle steps onto the scene and makes plays from the jump, it’s hard not to get fired up for what their career could become.

Aggie fans have every right to be fired up about Stewart, and not just because he’s a former 5-star recruit. The coaching staff seems all sorts of giddy about the early enrollee after he passed the eye test in spring.

I don’t think Fisher is just telling fans what they want to hear with a statement like that. I believe him.

But I also believe that history is working against Stewart in Year 1 in Fisher’s offense.

Any conversation about a true freshman receiver’s chances of becoming an immediate star in the SEC should be prefaced with some historical context. None of these pass-catchers hit 500 receiving yards as true freshmen:

  • Ja’Marr Chase, LSU
  • Justin Jefferson, LSU
  • DeVonta Smith, Alabama
  • Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
  • Terrace Marshall, LSU
  • Treylon Burks, Arkansas*
  • Kyle Pitts, Florida

*Played in a Chad Morris offense

That’s a pretty good list, no? Some guys were more decorated than others as recruits. It’s easy to forget that before Jefferson became a college/NFL superstar, he was the last scholarship offered in LSU’s 2017 class and he wore No. 32 as a true freshman. That’s different than someone like Jeudy, who came to Alabama as a 5-star recruit with a path to immediate playing time.

That’s similar to the situation Stewart figures to have. Demond Demas and Caleb Chapman both hit the transfer portal this offseason. Add in the NFL departures of pass-catching options Jalen Wydermyer and Isaiah Spiller and there figures to be a bevy of targets up for grabs.

It was Demas who came into Fisher’s offense as the twitchy, explosive 5-star receiver in 2020. Early on, Fisher made it seem like it was only a matter of time before he’d see the field and become a fixture of the offense:

What did Demas do as a true freshman? He played in 2 games and he didn’t record a catch … much to the frustration of the A&M faithful. Of course, it’s easy to lose track of that when you record your best AP Top 25 finish in 81 years like the Aggies did in 2020.

Obviously that doesn’t mean Stewart is going to follow in Demas’ footsteps. I wouldn’t bet on that happening.

But would I bet on Stewart doing what those aforementioned SEC stars couldn’t do and record a 600-yard season in 2022? Nope. No true freshman pass-catcher has ever hit that mark in Fisher’s offense since he became a head coach.

I went back and found the 5 most prolific seasons for true freshmen pass-catchers in Fisher’s offenses at Florida State and A&M:

  • Florida State WR Rashad Greene (2011), 38 catches for 596 yards
  • Florida State WR Travis Rudolph (2014), 38 catches for 555 yards
  • Texas A&M TE Jalen Wydermyer (2019), 32 catches for 447 yards
  • Florida State WR Ermon Lane (2014), 13 catches for 267 yards
  • Texas A&M WR Ainias Smith (2018), 22 catches for 248 yards

To recap, it’s been 8 years since a true freshman receiver in Fisher’s offense had more than 300 receiving yards. In fact, only 2 true freshmen receivers in Fisher’s offense hit that mark. Since Fisher arrived at A&M, Smith posted the best season for a true freshman receiver, and he had 22 catches for 248 yards.

Even when Fisher got highly touted guys like Kelvin Benjamin or Christian Green at Florida State, he redshirted them. Barring an injury, Stewart isn’t redshirting. Alongside Smith, Jalen Preston and Moose Muhammad III, it’d be a shock to see him benched like Demas was as a true freshman. But at the same time, those impact moments probably won’t be a weekly occurrence.

Everything Stewart does will be magnified, and not just because he’s got over 2 million followers on TikTok. There’s a reason why him running a route at less than full speed against air has nearly 10,000 views:

When Stewart actually did make a catch against a real defender — albeit in a scrimmage — that video got over 46,000 views:

Will Stewart flash some ability to get separation against SEC corners? That’s likely. He ran a 10.58-second 100-meter dash as a junior in high school. That’s not quite Devon Achane speed, but that’s moving.

Stewart is going into 2022 with major expectations. Most 5-star skill-players do.

It’s just worth remembering that any projection for his total production should have the “yeah, but” about Fisher’s offense attached to it. As in, yeah, Stewart has all the makings of a future star, but any expectation that he’s going to flirt with a 1,000-yard season would be completely ignoring Fisher’s history.

For the sake of my entertainment, I hope Stewart becomes a technician as a route-runner and he does his best Waddle imitation as a true freshman. It’d be a welcome sight to have someone break the mold and become the first real standout of A&M’s historic 2022 class.

But I’ll take the conservative approach to Stewart’s projection and instead hope that he proves me wrong.

Photo credit: Matthew Loves Ball on YouTube