Everyone is high on BYU's wide receivers this season.
Matt Miller has projected Cody Hoffman to go in the late first round in the 2014 NFL draft. Lafe Peavler talks about the high expectations for the unit in a recent article for the Deseret News. Phil Steele, in his recently released magazine, has the Cougars as the 12th-ranked receiving group nationally.
They certainly are not wrong. Hoffman brings size, speed and, most importantly, consistency to the position. Ross Apo is a physical specimen who has shown true flashes of ability. Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev have shown up in big spots as well. Tight end Kaneakua Friel is also a reliable option.
The pieces are in place for the Cougars' passing game to rise from last year's pedestrian 250 yards per game, as long as quarterback Taysom Hill is ready to take the next step with his game.
Last year, the quarterback position was an issue for a BYU team that featured a stout defense. Riley Nelson battled injuries and interceptions as the starter for the bulk of the season. Nelson used up his eligibility, and Hill, the future of BYU's quarterback position, grabbed the reins in the spring.
Rebounding from a knee injury, Hill quickly took control of the position, and with Robert Anae back as the offensive coordinator, the Cougars are expecting big things. With Anae and this wide receiving corps, BYU figures to pass the football down the field, and that is where Hill will have to prove his worth when things go live come fall.
In his final game of the season, Hill completed 24 of 36 passes for 235 yards, one touchdown and one interception, easily his best passing performance, as Nelson missed the game due to injury. On the year, in five more games, Hill only attempted 71 passes, completing 42 for 425 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Hill, a former Stanford signee who enrolled at BYU following his LDS mission, is long on talent but short on experience. Because he only played six contests, mostly in reserve duty, he is one of the nation's best-kept secrets. Everyone knows he's dangerous with his legs—despite just six games, he was the Cougars' second-leading rusher—but how he handles the added passing duties remains a mystery.
Hill has the ability to get it done through the air—there's a reason Jim Harbaugh wanted to get Hill to Palo Alto. This year will be all about how quickly he can recover from his knee surgery physically and mentally, as well as digesting the playbook.
The hallmark of great quarterback play, something BYU has seen plenty of, is not just understanding the calls, but knowing what to do when the defense makes things difficult. Hill will have to think on the fly, call audibles and check out of calls in an effort to maximize Anae's scheme.
And thanks to his ability to move outside of the pocket and be a run threat on any given down, Hill will have the opportunity to truly impress. Teams know that he can run, and as they aim their game plans to stop option plays and contain Hill, there will be opportunity for the sophomore quarterback to stretch the field with his arm.
For Hoffman, Apo and company, that is a good thing. Should BYU's pass-catching group live up to its lofty national expectations, that will most certainly mean that Hill is opening eyes, and turning heads, with his arm as well as his legs.