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Duke football 2020 positional preview: Wide receivers and tight ends

Noah Gray is coming off of a successful year where he led the team in receptions and is looking to carry that momentum into this season.
Noah Gray is coming off of a successful year where he led the team in receptions and is looking to carry that momentum into this season.

With the 2020 season right around the corner, The Chronicle breaks  down each of the eight major position groups for the Blue Devils: Quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends, offensive linedefensive line, defensive backs, linebackers and specialists.

As one of the younger position groups entering this season, the pass-catching corps of wide receivers and tight ends look to flip the script after a down year in which they finished with the second-fewest yards in the ACC. With the help of a new offense headed by either Chris Katrenick, Gunnar Holmberg or Clemson transfer Chase Brice, Duke will look to expand their passing game this upcoming season.

Key players lost: Aaron Young and Scott Bracey

After taking the field in all twelve games in 2019, graduate Aaron Young transferred to Florida Atlantic in January for his fifth year of eligibility. Finishing third on the team with both his 29 receptions and 367 receiving yards, as well as having three touchdowns, Young had a big game early against Middle Tennessee but was unable to step up in conference play. Like Young, Scott Bracey graduated from Duke but he departed for the Dukes at James Madison University for his final year of eligibility. Bracey added 21 receptions in a career-best year. 

Unlike last season, when about one-third of the production from the position returned to the team, this offseason’s positional turnover should be less significant with about two-thirds of 2019’s receiving yards returning to Durham. It will be interesting to see how the group of mostly sophomores fill the role upperclassmen Young and Bracey served, though we may have to wait a few games before we see who will cement themselves as third option behind senior Noah Gray and sophomore Jalon Calhoun.

Projected starters: Jalon Calhoun, Jake Bobo, Darrell Harding Jr., Eli Pancol, Noah Gray

Aside from Calhoun and Gray, none of the returning receivers nabbed more than ten passes last season. After beginning the last campaign injured, junior Jake Bobo was given two starts and is likely to lead the position group as the lone junior to receive significant playing time. Darrell Harding Jr. and Eli Pancol each look to build off freshman seasons where they contributed yardage when needed as depth options. 

As a freshman, Calhoun put up solid numbers that led the team in yardage and touchdowns and he ranked third in receptions among all Power Five freshmen with 46. As the potential first option for the passing game, Calhoun has the ability to follow up his first year with another successful season. With him only eclipsing 40 yards twice in conference play, it will be interesting to see if the expanded conference schedule will impact his performance. With regard to the tight ends, senior Gray projects to be a top tight end in the conference after earning second team All-ACC honors last year. Notably, Gray led the Blue Devils in receptions, and he tallied 270 yards and three scores in conference play, also leading the team.

Dark horse: Jake Bobo

While it remains unclear who will be the third receiver, Bobo has the potential to make the leap and become a consistent pass catcher opposite Calhoun. Standing at six-foot-four, Bobo has the size to be a red zone threat, and he will be a veteran leader for a team looking to get back into the postseason. Second-year receivers coach Trooper Taylor will still be experimenting with this group as they grow with whoever gets the starting job under center. The status of this season still looms with uncertainty, and finding who steps up out of the depths of the receiving corps is yet another puzzle.

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