The passing game is a bit of a mystery going into next year. We don't know who our starting QB will be, the offensive line is a question mark, and only about one third of the the recieving corps' production returns from a year ago, mostly from one player.
In this exercise you have to consider not only a player's ability, but more importantly their role in the offense that would allow them to thrive and catch a lot of passes. So, when trying to assess who will lead the team in receptions, we will undoubtedly find ourselves fixated on #4, Jaydon Mickens. Who else could it realistically be? There are contenders, but it will prove a challenge.
What muddles this is not knowing how the offense will adapt from last year. Will Offensive Coordinator Jonathan Smith opt to run a lot of screens and short passes again? That would make Jaydon Mickens a shoe-in. Even if the offense looks down the field more, Mickens' experience and ability still make him the #1 candidate. The tight ends and running backs are the two best positions on offense so how much will they feature in the air attack?
Let's take a look at our options:
Option #1: Jaydon Mickens
Jaydon Mickens is definitely the safe bet. Last season he led the team with 60 catches, and is the most experienced, consistant pass cather on the roster. He's the most sure thing at wide reciever the Husky offense has. His biggest strength and what he's used for most, is screen passes. If those plays feature heavily again in the offense, then I expect his pass receptions to be in the 50+ range yet again. He's confident, approaches practice with a great attitude, and plays with passion. His intangables make him a leader and someone the young offense will lean on.
On the other hand, the tight ends are the relative strength of the overall passing game, so how much could that effect his production? If the TE group plays to their potential then Jaydon's catches may dip as the passing game might focus on them. There's also the threat of an improved running game, and RB Deonte Cooper is in fact the #4 returning reciever after Mickens, Pettis, and Perkins. Another healthy season in the books for him and he could improve on his 16 grabs from a year go. A quarterback with a stronger arm may also mean less bubble screens for Mickens.
Despite these factors, Jaydon Mickens is still the #1 contender.
Option #2: Dante Pettis
I believe Dante Pettis will make a large jump in production from last season, and in my opinion is Mickens' biggest threat to catching the most balls. He's only a sophomore, but he'll be counted on to get open and make plays to help a new quarterback. He showed some speed and sure hands returning punts last season and is the next best recieving threat on the team. A major focus of the offense heading into this year is to develop the passing game and Pettis will be a huge part of that. He's firmly Washington's second reciever and will look to get open on intermediate and deep routes. Consider he's also one of Coach Pete's players, not a holdover from former coach Steve Sarkisian. He was brought in because the coaches felt he fit what they wanted to do on offense. I could see his production nearly doubling, and going for at least 30+ catches. He caught the most passes in the final spring practice and really has everything set up to have a big year.
Option #3: Isaiah Renfro
Option #4: Joshua Perkins
It may out of the box to pick a tight end here, but Joshua Perkins just continues to get better and catch more passes every year. He only caught 25 last year, but consider he caught 18 over the last 5 games. He's a great option on short routes underneath and he continues to improve in his ability to get open for 4-5 yard gains. He also had 6 receptions of over 20 yards so he can create the big play with his limited catches. Again, with the uncertainty and youth at the wide reciever position, Perkins could very well see his name called quite a bit. The tight ends look deep and talented so they might shoulder a lot of the burden of the pass game, with Perkins likely spearheading that effort. Still, in all likelyhood, it would take a monster year from the Sr. to lead the team in receptions.