MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In 2021, Neal Brown tabbed the receivers as the most consistent position group. Now in the spring of 2022, it’s the area of the offense that has seen the most turnover.

The room lost its top playmaker, Winston Wright, along with position coach Gerad Parker in the offseason.

Wright caught 63 passes for a team-high 688 yards and five touchdowns last year. He entered the transfer portal along with Sean Ryan and Isaiah Esdale. Ryan finished with 399 yards and three touchdowns and Esdale tallied 362 yards and one score.

While the receiving corps did take a hit ahead of the spring season, it still has an advantage with two of the most experienced players on the team leading the charge in redshirt junior Bryce Ford-Wheaton and redshirt senior Sam James.

Ford-Wheaton was WVU’s second-leading receiver last season with 42 catches for 575 yards and three touchdowns. Head coach Neal Brown said Ford-Wheaton may have had his best practice as a Mountaineer on Saturday and he showed his dominance in the special teams competition.

“When I look at Bryce, I look at one of the most physical specimens I’ve ever worked with,” new receivers coach Tony Washington said. “I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of really good players. The size he has and the ability is really good, and I think he can be a phenomenal player. For him, it’s that consistency and concentration. Understanding he is a big body, he has to play powerful.”

When it comes to the physique, Ford-Wheaton nearly tops the charts at the position. He’s listed at 6’3″ and 220 pounds. Sophomore Kaden Prather has him beat by one inch.

James checked in right behind Ford-Wheaton last season with 42 receptions for 505 yards and five touchdowns, which tied for the team lead.

“Very twitchy. Elite twitch player with a lot of quickness, a lot of speed,” Washington said of James. “He’s playing really good so far throughout spring ball. I’ve been surprised with him. I like the direction he’s going in.”

Behind the two veterans is a cast of younger players who have great potential.

Prather earned a spot in the starting lineup by the end of last season. He saw his most production over the final three games, totaling a combined 129 yards on nine receptions over that span. His position coach believes Prather doesn’t realize just how good he really is.

“I think he can be one of the best players I’ve worked with. I think he can be a draft guy. I mean all of those guys can, but KP has a ton of potential,” Washington said. “With him, it’s just understanding he has to be locked in every day. Young guys can slip out of focus. It’s about being locked in every day, understanding who you are and being who you are every play.”

Coach Brown said Prather had really good showings over the first three spring practices, and even though he did take a small step back on day four, he is on the verge of being a “really special player.”

Another guy who has certainly caught the attention of the coaching staff is Morgantown’s own Preston Fox. The redshirt sophomore saw action in five games last season. He made his first collegiate start against Long Island. According to the coaches, he’s been consistently making contested catches this spring.

“He catches the ball,” Washington said of Fox. “The receiver position is about catching the ball and making a play. Some people look good making the play, some people don’t look good but they make the play. That’s what you want. Production. You can grade a million different things, who is doing what, what techniques, this and that, but at the end of the day, it’s production that’s key. Through the first five days, his production is through the roof.”

True freshman Jarel Williams has earned his fair share of praise as well. He’s getting a lot of reps and is further along than Brown anticipated.

As a senior at Saraland high school in Alabama, Williams totaled 60 catches for 883 yards and 13 touchdowns. Washington believes Williams can play slot and outside, but right now, he’s primarily seeing his reps at the latter.

“From a physicality standpoint, he’s got to develop a little bit. He’s got to get in the weight room and do some things but he has a lot of natural traits. He’s slippery, can naturally get open,” Washington said. “He does things I like from a route running standpoint. I think for him, this spring has been tremendous. I think he’s going to develop a lot over the spring and come back in the fall with a much different mindset and know what’s going on. I think he will have a chance to help us a little bit this year.”

Redshirt sophomore Reese Smith was also seeing improvement this spring but will be sidelined for the next week or so with a minor injury.

Washington knows his group has talent and potential, but there’s one area he is focusing on with all the players in his room in order to get them where they need to be: consistency.

“I see guys that to me, in my eyes, can be some of the better receivers in this league. I think the thing is just hammering down the details and hammering down the fundamentals of the position. We have guys who can do some amazing things, but it’s the consistency part,” Washington said. “Everybody is talented. That’s why they are here but it’s who can be that talented guy every single time they go out there.”

Washington added the goal is to have 6-8 players ready for game action by the time fall camp rolls around, with the hope that number will increase as the younger players develop throughout the season.