After the NFL Draft and other offseason moves, WVU lost some key playmakers on defense, but offensively, it seems to be in good shape for the 2021 season.
The departures to the NFL are wide receiver TJ Simmons and offensive linemen Chase Behrndt and Mike Brown. Running back Alec Sinkfield, receiver Ali Jennings, quarterback Austin Kendall, and offensive lineman Briason Mays all entered the transfer portal after the 2020 season.
Starting with the departed pass catchers — Simmons, who signed as an undrafted free agent with Tampa Bay, caught 86 passes for 1,197 yards and nine touchdowns during his career in Morgantown. As a redshirt senior in 2020, he led all receivers with four scores to go along with 23 receptions for 401 yards. In two seasons in the Old Gold and Blue, Jennings reeled in 19 passes for 240 yards in two scores. Last season, he had seven catches for 48 yards and one trip to the endzone.
The Mountaineers do return their leading receiver from a year ago, Winston Wright. He had 47 receptions for 553 yards, both team-highs, and two touchdowns. Bryce Ford-Wheaton was No.2 with 416 yards and two scores while Sam James was right behind Simmons with 300 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Both will be back in 2021 along with returners Isaiah Esdale, Sean Ryan and Sam Brown.
Running back Leddie Brown can also help in the pass-catching department. It was a big emphasis for him this spring after finishing with 202 receiving yards and two scores. Brown is the top returner on offense as he is coming off a season that saw 1,010 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Sinkfield was in that No. 2 running back spot at the position last season. Aside from the 100+ yards in the season opener, he didn’t get too many opportunities as Brown was the workhorse. Sinkfield tallied 327 yards and three touchdowns.
Now, it will be up to Tony Mathis and A’Varius Sparrow to help WVU achieve its goal of a three-headed monster in the backfield. Mathis impressed this spring in the backup role.
As far as the guys paving the way for Leddie Brown and company, the offensive line loses three of its five starters in the trenches. Behrndt, who was invited to rookie camp with the Steelers, started 22 of 33 career games, including nine games at center last season. It will likely be rising sophomore Zach Frazier taking over that role as that’s where he saw the majority of his reps this spring. It’s Frazier’s natural position and he made one start at center in the season opener before starting the remainder of the season at left guard.
The right side of the line took a hit with tackle Mays entering the transfer portal and guard Mike Brown signing as an undrafted free agent with the Saints. Along with Frazier, starting left tackle Brandon Yates will be back along with veterans James Gmiter and Parker Moorer. Virginia Tech transfer Doug Nester and incoming freshman Wyatt Milum will also be offensive line coach Matt Moore’s arsenal this upcoming season.
While last year’s starting QB Jarret Doege will be back for another year, that position room did lose a veteran with Austin Kendall’s departure. He was the starter for most of the 2019 season and helped lead WVU to a comeback win over Army in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in December. Dual-threat sophomore Garrett Greene will likely move into that role this season.
For the production the Mountaineers lost on the offensive side of the ball, they should have plenty of talent returning or incoming to help Doege and Brown lead the offense to another successful season in 2021.