UNT WR post

North Texas wide receiver Deonte Simpson (9) pulls away for a 55-yard touchdown reception as SMU cornerback Ar’mani Johnson gives chase during a game at Apogee Stadium last season.

Jaelon Darden put together one of the more memorable individual seasons in recent North Texas history in 2020. 

Darden caught 74 passes for 1,190 yards and a UNT record 19 touchdowns in just nine games before declaring for the NFL draft. He didn't play in UNT's loss to Appalachian State in the Myrtle Beach Bowl.

Darden was named Conference USA's MVP, which is impressive for a number of reasons. It isn't often the MVP comes from a team that finished 4-6. It's even rarer for the MVP to be a wide receiver from a team that never settled on a starting quarterback.

Darden finished as UNT's all-time leader in receptions (230), receiving yards (2,782) and receiving touchdowns (38).

To say that Darden leaves a big hole in UNT's lineup would be an understatement.

Here's a look at who the Mean Green will turn to in the latest installment of our annual outlook series on the Mean Green’s roster on a position-by-position basis.

Key returnees: TE Khatib Lyles, Rfr.; TE Edward Bautista, Rfr.; TE Christian Lee, Fr.; TE Cole McCrary, So.; TE Jake Roberts, Fr.; TE Jason Pirtle, Sr.; TE Asher Alberding, Rfr.; WR Loronzo Thompson, Fr.; WR Deonte Simpson, So.; Detraveon Brown, Fr.; WR Bryson Jackson, So.; WR Jyaire Shorter, So.; WR Evan Greene, Fr.; WR Roderic Burns, So.; WR Troy Edwards Jr., Jr.; WR Finn Corwin, Rfr.; Damon Ward Jr., Rfr.; WR David Chapple

Key losses: WR Jaelon Darden, WR Austin Ogunmakin, WR Greg White, WR Kealon Jackson, WR Deion Hair-Griffin

Newcomers: WR Caleb Johnson, TE Var'Keyes Gumms, WR Zhighlil McMillan, WR Bryson Jackson

Biggest unanswered question: There is no bigger question for UNT than who will fill the void left by Darden's departure.

The most likely outcome is that the Mean Green spread the ball more evenly among a host of talented players in 2021.

Simpson caught 25 passes for 517 yards and four touchdowns last season and should take on a larger role. UNT will also have Shorter back. The sophomore suffered a season-ending injury after playing in three games in 2020. Shorter caught 24 passes for 473 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2019.

Johnson and Jackson were both highly recruited and will have an opportunity to contribute.

UNT has plenty of talented players. One of the intriguing aspects of the offseason will be seeing who emerges from that group to claim a significant role.

Why 2021 production could be better: The depth of talent UNT has at wide receiver is impressive, even without Darden. The Mean Green have a number of players who could break out at any time.

Simpson has proven to be an effective Conference USA receiver. Shorter is one of the fastest players on UNT's team and is a matchup nightmare a 6-2, 215.

Johnson was committed to Oklahoma as a cornerback before changing his mind, and Jackson was among the better JUCO wide receivers in the country last season.

Why 2021 production could be worse: Replacing a player like Darden is never easy.

He was remarkably productive and drew a ton of attention. Darden also wasn't the only player UNT lost. Austin Ogunmakin and Greg White also elected to transfer after ranking third and fourth among UNT players in receiving yards with 349 and 179, respectively.

UNT lost three of its top four receivers and will depend on a host of unproven players in 2021.

Overall outlook: UNT has recruited well at wide receiver in Seth Littrell's tenure as the Mean Green's head coach.

That only makes sense considering how often UNT puts the ball in the air in Littrell's spread system. 

The Mean Green need to see their latest haul of talent come up big this fall after losing Darden.

Here’s our series so far:

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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