Jaelon Darden WR preview

North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden carries the ball after avoiding UAB defensive back Dy'jonn Turner during the Blazers' win last season at Apogee Stadium. Darden is one of several talented receivers returning next season for UNT.

North Texas has added a series of players who have gone on to become key members of the Mean Green's wide receiver corps from a variety of sources during Seth Littrell's tenure as head coach.

Some were highly regarded high school recruits, a few were transfers, while others were walk-ons. The bottom line is that UNT has typically found a way to put a formidable group together.

We take a look at the Mean Green's wide receivers and tight ends today as part of our ongoing examination of UNT's roster on a position-by-position basis heading into spring practice.

Key returnees: WR Jaelon Darden, senior; WR Jyaire Shorter, sophomore; WR Deion Hair-Griffin, senior; WR Deonte Simpson, sophomore; WR Greg White, junior; WR Austin Ogunmakin, sophomore; WR Khatib Lyles, redshirt freshman; WR Kealon Jackson, redshirt freshman; WR Damon Ward Jr., redshirt freshman; WR Deven Langston, sophomore; WR David Chapple, sophomore; WR Calen Mayfield, sophomore; WR Roderic Burns, sophomore; WR Trey Henderson, redshirt freshman; WR Thomas Clancy, senior; TE Jason Pirtle, senior; TE Christian Lee, freshman; TE Asher Alberding, redshirt freshman; TE Edward Bautista, redshirt freshman; TE Cole McCrary, sophomore.

Key losses: WR Michael Lawrence, WR Rico Bussey, TE Kelvin Smith

Newcomers: WR Detraveon Brown, TE Jake Roberts, WR Loronzo Thompson

Biggest unanswered question: UNT has a couple of players returning who figure to be headliners again this season in Darden and Shorter. Darden was a first-team All-Conference USA selection last season, when Shorter emerged as one of the more promising young skill position players in the league.

The question is who will step forward to complement that pair. UNT lost its second-leading receiver in Lawrence and starting tight end in Smith to graduation. The Mean Green will have plenty of good players to fill those spots. The question is who emerges to take on a larger role.

White caught 20 passes last season and could see his role expand. Pirtle had five touchdown catches, but can he be the blocker UNT needs him to be?

There are also a host of promising young players on the roster, including Simpson. UNT burned his redshirt last season after losing Bussey to a season-ending injury and saw him respond with 18 catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns in just nine games.

Someone will step forward to fill the voids in UNT's lineup. The question is who.

Why 2020 production could be better: UNT might have the best overall depth of talent at wide receiver it has had in Littrell's tenure. The Mean Green might not have a high-end NFL prospect like Bussey was last season before a knee injury derailed his year, but UNT has a host of players with potential across the board.

Shorter has the chance to continue to emerge as an elite player in C-USA. Simpson showed flashes of ability in his freshman season, and Darden has already shown that he is one of the best receivers in the league.

UNT's one weak spot last season was at outside receiver after Bussey was lost for the year in the third game of the season. Simpson, White and Shorter are more prepared to fill that role this fall.

Why 2020 production could be worse: UNT could take a step back in terms of production at wide receiver for the simple reason that there are two ends to a successful passing game. The Mean Green could be better at wide receiver, but they certainly won't be as good at quarterback.

Mason Fine made UNT's offense go during his record-setting career. There is little doubt that he made the Mean Green's wide receiving corps better.

There's a whole lot of doubt about how good the Mean Green will be at quarterback next season. UNT heads into spring practice with Jason Bean and Austin Aune as the top contenders to take over for Fine.

The chances either of those guys or anyone else UNT rolls out there being as effective at working with the Mean Green's wide receivers as Fine is about nil.

Overall outlook: There is a lot to like about UNT's wide receivers and tight ends heading into 2020. The Mean Green have proven commodities in players like Darden, players with high ceilings like Shorter and newcomers with star potential like Brown.

How that group meshes with whoever takes over at quarterback for UNT will be one of the storylines to watch in spring practice.

The experience and talent UNT's receivers possess will help with the process and are big reasons the group should be one of the team's biggest assets in 2020.

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

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