UNT countdown Darden

North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden pulls away from Rice linebacker Blaze Alldredge (55) during a game last season at Apogee Stadium. 

North Texas is quickly approaching its spring game on Saturday and with it the end of spring practice.

Over the last few weeks, we have looked at a handful of players who have shown signs of breaking out and claiming significant roles. 

We wrap up the annual series on breakout candidates today with a look at a player who had a significant role last year who could become a star in Conference USA.

Jaelon Darden was a major contributor last season when he caught 48 passes for 575 yards and four touchdowns. 

The 5-foot-9, 165-pound slot receiver had one of his best games late last fall. He caught 10 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to UAB and is in position to build on that performance in in 2019.

UNT lost key outside receiver Jalen Guyton when he declared for the NFL draft. Guyton ranked second among UNT players with 54 catches for 805 yards and six touchdowns.

The Mean Green have plenty of players to help pick up the slack. Darden may be the most talented of the bunch and will have plenty of opportunities to make plays out of the slot.

The fact UNT is picking up the pace under new offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder, which should also help Darden. The Mean Green are going to get to the line, snap the ball and have Mason Fine distribute it quickly.

One can bet a lot of those passes are going to go to Darden and fellow slot receiver Michael Lawrence.

UNT's coaches and players have spoken all spring about Darden's high ceiling. He's quick, elusive and has the speed to get away from defenders.

Those traits have made him a big part of UNT's offense. Even though that is the case, he won't be the No. 1 player opposing defenses will be looking to stop.

Rico Bussey Jr. had a monster year while catching 68 passes for 1,017 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 12 games in 2018 before missing the New Mexico Bowl due to an injury. UNT's top outside receiver will likely see all kinds of schemes to slow him down next season.

That should open up plenty of opportunities for Darden. He could easily go from being a key member of UNT's offense to being a star in Conference USA in his junior season.

Here is our list: 

No. 2 -- Linebacker Mike Linehan

No. 3 -- Cornerback Keelan Crosby

No. 4 -- Wide receiver Greg White

No. 5 -- Offensive lineman D'Andre Plantin 

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

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