After suffering a foot injury during a non-contact workout, Oklahoma State receiver Marcell Ateman is expected to miss the first month of the season recovering from surgery.
As the team’s second-leading returning receiver, the loss of Ateman seems substantial. But rather than dwell on what isn’t there, the Cowboys have a chance to prove there’s plenty of depth at Mason Rudolph’s disposal.
Returning for his senior season in Stillwater, Ateman was coming off a junior campaign that saw him notch 766 yards and five touchdowns on 45 receptions. The only returning Cowboy who bested those numbers was James Washington. Behind Ateman, there’s a substantial drop-off in production — his yardage was more than twice the third-best yards returning this season. But considering that there were two seniors in the mix last season in Brandon Sheperd and David Glidden, the relative production from the rest of the receivers this year is actually promising for OSU.
At the top of the list of who will see a more substantial role without Ateman to open the season is senior Jhajuan Seales. Last season he finished as the Pokes’ fifth-leading receiver, toting a stat line of 321 yards on just 18 receptions. That’s an impressive average reception of 17.8 yards, besting Ateman’s 17-yard mark.
Seales isn’t quite the red zone threat that Ateman is at 6-foot-4, but he does provide a nice downfield threat. Keep in mind, he tallied a pair of scores last season, also scoring three times in both his freshman and sophomore years.
Most intriguing about Seales, though, is how well he’s played against one of Oklahoma State’s opponents before October, Baylor. He missed playing against the Bears in his second season, but in each his two games against Baylor, he has had season-best performances. In 2014, it was 74 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. Last season saw him put up 89 yards on a pair of catches.
Of course, this season is a different beast since it will be his first away game against Baylor. But the Bears have a pretty depleted roster as far as the defense is concerned, especially in the defensive backfield.
Washington scored twice as well, making him a sound target this season. But a bigger vote of confidence came from freshman Jalen McCleskey who had two touchdowns on three receptions.
The Cowboys are stacked with big, athletic targets like Washington and Seales, but McCleskey appears primed to take over where Glidden left off as the team’s possession receiver. To finish off his career, Glidden tallied 866 yards on a team-leading 57 receptions. Washington is going to get the majority of attention with flashy stats, but as the slot guy, McCleskey will keep picking up those hard yards. Even beyond the Baylor game, the freshman caught Rudolph’s eye quite often with 29 total receptions — a better line than even Ateman had in his impressive freshman campaign.
There shouldn’t be much concern about Ateman’s absence unless it extends to the end of the year. No one in the first month of play really presents that much of a threat to shutting down the OSU passing game, as both Pittsburgh and Central Michigan ranked in the middle of the country in terms of passer efficiency.
Once TCU and Oklahoma show up to close out the season, things get a bit fiery. Otherwise, handling the likes of Kansas in the middle of the season isn’t much of a hurdle, and that should give the Cowboys’ backups some valuable experience without sacrificing production.