In late July, it was reported by John Helsey of the Oklahoman that Oklahoma State wide receiver Marcell Ateman would be undergoing foot surgery and would likely be out until October.
When I heard this, I asked myself a few questions. How big of an impact does this have on the Cowboys’ passing game? Should I freak out and mark five straight losses for OSU in his absence? Or will I even notice he’s gone?
Well, for argument’s sake, let’s say Ateman is out until mid-October. That would have him missing Southeastern Louisiana, Central Michigan, Pittsburgh, Baylor, Texas and Iowa State. He would then make his return against the football powerhouse known as Kansas …
Now, a couple of these games are against weaker opponents (SLU, Central Michigan, Iowa State and Kansas) and the rest are very winnable, but what exactly are we missing? The 6-foot-4 senior had the best season of his college career in 2015. He reeled in 45 receptions totaling 766 and 5 touchdowns, including a 132-yard outing against Iowa State (so let’s hope he is back for that game).
Those numbers have Ateman as the second most productive receiver returning for OSU in 2016 behind James Washington. Additionally, ESPN’s Max Olson has Ateman ranked as the 7th best receiver in the Big 12 going into the 2016 season (As a side note, Washington is ranked number one).
Upon review of Ateman’s 2015 impact, you start to wonder if OSU will be able to make up for his absence until his predicted return in October. Well, from talk around practice this preseason, it seems that the Cowboys think they can compensate until his return. Who are the players that are ready to step up into Ateman’s role as the X-receiver? It starts with Jhajuan Seales and Chris Lacy.
Kasey Dunn seems to think Seales and Lacy are ready to step-up this season and assume the roster hole left by Ateman’s injury. Per the Tulsa World’s Mark Cooper:
“(Jhajuan) Seales and (Chris) Lacy are jumping up right now,” Dunn said. “They’re getting up and competing. It’s just fun because of this competition that they have going on at the X spot. Obviously it’s going to breed a situation to where they’re both getting better over time because neither of them are relaxing. They’re both playing really hard because they both want to start there.”
Seales has seen the field a fair amount in his three years at OSU. He had 18 receptions for 321 yards and two touchdowns in 2015, and he’s looking to increase his production in 2016. On the other hand, Lacy, a 6-foot-3 junior receiver, has seen limited action in his career. He only tallied 8 catches for 120 yards in 2015, but seems poised to take the next step this year.
As we saw from the release of the Cowboys’ depth chart last week, freshman Tyrell Alexander and Obi Obialo will also be in the mix at the X spot. Both Alexander and Obialo are big receivers who definitely have the physical tools to assume Ateman’s big play, deep threat role for OSU’s offense.
While Seales and Lacy look to replace Ateman as a starter on the outside, OSU’s slot receiver position is well-stocked between sophomore Jalen McCleskey and senior Austin Hays. They caught 29 and 22 passes last season, respectively. In addition, the 6’2 Hays has the flexibility to play both inside and outside, and while Ateman is out, we could see him assuming both roles. Freshman Dillon Stoner, who’s made a lot of noise in practice, will be worked in at the slot as well. James Washington seems to be impressed by Stoner as he told Kendrick Marshall of the Tulsa World:
“I was pretty impressed,” Washington said. “He doesn’t look like the fastest guy, but he can run all day long. He just doesn’t get tired. He reminds me of me in my freshman year.”
If he turns out to have as productive a freshman year as Washington (456 receiving yard and 6 touchdowns), the Cowboys could certainly match Ateman’s production coupled with the talent around Stoner.
The loss of Ateman definitely hurts, but with the returning experience, the new additions, and the more difficult portion of the schedule near the end of the season, the Cowboys should be able to make up for not having Ateman on the outside. Hopefully, Ateman has a speedy recovery and we see him back on the field sooner than expected.