It seems weird to say so now, but it wasn’t too long ago that we were worried about the future of Cal’s receiving corps. Following the 2015 season, the Bear Raid arsenal was set to lose its top six targets. Kenny Lawler’s acrobatics, Bryce Treggs’ vertical attack, Darius Powe’s consistency—all gone. (Of course Stephen Anderson, Trevor Davis, and Maurice Harris also deserve grateful mention here.) That meant the Bears’ top receiving weapon going into 2016 was Khalfani Muhammad.
No disrespect to Khalfani, but having a running back as your top returning pass-catcher doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence when you’re running a pass-heavy system. We had no idea back then that there was nothing to worry about, no way to foresee the arrival of two top-flight receivers in Chad Hansen and Demetris Robertson.
Indeed the 2016 group’s performance would be a pleasant surprise. Though the cumulative numbers (3416 yds, 28 TDs) were a few ticks down from 2015’s (3878 yds, 38 TDs), it’s important to factor in the wholesale changes to Cal’s passing game when comparing the two. Despite contending with a new quarterback, new offensive coordinator, and youth all around—half of Cal’s major contributors were underclassmen—the Bears’ receivers laid a solid foundation for next season’s new QB.
Cal wide receivers led the Pac-12 in receptions (333) and finished second in total touchdowns (33), highlighted by Chad Hansen’s conference-leading 1,249-yard, 11-TD performance. And yet, some of those gaudy numbers are somewhat inflated as a result of Sonny and Jake’s offensive system. Per-play numbers tell a somewhat less impressive story: Cal’s 11.2 yards per catch ranked toward the bottom of the conference. Anyone who watched the Bears this season knows this offense could be maddeningly inconsistent, and there’s certainly room for improvement in offensive efficiency. Another year of growth and practice for many of these young receivers will go a long way. In the meantime, let’s review some top performances from 2016.
We heard the story a hundred times over from every ESPN talking head that made it to a Cal game (as well as a certain few who didn’t). The unsung kid from Idaho State became a phenom in 2016, collecting a trove of All-Conference honors as he went. It’s hard to pick a favorite performance of Chad’s. Was it his breakout game against Hawaii? His “horns down” taunt against Texas? His return from injury against Washington? (Probably not, that game was a downer.) Despite missing two games with an ankle injury, Hansen finished the season tied for 22nd in the nation with 11 TDs. Reeling in almost a quarter of Davis Webb’s targets, Hansen led the Power 5 conferences with 125 yards per game when he was healthy. Whether Chad will return next fall is an open question, but a breakout performance like the one he had in 2016 will certainly have grabbed the attention of many pro scouts.
Speaking of getting people’s attention...and guys showing up out of nowhere...and Bears that will be playing on Sunday, how about a moment of appreciation for Demetris Robertson? Cal’s deep threat of the future made his first major appearance against San Diego State, blowing by the first of many defenders who would be unable to match his speed. Seemingly every time Webb uncorked a long ball, Robertson had somehow appeared halfway down the sideline (much to the surprise of the opposing defense). I’ll admit to worrying at times that he might be 2016’s Brendan Bigelow, showing unbelievable flashes but never quite delivering on his promise. And boy am I glad to be wrong. Robertson finished his freshman year with 767 yards, seven touchdowns, and a Freshman All-American honor. Let’s take a moment to remember the last few Cal WRs who were Freshman All-Americans. He’s in good company:
- 2005 - Desean Jackson: 601 yds, 7 TD
- 2010 - Keenan Allen: 490 yds, 5 TD
- 2016 - Demetris Robertson: 767 yds, 7 TD
Okay, so the kid’s a year late. I’m inclined to watch his highlight reel again and give him a free pass.
Though he didn’t have quite the same showy numbers as his classmate, true freshman Melquise Stovall spent his first season displaying the electric speed that made him such a coveted recruit. He finished as Cal’s third most productive receiver, coming up with 415 yards and 3 scores. Those numbers would have been even bigger had he not lost the end of his first season after leaving the Washington State game with an injury. The coaching staff used all kinds of screens to get him the ball, and I’d anticipate Stovall earning a much bigger role in the offense if Chad Hansen does leave.
And though outside receivers often steal the spotlight, junior Raymond Hudson deserves mention for taking the next step in his junior season, racking up three TDs including two big ones against SDSU. Quick shouts as well to Cal’s senior wide receivers: Bug Rivera, who finally got a chance to shine after walking on to the team in 2014, showed out with exceptional consistency in the passing game and a career-capping touchdown on Senior Day. Fifth-year senior Patrick Worstell, who has been at Cal since Tedford’s final campaign, caught passes in five games and earned his first career start against UCLA.