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Revisiting the Boise State 2018 Class Part 3: Wide Receivers

NCAA Football: Boise State at Colorado State Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to a fun off-season series that Drew (the handsome one), Zach, and Mike (both of MWCConnection) are rolling out for your viewing enjoyment (hopefully). Back in February, excitement was at an all time high for fans and coaches alike as the 2022 class was officially signed. Like every year, fans often tout a class as potentially one of the best on paper. However, once players get on campus and actually on the field, the true story begins to reveal itself. It can often take years for a class to truly be judged as the impact of many players won’t be seen for a few seasons. That being said, this series will aim to revisit and evaluate Boise State’s 2018 class. There has now been enough time that many members of the class have either left or are entering their final seasons, which means players are able to be looked at for their production (or lack thereof) rather than projection and hype.

Anyway, each week, Drew, Zach, and Mike will look at a different position group from the class. While we will contribute two posts each week over the next month, the location of the posts will change. The start of the week will feature a post on OBNUG while the end of the week will see a post up on MWCConnection, that way readers of both sites can follow along. Each post will have all of us weighing in on the same talking points for each season: our expectations of the player from when they signed, the production they gave each season on the team, and their overall impact. The impact will fit into one of 3 categories (exceeded expectations, met expectations, or below expectations). We will each keep a running tally of our totals and then at the end we can each determine the over impact the 2018 class had. It should be a fun and interesting study to see what kind of careers each player had and revisit some names that may have been forgotten.

The 2018 recruiting class was a noticeable step up in their recruiting efforts. It saw the return of a few four-star recruits, as well as other promising three-star players with some big offers to their name. To hear our thoughts on specific players from the class, read below.

Part 3: Wide Receivers

Part three looks at one of the positions the Broncos recruited very well in this class. It was also one of the positions they took the most players, with five. Out of those five, they covered nearly every part of the spectrum in terns of outcomes: an all-time great, a player who made an immediate impact, a player who has gotten better each year, someone still trying to find their role, and someone who never made it to campus.

Drew

Khalil Shakir

Expectations when he signed: ‘High’ to ‘Very High’. He was a four star and his tape backed it up. Really a testament to former position coach/OC Eric Kiesau that we landed him

2018 Season: 16 receptions for 170 yards, including a game-sealing TD against a ranked Fresno State squad

2019 Season: 872 yards receiving, 66 rushing. 10 total TDs (he threw one as well)

2020 Season: 719 receiving yards, 148 rushing. 6 TDs

2021 Season: 1,117 receiving yards, 7 TDs and some of the sickest grabs we’ve seen in a Bronco uniform.

Overall Impact: Shak’s stats may not be atop the Boise State record books, but it’s hard to think of a more impactful player the last two seasons. He contributed meaningfully his 4 years at Boise State, but came on late to really lead that group and add a dimension to the Bronco offense it had been missing. This is a tough one to call because I had sky-high expectations of Shakir and he MET them, but I think his off-field do-goodery and just being the ultimate team guy probably even exceeded many of my expectations.

Stefan Cobbs

Expectations when he signed: High. Cobbs tape showcased speed and hands…two things that tend to help when playing the position.

2018 Season: Redshirt year

2019 Season: Just 3 receptions, but one was for a 44 yard TD.

2020 Season: 4 receptions for 72 yards.

2021 Season: 421 yards and 5 TDs…good enough for second most on the team. Housed a punt return.

Overall Impact: The book isn’t fully written on Cobbs. I think he’ll be the go-to guy this season at receiver and he should push for an all-league nod, IMO. Up to this point, most feel he’s been somewhat “lightly” used, which is a bit of a head scratcher. His junior year was good and he showed flashes of the guy we thought he’d be, but since was shelved so much as a freshman and sophomore and this is more of a holistic approach, I’d say he’s failed to meet expectations. However, I don’t really feel that’s been his fault (skittish OCs and some injuries) and I think he’ll have a big senior season, so put a pin in this one.

John Hightower

Expectations when he signed: No idea. I liked what he brought in terms of speed an athleticism, but he was so lightly used at his run-first JuCo it was honestly hard to project much.

2018 Season: Acquitted himself well in his first season. Showed to be a real deep threat and even dangerous out of the backfield and returning kicks.

2019 Season: Nearly a thousand yards receiving and 8 TDs and was named to the All-MWC second team

2020 Season: NA

2021 Season: NA

Overall Impact: Huge impact during his time as a Bronco. Made an incredible TD grab in MWC title game and all around was just awesome. He definitely exceeded expectations.

Billy Bowens

Expectations when he signed: Pretty high, tbh…looked like a good deep threat with speed to beat the band (if the band were playing DB)

2018 Season: Appeared in 3 games

2019 Season: Appeared in one game

2020 Season: Lemme guess…one third of a game? Ah, no…six games and 5 receptions.

2021 Season: 12 receptions for 140 yards with a long of 42 yards

Overall Impact: Bowens has been a bit buried on the depth chart but did make some strides last season…and given that he’s still on the roster and the Broncos lose Shakir and Evans, perhaps he’s in for a big ‘21? That said, to this point, Bowens has likely failed to meet his own expectations and thus…

Cam Thomas

Expectations when he signed: IIRC, I was nearly as excited about Thomas as I was about Shakir…primarily because of his size (6’4” 200 lbs). Broncos had needed some size at the position and Thomas had it.

2018 Season: Wrong turn at Albuquerque.

2019 Season: NA

2020 Season: NA

2021 Season: NA

Overall Impact: Zip, zilch, nada. Failed to meet expectations, obvs.

Zach

Khalil Shakir

Expectations when he signed: Sky high. Shakir is the highest rated receiver to ever sign with Boise State.

2018 Season: Played significant snaps as a true freshman before suffering an arm injury while making a terrific touchdown catch against Fresno State. The injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.

2019 Season: Shakir became a lethal second receiver behind Hightower. He was also used as a weapon in the rushing game. I think you could argue that he was underutilized.

2020 Season: The COVID shortened season is where we really see Shakir emerge as a star receiver. It was clear that a big senior season would allow him to go down as one of the all time greats.

2021 Season: Shakir made highlight catch after highlight catch on his way to one of the most prolific receiving seasons in Boise State history.

Overall Impact: HUGE. Shakir had a great career. I do wish that the coaches would have found ways to get him more involved his first few seasons. Shakir was also a great Bronco, always one of the first to take pictures and sign autographs for fans. He exceeded expectations.

Stefan Cobbs

Expectations when he signed: Really high. I could argue that Cobbs had better high school tape than Shakir. I was really excited to see what he would bring to the team.

2018 Season: Redshirted.

2019 Season: We got a taste of Cobbs’ speed on a touchdown catch against Portland State. But he was hampered by nagging injuries for much of the season.

2020 Season: He played in all seven games, but was widely ignored in the passing game. It was really surprising, because he was expected to play a big role.

2021 Season: We finally got to see the Stefan Cobbs we had been hearing coaches rave about for years. He became a reliable number two receiver behind Khalil Shakir and even made an impact in the return game. But injuries limited him at times.

Overall Impact: Cobbs had a really good 2021 season and is expected to be the number one receiver this fall. But for now, I have to go with met expectations. That could change this season.

John Hightower

Expectations when he signed: We knew he was fast, but he was underutilized at the juco level. I knew he could be special, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up.

2018 Season: John Hightower immediately became the deep threat and was one of Brett Rypien’s favorite weapons. He had a really good junior season.

2019 Season: Hightower became a more diverse receiver as a senior . He started making more plays across the middle of the field and looked like a true number one receiver.

2020 Season

2021 Season

Overall Impact: You could argue that Hightower was the best player on the team in 2019. He made a ton of plays and went on to be an NFL draft pick. He exceeded expectations.

Billy Bowens

Expectations when he signed: Bowens was kind of an afterthought in this deep receiving class. I thought his ceiling was number three receiver.

2018 Season: Redshirted

2019 Season: Played in only one game.

2020 Season: Played in six games, but saw limited action.

2021 Season: Bowens played a ton. He made some plays but struggled with drops.

Overall Impact: Bowens has an opportunity to earn a starting role this fall. But he has struggled to make catches in some important spots. At this point, he has failed to meet expectations.

Cam Thomas

Expectations when he signed: High. Thomas had size and Power Five offers.

2018 Season: Thomas never made it to Boise State.

2019 Season:

2020 Season:

2021 Season:

Overall Impact: Failed to meet expectations.

Mike

Khalil Shakir

Expectations when he signed: Shakir was a major boon in recruiting, a legitimate four-star offensive playmaker who passed up bigger offers because he was a down-to-earth genuinely good person who bonded with the coaching staff. Expectations were sky-high for Khalil.

2018 Season: Shakir burst on the scene right away. He may have technically not started games but he played starting snaps and had the production to go with it. Used as a runner and receiver, he rushed for 70 yards and caught 16 balls for another 170 yards, with a touchdown each way. The future was bright.

2019 Season: Playing in 14 games, Shakir became a primary playmaker. He had 63 receptions for 872 yards and 6 touchdowns. In the rushing game, he added 66 yards and 3 more scores. He truly became a do-it-all type of player.

2020 Season: In a difficult covid season, Shakir was a bright spot. Especially in the BYU game where he was one of the few players who didn’t give up. He was on a remarkable pace and it’s too bad we couldn’t see what it looked like over a full season. In just 7 games, he had 52 catches for 719 yards and 6 touchdowns. Plus, a career-high 148 rushing yards.

2021 Season: What more is there to say? For an encore, Shakir added highlight-reel catches seemingly every game in his most productive season to date. He played in 12 games, had 77 catches, 1117 receiving yards, 130 rushing yards, and 7 touchdowns.

Overall Impact: He may have not had the best numbers of any Boise State wide receiver, but he may have been the best all-around receiver and arguably the most talented. In a crazy stat, Khalil Shakir never won a bowl game in his career, for a variety of odd reasons. But demonstrated what is meant to be a Bronco each and every game and became a 5th round NFL draft selection. Even though expectations were high, he exceeded them.

Stefan Cobbs

Expectations when he signed: I had high hopes for Cobbs, who was electric on film against good competition in Texas. I didn’t think he would be an immediate star, but figured it would only be a matter of time.

2018 Season: Cobbs redshirted, which wasn’t a surprise considering the depth they had.

2019 Season: He only appeared in six games but he made them count. Cobbs scored on his first-ever touch, scoring a 44-yard touchdown. It was a sign of things to come to be sure and accounted for more than half of his 57 yards on his 3 touches.

2020 Season: Many thought Cobbs would be the fourth wide receiver on the team and see a pretty good amount of snaps. However, they didn’t necessarily come to fruition. In the pandemic-shortened season, he appeared in four games, tallying 6 touches (4 catches, 2 rushes) for 83 total yards.

2021 Season: This was finally the breakout season everyone was waiting for. In the 8 games he played (he missed time with injuries), Cobbs had 34 catches for 421 yards to go along for 5 touchdowns. For good measure, he was also a kick and punt returner, and returned one for a touchdown.

Overall Impact: Cobbs has had a slow and steady progression, going from a redshirt to a breakout impact player and now he is poised to be the #1 receiver in 2022. The only thing that can hold him back is his bout with injuries. While my answer may be different next year, this year I am going with met expectations.

John Hightower

Expectations when he signed: Hightower did not have the most impressive stats out of junior college. The rumor was he was stuck in a running offense. But one thing for certain, he was fast on high highlight tape. Fans saw him as an immediate replacement for fellow JUCO player Ced Wilson, but coaches preached patience when it came to expectations. I didn’t not think he would be as good as Wilson but figured he would be somewhere between a good and great player during his two years.

2018 Season: Hightower burst on the scene as an impact player, ending up second on the team in touchdowns with 6 and third in all-purpose yards with 870. He was a well-utilized weapon on the field with his ability to catch passes and take the ball as a rusher. It seemed the coaches were being coy with his abilities.

2019 Season: More of the same for Hightower, only even more. This time, he lead the team both in receiving yards (943) and touchdowns (8) while being named to the All-MWC Second Team. For his efforts, Hightower was drafted by the Eagles in the 5th round.

2020 Season: N/A

2021 Season: N/A

Overall Impact: Hightower’s speed was as advertised but his production was even better than anticipated. While he wasn’t a true #1, he didn’t need to be. He exceeded my expectations.

Billy Bowens

Expectations when he signed: Bowens gave his verbal pledge around the end of the regular season. He was a three-star prospect but seemed more like roster depth to me. Someone who could do a bit of everything but didn’t appear to have a carrying skill to get him on the field.

2018 Season: Bowens appears in three games while preserving his redshirt and even started one (due to injuries to other places). He had a rushing attempt for 11 yards. His playing time had me wondering if maybe the coaches were seeing someone I wasn’t.

2019 Season: He only played in one game, which made any thoughts from the past season disappear. Maybe some injuries as well?

2020 Season: Bowens again played a limited role, getting credit for three games and had five catches for 39 yards.

2021 Season: In his biggest season to date, Bowens played in six games. He doubled his catches with 12 and triples his yardage with 140. However, he is probably remembered most for the frequent and timely drops he has had. It’s hard to make an impact at wide receiver when you can’t be relied on to catch the ball.

Overall Impact: Bowens has another year to figure things out but if the team will be good, he should be in nothing more than a reserve role. If he’s the 5th or 6th receiver, things are pretty good. One could make the argument that he has met expectations but due to the drops and not being a reliable target, I’m gonna go with fails to meet expectations.

Cam Thomas

Expectations when he signed: Thomas was a signing day surprise, being announced in the evening after flipping from Oregon State. He brought more size to the wide receiver room and I thought he would be a great fit.

2018 Season: Alas, Thomas did not arrive on campus with the other recruits (I believe it was due to academic reasons). He went the JUCO route and didn’t appear to surface anywhere after that.

2019 Season: N/A

2020 Season: N/A

2021 Season: N/A

Overall Impact: You’ll never believe that, but I’m pretty sure he failed to meet expectations.

Running Totals:

Drew: 3 exceeded expectations, met expectations, 6 failed to meet expectations

Zach: 4 exceeded expectations, 1 met expectations, 4 failed to meet expectations.

Mike: 4 exceeded expectations, 1 met expectations, 4 failed to meet expectations.