What About Batson?

The expectation of a stellar Red Raider receiving corp is one that comes every season, regardless of whether or not the bread rose in the previous campaign. Indeed, after a few seasons where the unit seemed to be in a bit of a lull (looking at you, 2014), Jakeem Grant & Co. made their presence felt in 2015 as a perfect complement as the third arm in the Washington & Mahomes offensive trinity. And while 2 of those previously mentioned components have now moved on to the hall of heroes, there remains plenty of reasons to be hopeful that Mahomes won’t be lacking targets in 2016. Former high school teammate Dylan Cantrell returns, with hopefully more grease than rust after his 2015 absence. Plenty of freshman got some burn last year and all stepped up for the most part. Derek Willies is doing this. Donta Thompson & Quan Shorts are in the mix after redshirt years, Lauderdale has returned, and Reg Davis is again garnering praise after an inconsistent season. There’s really no shortage of excitement when talking about the receivers

So why are we not talking more about Cam Batson?

Entering his junior season for Texas Tech, Batson has literally been impossible to keep of the field since he set foot on campus. Even as a true freshman, he was able to win punt return duties, where he proved to be plenty reliable. Looking at his high school record out of 3A Millwood, OK, it’s easy to see why. At 5’9/165 (in high school) with a 4.45 40, Millwood stuck to the old small high school adage of “play your best athlete at quarterback.” His senior season, Batson racked up over 2,000 yards passing, 1,200 yards rushing, and 55 touchdowns on offense, returned 4 punts for touchdowns, and even pulled in 10 interceptions on defense (3 of which went for touchdowns). This campaign garnered him the Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year and a selection to the Oklahoman’s First Team All-State. If you look at his tape, you see a sort of effortless speed, which is accentuated by a patience in letting lanes open where they will. When pulling the ball on a read, Batson showed no qualms weaving his way through the middle, constantly keeping his head upfield all-the-while, eluding defenders with slight shimmies and the occasional spin. 

After the punt return-by-committee in 2012 (spear-headed by Sadale Foster), to have a true freshman come in and take over the return unit is. . . less than desirable, typically. Every second the ball was in the air was another second we all had to hold our breath. However, breathing became easier and easier with every return, and Batson proved himself to be incredibly reliable in fielding punts, even if he wasn’t flashy (3.76 yds/return on 17 attempts in 2014). On offense, Batson had a negligible impact, with just 41 yards on 9 receptions in the 12 games he played in 2014. Compare this to Jakeem’s first season in 2012, where he had 284 yards on 32 receptions & 3 touchdowns through 13 games.

Now, this of course can’t be a 1 to 1 comparison, as Jakeem had the benefit of a redshirt season, and also plays a completely different type of game; this comparison is simply because Batson will be the one stepping up to fill an all-time Tech great’s shoes. But let’s not undersell the context of Batson appearing in that 2014 season. After having to scramble to keep the 2013 class together after Tuberville’s Dine & Dash™, 2014 became Kingsbury’s true inaugural recruiting class. This class included the 3-star QB Cam Batson out of Oklahoma, who stepped foot on the field the very first time Central Arkansas decided to punt in the opening game of that same year. This was truly one of Kingsbury’s guys, scouted & picked to play in the system that he wanted to install, and he and Morris clearly had machinations for his spot in the program. It should also be of note that Batson had also been offered by Mike Leach at Washington State. It’s not a stretch to say that what Leach & Kingsbury saw was evidence of the DNA of that legacy inside receiver that Tech was known for, and Batson had the chance to pick up the mantle left by Welker, Amendola, Morris, & Grant. While his action may have been limited in 2014, it’s encouraging that he made his way to the field so fast after only a summer on campus, even if that year’s

Enter the 2015 season. With a fully ensconced Pat Mahomes settling in to take uncontested control of the offense, Batson became a steady contributor. After an iffy 2014 season overall for the receivers (average catch rate of receivers with 15+ targets = 59%), 2015 featured more reliability (average catch rate w/ 15+ targets = 66%), and Baton’s catch rate jumped from 53% to nearly 75% after pulling down 29 catches for 327 yards and a touchdown. While not flashy, the 11.28 yards/reception certainly didn’t seem to be a mirage created by drought & deluge types of receptions. Quiet for a spell, Batson seemed to feature an uncanny knack of showing up for a big first down once or twice a game exactly when the Red Raiders needed it. He was that one extra blanket you need in the winter, the cumin in the chili, the flashlight batteries rolling loose in the utility drawer you need during a power outage. His presence may have been under appreciated, but he was most certainly present and would have been sorely missed had he not been there. Did I also mention he took home All Big-12 Academic honors with a perfect 4.00 GPA as an accounting major? He did that as well.
Now, this could all be blustering fueled by optimism with a select memory admixture, but my feelings going into the offseason certainly seem to be finding some justification (and hopefully vindication). Batson’s name was often on the lips of coaches and teammates. Pat Mahomes referred to him as a “great, great replacement” when asked about replacing Jakeem, and Eric Morris himself has said it’s Batson’s job to lose this offseason. In the spring scrimmage, Batson lead the receivers with 83 yards on 5 catches and a touchdown. After his performance, Kingsbury couldn’t help but heap praise on #13.

“He has had an exceptional spring and he is another guy who has been waiting in the wings because he had an incredible player in front of him,” Kingsbury said. “But Cam is a 4.0 student and works as hard as anyone. He is starting to understand the nuances.”

As stated when discussing his high school tape, Batson clearly holds the patience to excel at the slot position. With the blocking prowess of the receiving corps improving in 2015, as evidenced by Washington’s season, this can only prove to be a boon for Cam’s style of play. Add this to the intelligence and steady reliability he’s shown, another season in the system, and Mahomes pulling the trigger?

I think Seth said it best.

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