One year in, Emmett Jones’ impact on the Sooners’ WR room is there to see

One year in, Emmett Jones’ impact on the Sooners’ WR room is there to see

OU's talented cast of wide receivers will be integral to Jackson Arnold's development. Jones’ first year has shown that the position group is in good hands.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Jan 10, 2024, 6:00am CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Jan 10, 2024, 6:00am CST

NORMAN — Emmett Jones hit a lot of right notes in his debut season as Oklahoma’s wide receivers coach. One of the very first came in his initial appraisal of Drake Stoops last March.

Before he landed at OU, Jones had been fascinated by the Sooners’ veteran pass catcher. In meeting rooms in Lawrence and Lubbock, Jones would throw Stoops’ tape on the screen and ask his wide receivers why the 5-foot-10, former walk-on was such a prominent piece in the OU offense.

By the first week of the Sooners’ spring camp, Jones understood completely.

“I see why now,” Jones told reporters at the time. “He’s a true student. He’ll give you everything he’s got and he’ll fight for you. I told the coaches — I will walk down any dark alley in South Dallas with him. Any dark alley. That’d be one of the first guys I grab to walk down that dark alley.”

For one, that statement was probably the coolest thing any of Brent Venables’ assistants uttered in 2023. For another, it was Jones’ initial forecast on the prolific final campaign Stoops would deliver and an early mark of Jones’ successful first season. 

Wednesday marks one year since Venables plucked the experienced Big 12 assistant from Texas Tech about four months after Cale Gundy’s departure. As OU moves forward with what is expected to be its deepest and most talented wide receivers room of the Venables era in 2024, evidence of Jones’ impact is visible.

He helped launch career-best receiving seasons for Stoops, Jalil Farooq and Nic Anderson. He lived up to his reputation as a skilled recruiter, assembling the Sooners’ best high school wide receiver class since 2021.

Venables will be judged heavily on his hires of offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and defensive coordinator Zac Alley. In Jones, Venables has a recent example of an assistant hire gone exceptionally right.

“He’s tough, but he believes in kids,” Venables said. “He believes in things that maybe they can’t believe in themselves. And he’s got a way to command a room and knows what he wants on the field.”

One of the realest coaches I’ve had’

Just as 1,000-year receiver Marvin Mims left for the NFL last January, Jones arrived as a new voice with a different energy.

“One of the realest coaches I’ve had,” Farooq said during the fall. “He never cuts it short. He always tells you the truth; tells you what you need to hear. Doesn’t beat around the bush. Having a coach like that just motivates you.”

In meeting rooms, Jones brought an edge to the way the Sooners wide receivers operated. On the field, he implemented a style predicated on physicality and intense fundamental drilling. 

During the early months of Jones’ tenure, OU pass catchers described a renewed emphasis on aggression from the line of scrimmage to downfield blocking to the moments before a catch.

“We’re always doing contested-catches drills,” said Anderson, the redshirt freshman who went on to total 10 touchdowns. “He’s always trying to get us in a more aggressive phase.”

Per Pro Football Focus, OU made 57 contested catches in 2023, only three more than the 54 the Sooners tallied under interim wide receivers coach L’Damian Washington the previous season. 

Yet there were improvements among OU’s most prominent pass catchers. 

Stoops’ 17 contested catches nearly doubled a previous career high. Anderson’s 12 contested grabs in his breakout season were second-most within the wide receiver unit. Farooq returned to double digits in the category for a second consecutive season.

It was among that trio of wide receivers that Jones’ impact shined through most in 2023.

Stoops and Farooq entered 2023 as OU’s only proven receivers following the departures of Mims and Theo Wease. They partnered as veteran leaders and two of the most productive pieces in the position group.

Stoops turned in not only the most productive season of his six-year career in 2023, but closed his time with the program as a sharper, more complete wide receiver. 

Stoops caught 77.8% of the passes thrown his wayup from 65% — and led the Sooners with 472 yards after the catch. After dropping 4.9% of his targets in 2022, Stoops’ drop rate climbed only slightly to 6.7% on 48 more targets.

“He helped me a lot fundamentally,” Stoops said of his offseason work with Jones.

“Just tightening up — whether that’s my footwork, how fast I’m playing within 15 yards, making it look like I’m really about to run by someone and then maybe I snap it down or even just also becoming faster on my top-end speed so I can really run by guys and expand that part of my game.”

Farooq hit career highs with 45 receptions and 694 yards as a junior. And while his two Alamo Bowl fumbles will leave a lasting mark on his 2023 campaign, Farooq became more sure-handed under Jones, cutting his drop rate from 14.9% to 8.2%

Anderson’s jump stands out above them all. After injury limited him to three games in 2022, he exploded for 38 catches, 798 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“He’s great just with my technique as a receiver and how my style has developed under him,” Anderson said. “It’s just a whole new game.”

Forging relationships on the recruiting trail

OU wide receiver signees Ivan Carreon and Zion Ragins had different recruiting experiences. Together, their stories help present a picture of the recruiter the Sooners have in Jones.

“Right when I went for a junior day up there, I felt the connection between me and him,” Ragins said. “I feel like I’ll be able to make it all the way with his help to where I want to be in life.”

Along with his coaching ability, Jones was brought to Norman on the power of the recruiting expertise he showed in his stops at Kansas and Texas Tech.

Venables has placed a priority on the high school talent coming out of Texas. Jones arrived deeply connected in the state from his 15 years spent coaching in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

“I can just continue to build that bridge from Oklahoma to the state of Texas,” Jones said after his hiring. “Not only Dallas, but the state of Texas. OU always had a presence in the state of Texas.”

Back then, Jones’ recruiting prowess was theoretical and based solely on past performance. The wide receiver talent he pulled in 2024 — the Sooners’ best in the Venables’ era — is very real.

Jones’ first wide receiver class included two prospects from Texas, headlined by four-star Zion Kearney of (Missouri City, Texas). Fellow four-stars Carreon (Odessa, Texas) and Ragins (Gray, Georgia) also signed last month with KJ Daniels, a three-star pass catcher from Franklinton, Louisiana, rounding out the group of incoming high school pass catchers. 

With three wide receiver recruits ranked inside the top 50 of 247Sports’ national rankings at the position, it’s the Sooners’ strongest wide receiver class since Lincoln Riley inked Cody Jackson, Mario Williams and Farooq in 2021

Carreon’s history with Jones is rooted to a camp at Texas Tech in the summer of 2020.

That’s when Carreon, a big, athletic wide receiver who hails two and a half hours from Lubbock, began to develop his relationship with Jones. Intimidated at first, Carreon grew to understand the Red Raiders’ connection-driven assistant coach. In Dec. 2022, Carreon committed to Texas Tech.

Jones’ departure for Norman a month later didn’t immediately shake Carreon’s pledge to the Red Raiders. But after Jones rekindled the relationship last spring, Carreon took a visit to OU and flipped to the Sooners on June 30. 

Connections, the kind Jones builds on the recruiting trail, matter.

“It was about knowing him for a long time — knowing who he was and getting to know him better throughout the years,” Careeon said. “I got to see our relationship grow.?

Carreon’s relationship with Jones was a slow burn. Ragins’ developed faster.

The speedster from Georgia met Jones on an unofficial visit to Norman last January. They kept in close touch and forged a bond through Ragins’ July commitment. In the final days of the contact period last month, Ragins and Jones spent an afternoon talking about life and football over lunch at a Georgia Zaxby’s. 

“He’s been straight up with everything (in my recruitment),” Ragins said. “Every other coach was this and that. Coach Jones was straight up with everything. I feel like he was honest and I could trust him.”

In good hands

Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony was a shooting star in Jones’ first season. After committing to the Sooners on the same day Jones was hired, Anthony caught 27 passes for 429 yards before a season-ending knee injury six games into the 2023 season.

Those six games and the offseason that preceded them were enough time for Anthony to find a pillar in his new position coach.

“Coach Jones is more than a coach to me,” Anthony said during the fall. “He’s like a mentor.”

In 2024, the mentor Anthony leans on will be in charge of a position group oozing talent as OU prepares to enter the SEC.

Farooq, Anderson, Anthony Jayden Gibson and Jaquaize Pettaway return. Purdue transfer wide receiver Deion Burks, one of the top portal pass catchers this offseason, represents a top-tier addition. Plenty of intrigue lies within the freshman class, too.

That group will be integral to the development of quarterback Jackson Arnold and the success of Littrell’s first OU offense. With Jones, the assistant who more than proved himself in his first year on the job, the position group is in good hands. 

“Coach Jones challenges us every day,” Anthony said. “He says, ‘If you can stand coach Jones, you can withstand anything.’ And that’s true.”

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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