Matt Vautour: Where does Tajae Sharpe fit among UMass’ all-time receivers?

Last modified: Friday, October 30, 2015
Statistically there can be no argument about Tajae Sharpe’s place in UMass football history. He has the numbers. He’s the career leader in receiving yards (2,906) and catches (231). With another half season to go, if he doesn’t get injured he’ll further stretch the line for whomever tries to break it.

But, using the eye test, is he still No. 1 in the modern era? The modern era starts in 1998, when UMass went from a program content with being a solid regional team to one with greater aspiration.

From a receiving standpoint, there’s been some terrific players during that time frame. While several of them spent time on NFL rosters, this list is based on their time in Amherst, not what they did afterward. It’s also wide receivers only, not tight ends or pass-catching running backs.

Just missing the top five were: 10. DeShon Hardy, 9. Jeremy Horne, 8. Julian Talley, 7. Jason Peebler, 6. J.J. Moore.

Top five UMass receivers in the modern era:

5. Victor Cruz — Cruz obviously has the most successful post-UMass career. His early struggles to get eligible kept him from having a historic career. That said, he was still very good, particularly in 2008 when he caught 71 balls for 1,064 yards.

4. Brandon London — If London had the career he had —148 catches for 2,022 yards and 15 touchdowns — for an FBS team, he’s probably still be in the NFL. Instead, his pro career amounted to a brief stint in the NFL and CFL. But he was terrific in Amherst and a huge piece of the team’s run to the Division I-AA title game in 2006.

3. Adrian Zullo — He personified UMass football during his career. During the championship run of 1998, UMass played fast and with swagger. Nobody combined speed, talent and attitude more that the 5-foot-7 speedster from Florida. From the day he stepped on campus until the day he graduated, Zullo was a star.

2. Jimmy Moore — The transfer from SMU was amazing in one season at UMass. He caught 92 passes for 1,494 yards and 16 touchdowns. If he didn’t leave Texas, the Minutemen likely don’t win the 1998 Division I-AA Championship. If he’d played four years, or maybe even just three, it would have been his records, instead of Zullo’s, Sharpe was chasing.

1. Tajae Sharpe — In addition to Sharpe’s numbers, consider a few mitigating factors: Jimmy Moore had Zullo alongside him to draw the defense. Sharpe spent all but one game of his career playing against FBS foes, while the other wideouts did so once a season at most. Sharpe has thrived with Blake Frohnapfel throwing him the ball, but for two of his seasons he had A.J. Doyle and Mike Wegzyn throwing him the ball. Despite just seven catches on Saturday, his 65 receptions lead the FBS. He’s on place to break Moore’s record for catches in a season.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Western Kentucky at No. 5 LSU, Saturday 7 p.m., ESPNU — The nation’s No. 1 running back Leonard Fournette (1,202 rushing yards) goes up against the nation’s No. 2 quarterback. Western’s Brandon Doughty is the nation’s best player you’ve never heard of. He’s completed 197-of-266 passes for 2,709 yards and 24 touchdowns. He’s been intercepted four times. While the Hilltoppers will be a sizable underdog, Doughty gives them a puncher’s chance.

MAC GAME OF THE WEEK: Bowling Green at Kent State, Saturday 1 p.m., ESPN3 — There aren’t any particularly compelling MAC matchups (MAChups?) this week, although this one does pit the league’s best offense (BGSU) against its statistically best defense (KSU). Plus, the Falcons (5-2) can get bowl eligible with a win.

PLAYOFF BOUND — Utah, TCU, Michigan State, LSU.

IF I HAD A HEISMAN VOTE — Fournette. He had 180 yards and two touchdowns vs. Florida in a battle of SEC unbeatens. Unlike with quarterbacks, who get credit and blame for wins and losses in the Heisman race, Fournette should remain steady even if the Tigers drop a game.

FINALLY — Iowa is 7-0. Its remaining games don’t included a ranked foe as the Hawkeyes don’t face Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State this season. Few people think Iowa is a playoff contender, but if it avoids being upset and then pulls one off in the Big Ten championship game, the Hawkeyes would be pretty much assured a spot in the playoffs despite playing a really weak schedule.

The committee couldn’t leave out an undefeated power conference team. Could it?

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage