There are few wide receivers in the MAC or in college football in general that mean as much to the success of their team as James Gardner does to the Miami RedHawks. After establishing himself in 2016 with 45 receptions for 750 yards and six scores, he was an even more explosive playmaker in 2017 with 927 yards and 11 TDs on 47 receptions as he earned First Team All-MAC honors. Gardner currently is in the top ten in program history with 1,749 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in his career.
The downside to being such a talented player is that the ball is often times forced to him, which is was as Gardner was targeted 92 times in 2017. Ryan Smith was second on the team in that category with 55 targets, so the defense knows that Miami is going to target Gardner early and often. With the departure of three of their last four pass-catchers from last season, it would be to the benefit of the RedHawks to have a more balanced passing attack in order to maximize opportunities for Gardner.
As a big-bodied receiver (6’4”, 217 lbs.), he is able to win 50/50 balls with his length and can be fairly dynamic after the catch. However, something that can hold Gardner back at the next level is his route running. He doesn’t really have to be the best route runner ever to be able to make plays against MAC corners, but against long CBs with elite speed he’ll have to get more polished with his technique to get the separation that he needs to make plays. Trevor Hokanson of Blue HQ Media made the comparison between him and Marques Colston, as neither has real blazing speed but they have comparable size and ball skills.