Riley Stapleton, Cardon Johnson, Trai Sharp, Rashad Robinson, Darrious Carter and Jimmy Moreland are all names JMU football fans have heard plenty of during training camp. These guys are expected to be some of JMU’s top performers and contributors during the 2018-19 season. With a roster as loaded as JMU’s, it makes sense that the players mentioned above garner the majority of headlines. They’ve proven themselves worthy of media attention.
There are a few guys, however, that JMU fans take for granted at this point in the offseason. They know they’ll perform well, but nobody is bouncing off the walls with excitement over them. It’s time for JMU fans to get thrilled about Virginia transfers David Eldridge and Landan Word.
When it comes to discussing JMU wide receivers, the conversations normally focus on Riley Stapleton and the battle for the No. 3 receiver position. There might be a brief mention of Eldridge, but nothing that compares to the attention focused on Stapleton or the young receivers competing for playing time. JMU fans are sleeping on Eldridge.
Eldridge, who played at Virginia for two seasons, snagged 18 receptions for 442 yards and four touchdowns as a Cavalier. The total reception number isn’t anything special, but averaging 24.6 yards per catch and scoring a touchdown on over 20 percent of his receptions speaks to his explosiveness. Stapleton tends to be the receiver fans consider the explosive downfield threat, but when given the opportunity, Eldridge excels after the catch and on deeper throws.
At JMU, Eldridge joined a crowded group of receivers and still brought in 42 receptions for 533 yards and four touchdowns. His longest catch of the season went for 46 yards, which beat Stapleton’s longest reception by 6 yards. Eldridge matched Stapleton’s reception total and only had one fewer touchdown. Of course, Stapleton played two fewer games and put together a dominant postseason run, which is why he deserves all the attention he’s received. With that being said, Eldridge fills the Brandon Ravenel type role in JMU’s offense. He’s not necessarily the biggest or fastest guy on the roster, but he’s reliable.
Reliability isn’t sexy, so Eldridge isn’t going to get casual fans as excited as other players on JMU’s roster, but his importance can’t be stressed enough. He racked up 10 games last season with at least three receptions in an offense that featured Terrence Alls, Riley Stapleton, John Miller, Jonathan Kloosterman, Ishmael Hyman and Clayton Cheatham. With four of those guys graduating, Eldridge immediately becomes the likely No. 2 option in the offense. If he can stay healthy, he has a realistic chance to lead the team in receptions and put together a season with over 50 catches, 700 yards and 4-6 TDs.
Kyre Hawkins, Brandon Hereford and Gus Little combined for 213 tackles last season. All three are no longer on the roster. With Raven Greene and Jordan Brown combining for 158 tackles of their own, there’s a lot of tackling to be replaced on JMU’s defense.
Enter Landan Word.
Physically, Word resembles a “Create-A-Player” linebacker in a video game. At 6-foot-5-inches tall and 244 lbs, Word weighs more than some of JMU’s defensive ends. He was a three-star recruit coming out of high school, with offers from Virginia, Arizona, Boston College and Pittsburgh. His father played running back in the NFL for seven seasons after a career at Virginia. Going off of pure measurables and genetics, Word is one of JMU’s most fascinating prospects.
Last season, Word played in 14 games, but received just one start with a plethora of talent ahead of him on the roster. With three top linebackers gone, Word grabs a starting role. He recorded 31 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and a pass breakup last season. Nothing remarkable, but he was a reliable backup.
His big-game ability jumps off the page after two seasons of limited work. His season-high in tackles last year came against Villanova with ESPN’s “College GameDay” in town. He made five tackles and forced a fumble in the victory. At Virginia, Word had just 21 tackles as a freshman, but also put up three tackles for loss, two sacks, and a fumble recovery. Against No. 5 Louisville, he started for the first time in his career and added five tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. Against No. 22 North Carolina, he had four tackles and a sack. His two best games as a freshman came against offenses led by Mitchell Trubisky and Lamar Jackson.
He’s shown the ability to make plays in meaningful games, and he has all the measurables to become an elite CAA linebacker. With an increased role this season, Word becomes capable of recording 100 or more tackles this season.
Get excited, JMU fans. Your team has two Virginia transfers poised for big seasons and they aren’t getting much of any media attention. That speaks to the depth, explosiveness and overall talent of the Dukes’ roster.
The 2018 JMU football season is one of the most anticipated in program history. For the Dukes to reach their goals, they’ll need more than big plays, flashy highlights and blowout victories. Expect reliability and consistency to be the story of the season. Eldridge and Word are the perfect authors to write that script.