A flashy, big-play receiver with silky running skills and a flair for te dramatic, Mardy Gilyard has developed into college football’s top receiver in the Bearcats dangerous offense. The favourite target of QB Tony Pike, Gilyard has turned his life and career around as a big part of the Big East champion Bearcats.
Posting his second straight 1,000-yard season in 2009, Gilyard led the Big East in catches (75), receiving yards (1,150) and TD (11), as well as punt return and kick return yards. Gilyard managed to find the end zone through the air, on the ground, returning kicks and punts, giving him 15 total TD this year and 31 TD in his career (25 TD catches).
Gilyard returned 7 kicks for 176 yards as a true freshman in 2005 before missing 2006 because of academic problems. Gilyard failed a course and was accused of cheating by a professor, ultimately getting stripped of his scholarship. Gilyard persevered. Working multiple jobs and working with children, Gilyard was able to work his back into the graces of the new Brian Kelly-led coaching staff, paid off enough of his debt to the school and was re-instated before the 2007 season. This is the defining moment of Gilyard’s career and it had nothing to do with football. This could have been the end for Gilyard; instead, it has become the life altering experience that has made him so respected as a player and person.
Gilyard started putting his speed and elusiveness to use in 2007, catching 36 balls for 536 yards and 3 TD, all the while flashing his return abilities in picking up 206 yards on 7 kick returns. He put it all together in 2008 with the help of an unknown QB with a lanky build and big arm. Pike and Gilyard became a lethal duo thanks to an excellent rapport with one another and the Bearcats became a feared opponent for Big East foes. Gilyard led the team with 1,276 yards on 81 catches (3 catches behind the graduated Dominik Goodman) and scored a team-leading 11 times. He added 994 yards on kick-offs, scoring twice.
Gilyard and QB Tony Pike were meeting and surpassing all expectations in 2009, as the pair combined for 517 yards in the first 5 games of the season, and finding the end zone 7 times in that span as the Bearcats leaped out 5-0, with Pike throwing 13 TD total. Pike was injured against South Florida the following week and Gilyards numbers took a bit of a swoon. With Pike on the shelf for 4 games, Gilyard had one TD catch despite a 172-yard performance against Connecticut. With Pike back against Illinois, the duo was back to their old tricks as Gilyard caught 7 balls for 102 yards and 2 TD. Gilyard was instrumental in Cincy’s Big East Championship win over Pitt, catching 5 balls for 118 yards and a TD and adding 256 yards and a TD on kick returns.
Gilyard is exceptionally tough despite his thin frame and is almost lanky with long arms. His route running has significantly improved in 2009 and he has become very adept at creating separation with double moves and head fakes. Gilyard has a surprising second gear that he unleashes after lulling a defender to sleep. A bit of a long strider but very smooth and loose, he looks like he’s gliding around the field. Can be flustered by a tough jam but has learned tricks to get off the line cleanly. Possesses very good leaping ability and is adept at getting his feet down before going out of bounds. He makes highlight reel catches routinely and sucks in poorly thrown balls. He tracks and adjusts but will need to add strength to better fight for balls.
He will need to prove his speed before the draft but I think he just might run a sub-4.5 and his elusiveness and change of direction are obvious watching him. At times he just wants to lull people to sleep but Gilyard is just not a quick twitch runner. He’s been known to short arm passes when he hears footsteps but generally sucks in anything close to him. He doesn’t have the frame to add much weight but can improve his core strength. He doesn’t always fight for the ball and gets pushed away. He gives the effort blocking but lacks the strength to be a force. This likely will never be his forte but he will improve because he seems to take it seriously.
The 2008 Big East Special Teams Player of the Year and first team All-Big East choice as a receiver and returner, Gilyard has a bright future and should make a quick impact as a return man. If he continues to take his career as seriously as he has been once he gets paid, Gilyard can be a Pro Bowl calibre receiver and be a fantastic example off the field. He has first round potential but could end up dropping to the second round depending on demand and his speed tests.