Kody Epps was easy to like. On the field, when healthy, the 5-foot-11, 187-pound receiver was electric and enthusiastic. Off the field, he worked hard in school and freely proclaimed his love for Jesus, his parents and for BYU. Whoever lands him from the transfer portal will get a tremendous young man. But what they won’t be getting is a football player who is irreplaceable — those guys don’t exist.
Kalani Sitake and his staff, while surprised by his sudden departure, are shopping the portal. They would love someone who is as quick as Epps, but bigger and equipped to withstand the physical challenges that are coming in the Big 12. On Tuesday, Eastern Michigan transfer and former junior college All-American Darius Lassiter (6-foot-3, 200-pounds) committed to the program.
BYU also has resources already on the roster who are itching to play, including Talmage Gunther, Parker Kingston, Dom Henry, Koa Eldridge, Kade Moore, Hobbs Nyberg and Devin Downing. But their top assets are the Big Three — Keanu Hill, Chase Roberts and Isaac Rex.
Hill is a 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior who played in all 13 games last year. He finished with 36 receptions for 572 yards and seven touchdowns. His skill set includes speed, strength, tremendous hands, and enough confidence to do the Griddy in front of 60,000 screaming fans.
Roberts is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound sophomore who played in 11 games in 2022. He caught 22 passes for 357 yards and three touchdowns. When matched up against No. 9 Baylor and the Bears veteran secondary, Roberts pulled in eight passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. He also threw a touchdown pass to quarterback Jaren Hall.
Rex is a 6-foot-6, 255-pound junior who, despite playing on an unhealthy ankle, appeared in all 13 games last year. He caught 22 passes for 320 yards and six touchdowns. The broken ankle he sustained at USC on Nov. 27, 2021, has been a slow healer but he expects to be at full strength on Sept. 2 against Sam Houston.
Unlike Epps, who missed the last five games of the season and all of spring practice with a shoulder injury, Hill, Roberts and Rex have been on the field. They played a role in BYU’s four-game winning streak to end last season with Hall and they have been on the field with Kedon Slovis since the day he arrived, including every spring workout.
All three Cougars can do more and they will have to. Most importantly, they appear ready and willing with Rex in a position to perhaps do the most. The tight end was a favorite target of Zach Wilson in 2020. He caught 37 passes for 429 yards and ranked No. 3 nationally with 12 touchdowns.
In the last two seasons combined, with Hall at quarterback, Rex caught 40 passes for 511 yards and six touchdowns. He was underutilized in 2021 and handicapped by his health in 2022. Nothing will fill the void left by Epps more than if Rex can get back to his 2020 production, including more targets in the middle of the field and an increase of lob passes to the corner of the end zone, where his size and strength can dominate.
Developing the chemistry necessary between a quarterback and his tight end is well underway. Slovis stayed with the Rex family last week in San Clemente, California, while they worked out with former Cougars Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta and John Beck. At the time, they had no idea Epps would not be part of the 2023 offense. Now they do.
There is no sugarcoating the loss. Epps had the potential to play a key role in the BYU attack — but he can and will be replaced. Whoever steps up from the current roster or the portal will benefit from the opportunity and the fact that Hill, Roberts and Rex are more than capable of making up the difference will soften the blow.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.