Next up on the Florida State football spring question series is the wide receiver unit. In 2013, the Seminoles had one of the top groups in the country, lead by Rashad Greene (76 rec., 1128 yards, and 9 TDs), Kelvin Benjamin (54 rec., 1011 yards, and 15 TDs), and Kenny Shaw (54 rec., 933 yards, and 6 TDs). However, WR coach Lawrence Dawsey will have his work cut out for him to find replacements for Benjamin, an early entrant to the NFL Draft, and Shaw, a graduation casualty.
Benjamin was a highly rated four-star recruit who had a multitude of issues early in his career. The light bulb finally came on in 2013 as Benjamin developed into a matchup nightmare and red zone threat for FSU’s Heisman winning QB Jameis Winston. Benjamin forever sealed his name into FSU legend on the last offensive play of the season as he used his elite size to catch the game winning TD for the National Championship. Shaw, another four-star recruit, was an excellent route runner and used his quickness to consistently get open out of the slot. Having a receiver as good as Kenny Shaw as the No. 3 receiver on the team was quite unfair for a college football team.
One of the biggest questions for Jimbo Fisher’s offense for the 2014 season is how they will try to replace over 100 catches, nearly 2000 receiving yards, and 21 TDs from the highest scoring offense in college football history. I say try, because replacing their production and not seeing a drop off is highly unlikely.
The good news about losing 2/3 of a WR group that amassed over 3000 yards and 30 TDs (if there is any good news) is that the most productive receiver from a receptions and yardage standpoint returns. Rashad Greene (6’0", 180 lbs., Sr.) will enter 2014 as one of the most complete college receivers in the country as he continues to move up the Florida State record books. Greene has lead the Seminoles in receptions and receiving yards in each of his first three seasons, as well as TD receptions in each of his first two seasons. He has been one of the most productive receivers in FSU history and will begin his senior season ranking fourth in school history in career receptions (171), sixth in receiving yards (2,465) and seventh in TD receptions (22). With another great year, he could own all of the Florida State receiving records.
Greene possesses elite speed, making him a big play threat every time he touches the ball. While he is not the biggest WR, he does have adequate size. More added size and strength like he gained before 2013 would be a welcome addition to his game, but he makes up for any deficiency in this area with excellent quickness to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage and separate from defensive backs out of his breaks. Greene also has great hands (drops against Florida and Auburn excluded) and consistently catches the ball away from his body. Although he is a good route runner, especially for the college level, this is the area where he could gain the most improvement as he prepares for the next level. For an in-depth breakdown of Greene as a player and NFL prospect, read Matt Waldman's article at Football Outsiders.
The big question involving Greene in 2014 is how Jimbo Fisher will work to get the ball in his hands. With his big play ability, he should see many touches per game. However, returning as the leading receiver for a record breaking offense to a WR unit lacking experience means Greene will see extra attention from opposing defenses, especially early in the season while teams force Florida State’s unproven receivers to step up.
How Green handles being taken away by other teams will be an important part of his season, as well.
Florida State will need to find new contributors for both the outside and slot receiver positions. While all the potential candidates lack significant experience, the Seminoles have recruited well at the position and should be able to find adequate options to keep the position from being a weakness. Perhaps the most likely scenario is that Rashad Greene will remain the featured receiver while the other receivers constantly rotate in and out of games, unless others step up and prove that they deserve a higher share of the reps.
Christian Green (6’2", 200 lbs., RS Sr.) is a candidate to take over one of the outside receiver positions. Green was a highly rated recruit who played quarterback in high school. Thus far, he has failed to live up to the hype as he transitioned from QB to WR. However, Green is an excellent athlete, as he possesses a good combination of speed and strength. He has shown big play ability in limited opportunities during his career, but has not showed consistency or the grasp of the offense that he should. Will that change in his final year?
Isaiah Jones (6’4", 200 lbs., So.) is the other option obvious to start outside opposite of Rashad Greene, at least until the freshmen arrive. He was also highly recruited coming out of high school and has the size to cause matchup problems for opposing defensive backs. Jones saw limited playing time as a freshman in 2013 and remains an unknown quantity coming into spring.
Other receivers, discussed below, could also be in contention for the outside receiver job, but the best case scenario si that one of Green or Jones step up, because of their size.
The battle for the slot receiver position is between Jarred "Scooter" Haggins (6’0", 193 lbs., RS Sr.), Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield (5’7", 178 lbs., So.), and Jesus "Bobo" Wilson (5’9", 177 lbs., So.).
Many Florida State fans were excited by the potential Haggins showed early in the 2011. That year, Haggins played well in the home game against Oklahoma until he broke his hand. Since then, he has struggled with injuries and been passed on the depth chart. Haggins missed all of the 2013 season with a stress fracture in his knee. While he is not expected to be a game-changer, he does have the potential to be a solid contributor.
Whitfield is one of the fastest players in college football. He has Olympic track speed that translates to the football field, making him a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. He saw limited snaps at the receiver position in 2013 but showcased his speed in the return game, most notably with a kickoff return for a touchdown to give the Seminoles the lead in the fourth quarter of the BCS National Championship against Auburn. Whitfield will continue to be used on special teams and should have more opportunities out of the slot in 2014.
Wilson is a quick receiver who is elusive after the catch. He saw limited playing time on offense during the 2013 season and also saw reserve action as a punt and kick returner. Wilson has very good change of direction skills and is a good route runner.
Florida State also has a trio of talented recruits coming in at receiver in the fall in Ermon Lane, Travis Rudolph, and Javon Harrison, and if the existing players don't step up, one of the true freshmen could seize playing time.
An Alternative Solution
If Jimbo Fisher and the offensive coaching staff are not satisfied with the abilities of the current WRs to contribute, there is another option: use fewer receivers.
Moving to more multiple tight end formations has been a heavily discussed topic here on Tomahawk Nation for several years, and it may be a route Jimbo decides to take since he actually has several veteran tight ends at his disposal. For more on this possibility see jmnpb996’s spring preview of the tight ends.