Jimbo Fisher has his work cut out for him in 2015. After having the highest scoring team in college football history in 2013, and another elite passing offense in 2014, pretty much everything is gone. Gone is the best player in Florida State history as Jameis Winston is quarterbacking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after going No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. Gone is Rashad Greene, the leading receiver in FSU history and Nick O'Leary, the leading tight end in FSU history. Oh, and four offensive linemen who are now in the NFL.
Even if FSU had experienced backups ready to step up and replace the receivers, a drop off would fully be expected.
But it doesn't. FSU's returning receivers barely amassed what Rashad Greene did as a senior -- combined. This is why Jimbo Fisher has repeatedly referenced the need to return to fundamentals and teaching -- much more so than he needed to do with loaded 2013 and 2014 squads.
How young is FSU's group of pass catchers? 13 of 18 skill position players on the roster are in their first or second seasons, meaning they could not leave early for the NFL draft even if they wanted to. Of the five who are in their third- or fourth seasons, only receiver Jesus Wilson, who was wildly inconsistent as a junior projects to be a big contributor in the passing game (running back Mario Pender, receiver Kermit Whitfield, fullback Freddie Stevenson and tight end Jeremy Kerr do not figure to be big pieces of the passing game).
"Probably the youngest offense overall," Jimbo Fisher said when asked if he has ever had a group of skill players as young as this 2015 lot, noting that Everett Golson, the transfer QB who has been on campus only a few weeks, is the only scholarship senior on offense.
Jimbo Fisher's history at Florida State suggests this level of youth from its pass catchers is not a good thing.
In fact, FSU's success in the passing game, as the chart at right shows, tracks well with its youth. The 2013 team that set the all-time college football scoring record had 96% of its receiving yards come from third-, fourth-, and fifth-year players. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in 2011, Jimbo Fisher had his least experienced group, as only 37 percent of receiving yards came from upperclassmen, and its worst passing offense by a mile.
This makes sense, given that Jimbo Fisher's offense has a reputation of being tough for young players to pick up, as receivers must understand spacing and how to break off their routes in concert with the QB based on different coverage looks. Of course, when it is working, those facets make it difficult for defenses to stop.
In 2015, Florida State looks even less experienced than its worst offense under Jimbo Fisher, perhaps significantly so. The majority of passes will likely be caught by second-year players like receivers Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane, and Ja'Vonn Harrison and tight ends Ryan Izzo and Mavin Saunders.
Granted, receiver experience was not the only factor in making 2013 Jimbo Fisher's best offense and 2011 its worst. Quarterback play matters, as does offensive line experience and health -- and FSU was great in both of those categories in 2013 and bad in 2011.
It could also be argued that FSU's 2015 group (Rudolph, Wilson, Lane, Harrison, Campbell), though is more talented than 2011's unit (Rashad Greene and Nick O'Leary were true freshmen, paired with junior Rodney Smith, sophomores Kenny Shaw and Greg Dent, senior Bert Reed and second-year Christian Green). That could mean mixed in with running wrong routes and mental errors will be more explosive plays could be expected than the 2011 set.
But there is a lot of upside here for the future. Yes, FSU's receivers will likely make a lot of mistakes in 2015 as the offense goes through growing pains, but none of them are going to be jumping to the draft, and FSU projects to have one of the most talented and experienced group of pass catchers in the country come 2016 and 2017.