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FSU wide receivers/tight ends spring preview: Will new stars emerge?

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Discussing the more experienced group of pass catchers preparing for spring ball as 'Noles.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the discussion about the Florida State wide receivers and tight ends focused on what had been lost, after one of the greatest 'Noles to play each position (WR Rashad Greene and TE Nick O'Leary) had just departed for the NFL. That's certainly not the issue this year, as Florida State will not lose a single member of what was a very young skill position group in 2015, unforeseen attrition aside. Jimbo Fisher's offenses have traditionally struggled with inexperienced receivers, so 2016 could be a rebound year for a group that didn't strike fear in many 2015 opponents.

Receivers

There seem to be few question marks at the very forefront of the receiving corps heading into spring, as, last season, a trio of veterans established themselves as a cut above. Travis Rudolph, Bobo Wilson, and Kermit Whitfield led the 'Noles with 59, 58, and 57 catches, respectively, last year. Rudolph (6-1, 189) demonstrated impressive leadership at Florida State's recent Fourth-Quarter Drills, and was lauded by Head Coach Jimbo Fisher for the manner by which he's stepped up so far in 2016. And seniors Wilson (5-10, 186) and Whitfield (5-8, 180) should continue to give their all as they strive to become part of the first class to ever capture two national championships with FSU, along with boosting their own individual draft stock.

Outside that triad, though, things get a but murkier, as no other Seminole receiver finished with double-digit receptions last year. In fact, only one receiver not listed above caught a touchdown for FSU last season (Harrison). The reserves were certainly a lower-level supporting group in 2015, and if the 'Nole WRs are to resemble more of an ensemble cast this fall, here's who could step up in the spring, beginning with Rudolph's fellow juniors.

Pigg Harrison showed an incredible chemistry with fifth-year quarterback Sean Maguire last spring, but that connection was sidelined with Maguire, and Harrison, though well-sized (6-2, 196), seemed to struggle to string together mistake-free drives. Ermon Lane (6-3, 203) is another tall receiver who showed promise as a freshman before taking a step back last year. However, he blocks exceptionally well downfield, and it's tough to tell just how long he was plagued with foot issues before finally sitting out the Peach Bowl to address the problem. His mobility looked quite fluid in Fourth-Quarter Drills.

And then comes a sophomore group characterized by mystery and seemingly limitless potential. Size is a definite plus, as Auden Tate (6-5, 218) and George Campbell (6-4, 192) could provide the larger red-zone option that FSU struggled without through much of last year and particularly in the Seminoles' two regular-season losses. Da'Vante Phillips (6-1, 204) has nice size, too, but he'll miss spring as well with a core injury, although I did see him running routes and making impressive catches after conditioning the other day.

Nyqwan Murray (5-11, 179) is more similar to Wilson and Whitfield, but can make some circus catches and probably has more upside than either-- he has better hands than both seniors, and although nobody on the team is faster than Whitfield, Murray has the most football potential. Freshman Keith Gavin will prove a weapon down the road, but since he's not an early enrollee, he won't be around for spring ball.

Before moving on to tight ends, it's worth mentioning Mavin Saunders in this interstitial space, since he may well play more of a hybrid WR/TE role this year. Saunders (6-5, 253), who was an elite basketball prospect coming out of the Bahamas, is an intriguing target in the FSU passing game; unfortunately, he's also rather a target of opposing defenses, given his shortcomings in the blocking game. Don't be shocked to see him line up wide for the 'Noles on offense.

Tight Ends

FSU's top TE returns in redshirt-sophomore Ryan Izzo (6-5, 243). He was the No. 5 passing option behind the big-three WRs and running back Dalvin Cook, amassing 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 14 catches. Redshirt-junior Jeremy Kerr (6-6, 250)is back as well, but he was used almost exclusively as a blocker last season (almost, UF).

Izzo and Kerr figure to be the main TEs in 2016, because the options behind them are unproven across the board. Redshirt-senior Chris Casher (6-4, 256) is making the move over from DE, and redshirt-freshman Jalen Wilkerson will look for the first action of his career after suffering a shoulder injury in 2015. The 'Noles signed an athletic tight end in Philadelphia's Naseir Upshur, but seeing the field could prove a challenge, since he's not an early enrollee.

Bottom Line

If the 'Noles are going to have the success many expect them to enjoy in 2016, at least one currently unproven Seminole will probably have to step up from this group. We'll get our first glimpse of that competition when spring practice commences next week.