For what seems like forever, Seminole fans have bemoaned much of what has constituted FSU’s starting receiver rotation. While yearning for the use of youngsters teeming with potential, ’Nole supporters instead saw pass after pass sailing toward undersized upperclassmen.
As 2016 wore on, however, that began to change— and it won’t even be an option in 2017; if it’s the unknown for which you’ve longed regarding Florida State WRs, this is your year indeed.
The familiar faces are a pair of returning juniors who played increasingly critical roles as last year progressed. Nyqwan Murray (5’11, 176) and Auden Tate (6’5, 225) wound up being FSU’s No. 2 and No. 3 receivers, in terms of reception yards, among WRs in 2016. But their 441 and 409 yards through the air, respectively, barely combined to eclipse that of the Seminoles’ top pass catcher last season, Travis Rudolph, who gained 840 yards before declaring early for the 2017 NFL Draft.
Receivers No. 4 and 5 (Kermit Whitfield and Bobo Wilson) are also gone, via graduation, and the only other WRs to haul in a pass last year were Da’Vante Phillips (6’1, 206) and Ja’Vonn Harrison, the latter of whom is no longer with the program. So where does this leave the state of the Florida State receiving corps heading into spring?
Well, it’s a safe assumption that Murray and Tate will once again play important roles—frankly, as the only ’Nole wideouts with crunch-time experience, they need to. They also must improve upon their consistency. Each demonstrated a tendency to disappear through stretches of games last year, and as the new de facto leaders of the corps, that cannot continue to occur so regularly.
After that, the picture at receiver gets a bit more convoluted. Returning sophomore Keith Gavin (6’3, 225) played meaningful snaps at the tail end of the 2016 campaign, a positive sign that his pro-ready build could be quickly incorporated into the 2017 game plan. Phillips also bring an impressive physique to the table, and probably the strongest hands on the team, but the question with him has always been if he can remain healthy consistently enough to achieve significant playing time.
And any discussion of WR injury issues naturally leads us to George Campbell (6’4, 207), who I consider to be the real question mark of this year’s rotation. Campbell, who is a true blend of size and blazing speed, missed all of 2016; but if he’s ready to go this spring, and, more importantly, in the fall, he could certainly contend for substantial minutes, if not have a break-out season while Murray and Tate draw the majority of opposing secondaries’ attention.
Of course, receivers never exist on an island— someone has to get them the ball. And while we have a pretty decent idea of quarterback Deondre Francois’ chemistry with Murray and Tate, another thing to look for this spring will be to see how well he meshes with the rest of the crew. Because make no mistake about it: contributions from the rest are no longer an intriguing prospect that could materialize down the road. In all likelihood, they’re a necessity.
If this team is to meet its current top-five projections, numerous heretofore bystanders have to step up and assume at least supporting roles. But if this squad is to be truly elite, at least one will probably have to have a break-out fall. And that could very well begin in spring ball.