Matt Brown is putting together a series of posts on the top players in college football. Brown is a good read because he scans the entire country, not just a particular region. He’s starting with tight ends and receivers.
The ACC lost a ton of talent on offense, including almost all its good QBs, its top four running backs, and 13 of its top 20 receivers. It should be a much lower-scoring league in 2017, but there is still some talent. Note that no ACC team has a receiver and tight end listed.
Let’s take a look at who FSU will face from this list.
4. Jaylen Samuels, N.C. State. Perhaps underappreciated nationally, Samuels is a unique weapon who is much more than a tight end. Listed at only 5-foot-11, 236 pounds, Samuel is more of a multi-dimensional H-back. N.C. State moves him around and gives him the ball in a variety of ways: He has 126 career catches for 1,258 yards and 15 TDs. And he has 104 career rushes for 700 yards and 16 TDs. Samuels had 12 more catches than any other Wolfpack player last year and had the second-most rushing TDs.
In 2016, Samuels has 141 yards on 24 career touches through three games against Florida State. NC State is one of the few teams in the ACC that did not lose many of its pass catchers, so Samuels could see less attention from defenses in 2017.
8. DeAndre Goolsby, Florida. The Gators' passing game still needs a ton of work, but Goolsby carved out a sizable role as a junior with 38 catches for 342 yards and three TDs. After a midseason lull, he did have 91 yards in the SEC title game against Alabama, and he can be key cog in an improved Florida offense this season.
Goolsby had one catch against FSU in 2016, for five yards. The question for him in 2016 remains the same in 2017: Will Florida have anyone to throw him the football?
9. Cam Serigne, Wake Forest. Serigne's catch numbers have actually declined from year to year, but his average per catch has risen. Over three seasons, he has proved to be a reliable weapon for the still-developing Demon Deacons offense, hauling in 130 career catches for 1,519 yards and 12 TDs, with a career-best average of 14.2 yards per catch as a junior.
Serigne has 13 career catches for 100 yards against Florida State, despite missing the 2016 game due to injury. He’ll be a focus for FSU’s defense.
4. Calvin Ridley, Alabama. Perhaps Ridley is following the Amari Cooper path. Cooper had 999 yards as a freshman but dipped to 736 yards as a sophomore. In his junior year, Cooper became a Heisman finalist with 1,727 yards. So far, Ridley has had 1,045 yards as a freshman and 769 yards as a sophomore. What's in store for his junior season? With freshman Jalen Hurts and his limited downfield passing at quarterback, Ridley averaged 10.7 yards per catch last year and finished behind teammate ArDarius Stewart in yardage despite catching 18 more passes. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is charged with refining Hurts' passing, and Ridley will be a huge part of those plans. With Stewart and tight end O.J. Howard gone, the dynamic Ridley is the experienced go-to player here. Alabama's offense will be too run-oriented for Ridley to put up Cooper-like junior numbers, but expect significant growth, because he is one of the top receiving talents in the country.
FSU has never faced Ridley, but many of FSU’s defensive backs have faced him as recruits. He’ll obviously be a focus of the defense, but given Alabama’s talent on offense (ESPN just ranked them the No. 1 roster on offense), it’s hard to focus too much on one person. Tarvarus McFadden will have his work cut out for him.
5. Ahmmon Richards, Miami. Whoever wins the Miami QB battle to replace Brad Kaaya will benefit from the presence of one of college football's biggest rising stars. Richards was an explosive star as a freshman, averaging 19.1 yards per catch with receptions for 934 yards. A four-star recruit, he started 11 games and cracked 100 yards four times, showing off enormous potential as an elite athlete destined to be an NFL receiver. If he builds off the strong start to his college career, he can become the ACC's best wideout.
Richards had four catches for 58 yards against FSU in 2016. Given that Stacy Coley and David Njoku are departed for the NFL, and that Miami might have major QB issues, look for FSU to focus heavily on Richards.
7. Antonio Callaway, Florida. Callaway has had a tumultuous career at Florida, including a suspension much of last offseason, but on the field he provides a desperately needed jolt to what's been an otherwise anemic Gators offense. In 12 games last year, Callaway caught 54 passes for 721 yards and three TDs, stellar numbers in an offense that has struggled to move the ball since Tim Tebow left. If the Gators can finally improve at quarterback -- Feleipe Franks is the current favorite to start -- Calloway can take aim at a thousand-yard season behind his explosive playmaking ability.
“Find Callaway.” It’s been the mantra of FSU’s defense for two years against Florida and will continue this season. Last year, Callaway caught six passes for 58 yards against Florida State, with no touchdowns. The QB questions remain, but they might be answered somewhat this year, although UF now has questions about replacing defensive talent.
10. Deon Cain, Clemson. While overshadowed by Mike Williams and some of the clutch plays made by Jordan Leggett and Hunter Renfrow, Cain had a terrific sophomore season as the Tigers' deep threat, averaging 19 yards per catch with 38 receptions for 724 yards and nine TDs. Clemson is unlikely to throw quite as much without Deshaun Watson, but there are plenty of available targets for Cain to step into a bigger role with Williams, Leggett and Artavis Scott gone. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Cain was a five-star recruit in 2015, and he has the size and speed to develop into one of the nation's top receivers.
Cain might be the most talented player on this list. He had 69 yards on just two catches against Florida State last year, and with Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett off to the NFL, Cain will be the primary target for the Tigers.
26. Hunter Renfrow, Clemson. The walk-on national championship game hero is back for his junior season as one of the few familiar faces in what will be a new-look Clemson offense. Renfrow missed four games and was part of a loaded receiving corps last year, but he had 44 catches for 495 yards and six TDs, including the title-winning catch in the corner of the end zone. He'll continue to be a key factor in the slot, although Deon Cain should emerge as the Tigers' No. 1 target.
Renfrow is a good college slot, but will he be as good with so many other weapons departing?
FSU also got a nod on the list.
25. Nyqwan Murray, Florida State. The Seminoles' receiving corps has had some issues the past couple years, but even with Travis Rudolph gone, there's hope for a breakthrough this season behind Auden Tate and Murray. Murray was a nonfactor the first half of last season, but he emerged with six catches for 96 yards against Clemson, nine catches for 153 yards against N.C. State and a big Orange Bowl in which he had a 92-yard TD and the game-winning 12-yard TD. The Noles are counting on another leap forward to put QB Deondre Francois in better position to succeed.
Murray has great potential; he could reach it if he consistently gives effort and attention to detail in running his routes, even when he doesn’t expect the ball.