On Thursday of this week, you’ll have the distinct pleasure of reading my preview of the 2017 Florida State secondary. It’s a piece teeming with possibility and optimism. Again, that’s Thursday. This is Tuesday. And this article is decidedly different than that one.
That’s because the 2017 FSU receivers are relatively inexperienced and altogether shallow as a unit. Make no mistake: there is some elite talent at the top— but the distance from the top to the bottom isn’t exactly a long trip, as position coach Lawrence Dawsey has confessed that this is his thinnest group since he started coaching at FSU in 2007.
Let’s start with those we (kind of) know: the only players in the group to have registered a catch against a Power-Five opponent. That would be juniors Nyqwan Murray (5’11, 176) and Auden Tate (6’5, 225). End of list.
There’s a ton of upside with these two, including similar 2017 stat lines. Murray went for 27-441-5, Tate 25-409-6. But while their numbers from last season are close, their games are quite disparate. Murray’s game is comprised of a lot of speed and even more shake, and he contorts himself well to produce a catch radius larger than most players with his frame. Tate goes up and gets it with the best of them, having averaged a high among FSU receivers in 2016 with 16.36 yards per catch.
But this duo is not as established as many like to think, just because they came on late in the season like they did. Remember, Tate started just four games last year, Murray only two. One principle reason was consistency, as these two tended to disappear for stretches at a time in 2016. Murray in particular must put forth a consistently higher effort in 2017— whether he thinks the ball is coming his way or not.
Another player who saw increased burn as the 2016 campaign wore on was now-sophomore Keith Gavin (6’3, 225), the receiver in this group whose ceiling is definitely the highest. Although Gavin did not record any receptions, his impressive kick return against Michigan in the Orange Bowl set up FSU’s game-winning score. That return served as a microcosm of just how special Gavin can be with the ball in his hands. He can run around defenders, away from them— or he can just run over them. Hell, he had no problem running right through Kermit Whitfield’s stop sign at the goal line. Gavin stepped onto FSU’s campus with a pro-ready physique, but by his own admission, was simply not ready to play early on. We’ll see what a difference a year can make; early returns — along with that late one against the Wolverines — are encouraging.
On to George Campbell. If Matthew Thomas was the former unicorn, meet the new magical, mythical creature on the Florida State roster. A redshirt-sophomore, Campbell (6’4, 207) has battled injuries throughout his FSU career, but looks to be prepared to see a lot of playing time after missing all of 2016 with a core injury. He possesses the rare combination of length and blazing speed, and Seminole fans should really be hoping that he was taking some solid mental reps in the film room while sidelined last year. Because he and Gavin playing to their potential, along with more consistency from Murray and Tate, would be a vexing four-wide lineup for any defense to face. Campbell also has to answers questions about his ball skills.
Of course, we’ve gotten to a four-deep WR roster without any mention of injury or broader attrition, and without entertaining options for when Jimbo Fisher wants to go five-wide. One solution, of course, is tapping into other personnel groups, as I discussed when junior receiver Da’Vante Phillips was suspended (and for the record, I don’t think Phillips plays another down for FSU). Regardless, four receivers is just not enough, so players who’ve never taken a collegiate snap at the position simply must step up and contribute.
Enter promising true-freshmen D.J. Matthews and Tamorrion Terry. At 5’10, 160, Matthews is about my size, although slightly quicker. But seriously, Matthews is a terrific route runner who is beyond evasive. I’m really intrigued to see how his ability to make players miss translates to the collegiate level, when the skill of defenders takes a massive step up. Terry (6’4, 208) was one of the less heralded recruits in FSU’s 2017 class, but he turned more than a few heads during the Seminoles’ open practice earlier this fall, particularly for how he more than held his own in competing with an established ’Nole secondary. As you may assume, Matthews projects more as a slot.
Rounding out the scholarship receivers is recent convert Malique Jackson (6’0, 170), a senior who switched over from DB after the Phillips suspension. Given the talent at the top and the potential from the new guys, this appears to be more of a numbers-based contingency plan, and a wise one at that. Seven WRs on scholarship, five of whom could be on the field at the same time— yikes. Also, keep an eye on redshirt-senior walk-on Jared Jackson (6’2, 199). Fisher is fond of praising him, and he’s probably the next man up outside of those already mentioned. He could grab a scholarship if/when Phillips is dismissed.
So while there’s a lot to like about the 2017 FSU receiving corps, there just aren’t a lot of them to like. The bigs are big, the little guys are coated in teflon, but FSU may need to bubble-wrap the lot of them. So pour Jobu another shot of rum, and maybe save some for yourself; this group could either have you celebrating or drowning your sorrows.