Up-and-down recruiting and inconsistent on-field performance has led to this fun fact: since 2008, only three receivers (Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Auden Tate) have been drafted out of FSU.
Year in and year out, the wide receiver position group has consistently been one of concern for the Seminoles. While they’ve been on the whole serviceable, the production from the group hasn’t matched expectations, for reasons which you can assume yourself.
Everything came together in a poor way in 2017, with a receiver core that only returned two players that had caught a pass. Multiple pass-catchers, from Tate to Keith Gavin to George Campbell, suffered injuries during the season, further thinning out an already inexperienced group.
With a new offensive approach, rejuvenated corps and new additions, the tides hope to change in 2018. Injury-wise, senior Nyqwan Murray, the most tenured of the receivers, is easing back in and near 100 percent after a meniscus tear in the spring, while sophomore D.J. Matthews has been limited so far. Inexperience again plays a factor with 2018’s group, as Murray and Matthews are the only two on roster to score a touchdown, but the potential for their success looks a bit brighter. Tamorrion Terry, who redshirted last season, has been the subject of praise through the early weeks of practice, while freshman like Tre’Shaun Harrison and Keyshawn Helton have been mentioned by Taggart for their success through the preseason, while five-star Warren Thompson has the chance to fight and earn some early playing time. Ontaria Wilson, who switched over from cornerback, has also been getting some shine at the position.
It also helps that, in Florida State’s new Gulf Coast Offense, receivers are not only being freed up by having fewer possible route adjustments per play, but also with wider, more spread out alignments. We saw a preview of that during FSU’s spring game, with wideouts being located as far as the boundary of the field of play, in hopes of creating more one-on-one opportunities.
From our very own Bud Elliot:
Defenses already have to make a vertical choice when it comes to how shallow it wants to play its safeties, whether close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, or deep to help prevent the big pass. But Taggart’s receiver alignments (which were first popularized by Art Briles at Baylor) make the defense choose both vertically and horizontally. If the safety doesn’t get out near the sideline before the snap, he often cannot cover that much ground to help out after the snap. The same applies to the alignment of the linebackers.
The spacing also really hurts the ability of the defense to successfully bring blitzes off the edge, because if a defender is in his original alignment, he has so much more ground to cover to get to the QB than he would against a normal alignment. That means the QB and offense have more time to see the blitz coming and adjust.
This increases the amount of knowledge the offense has to work with before the snap of the football, decreasing the amount it must gather after the ball is snapped, when the bodies are flying around.
The lack of combo coverages defenses can play against this alignment also means that instead of helping out a corner, a safety is often matched on a freak athlete in the slot like D.J. Matthews.
The success of Florida State’s receivers will depend on a variety of factors: veteran players stepping up, returning ones finding their place and newbies making an impact. At the same time that a new system invites potential for new success, it also presents the chance for a learning curve, a possibility especially high when dealing with such a young, inexperienced group. By making things as simple as possible, and by putting the best players in the best position to succeed and use their talents, that curve can be watered down or, with some luck, completely avoided. There’ll be some growing pain in 2018 to go along with explosive plays and highlights, but it should pay off towards mid-season and especially 2019, as the majority of talent rests with the younger players within the group.