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Florida State Position Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

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Can the WR group rebound from last season’s disappointing performance?

FSU Sports Information

As we approach the start of the 2021 football season, Tomahawk Nation is breaking down each position group on the Florida State Seminoles football team. First we covered running backs, then the offensive line, and then special teams. Today, it’s wide receivers and tight ends.

Florida State’s wide receiver corps was arguably the worst position group on the team last year. Warren Thompson never put it all together, and a wide range of issues plagued Tamorrion Terry’s disappointing last season in Tallahassee.

The Seminoles’ run game was good last season, but the passing game never clicked. And by “never clicked” we mean it was one of the worst in the country. That’s partly because head coach Mike Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham turned to explosive quarterback Jordan Travis and leaned on the ground game, but a big reason they turned to Travis in the first place was the lackluster play from the receivers and the offensive line in pass protection.

Wide Receivers

The coaching staff is hoping to make big improvements to the FSU passing game this season, but besides the arrival of quarterback McKenzie Milton somebody among the receivers will have to step up to make that happen.

Norvell’s offense is built around playmakers — he and Dillingham will look to scheme up one-on-one matchups for the below players, but what the receivers do with the ball in their hands will be on them. It’s no coincidence Norvell is recruiting playmakers that can make things happen in the open field. While some players have more experience than others, this is a position group that is basically wide open. There is talent here, and competition for playing time should be fierce.

Returning

Ontaria “Pokey” Wilson (redshirt junior)

Pokey went from FSU’s sixth leading receiver in 2019 to its top target in 2020. However, while there were three players who caught at least 30 passes in 2019, Wilson was the only one to do so last season, and he led the team with just 382 yards receiving. If Wilson can develop this season into a solid No. 2 receiver, FSU could have the start of something interesting.

Keyshawn Helton (redshirt junior)

Helton spent last season slowly working his way back from a devastating left knee injury (torn MCL and PCL, along with other damage) he suffered in 2019 against the Clemson Tigers. His production understandably took a dip, although he also contributed to special teams as a punt returner. What he lacks in size he makes up for in work ethic. But is Helton the same player he was pre-injury?

Jordan Young (redshirt sophomore)

The player also known as “Abusement Park” can still be best described as full of potential. Young is wildly athletic, third among returning players in yards per catch, but he has a tendency to play smaller than his 6’2 frame. In his third year in the program, is he ready to have a breakout season?

Bryan Robinson (redshirt freshman)

A former blue-chip player who enrolled early, Robinson struggled with injuries last season and has yet to record a catch, but he did see some playing time last season, and if his development this off-season has gone well, it could be difficult to keep him off the field.

Kentron Poitier (redshirt freshman)

Another redshirt freshman, Poitier got his feet wet last season and flashed some ability and playmaking potential. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Poitier has just as much of a chance to break out this season as anyone. Being one of the bigger receivers on the team certainly can’t hurt.

Ja’Khi Douglas (redshirt freshman)

Douglas’ footwork has improved, but have his hands? Norvell likes RB/WR hybrids, and Douglas could be that versatile weapon. Douglas’ 16.6 yards per reception last season is the highest among all returning players with at least five catches. Consistency is the key.

Darion Williamson (redshirt freshman)

Williamson got some burn against the Miami (FL) Hurricanes and Duke Blue Devils last season and recorded a couple catches. The large receiver has a big catch radius and will hopefully be able to showcase his athleticism in the open field.

Newcomers

Andrew Parchment (redshirt senior)

The Kansas Jayhawks transfer could be just what the coordinator ordered. Parchment’s a legitimate No. 1 receiver on a roster that desperately needs one. Parchment also fills the critical deep-threat role left vacant by Terry. Parchment should be one of FSU’s most important players on offense.

Malik McClain (freshman)

Despite his size, the talented 6’4” blue-chip has exciting athleticism, with the ability to pull away from defenders with his long speed. But he also knows how to use his size to high-point the ball with smooth body control. As if that wasn’t enough, McClain shows promise as a heady player who can exploit zone coverage, and may push for early playing time.

Joshua Burrell (freshman)

One of the best players out of South Carolina in the last recruiting class, Burrell has size and strength to spare, but also boasts some speed and a surprising amount of smoothness to his game. He comes to college already a savvy player in his route-running. What’s so interesting about Burrell is his strength lends him versatility in a potential TE/H-back role; Norvell covets nothing in his players if not versatility.

Tight Ends

Norvell and staff have spent a lot of effort bringing in talent and depth to this unit. Norvell’s offenses like to utilize the versatility this position can afford in the run and pass game. However, this group is top-heavy when it comes to quality game experience and there will be plenty of opportunities for some younger players to prove they deserve more snaps.

Returning

Camren McDonald (redshirt junior)

Despite all the challenges of a new coach, a new offense, and Covid-19, the explosive tight end target had something of a breakout season in 2020. McDonald tied Terry as FSU’s second-leading receiver and emerged as one of the ’Noles’ most consistent weapons. A quality pass-catcher, McDonald totaled 23 catches for 263 yards and two touchdowns and is sure to be a big factor in the offense again this season.

Jordan Wilson (redshirt senior)

The former UCLA grad transfer would’ve played a strong role last year, but he suffered a season-ending achilles injury before the season started. Wilson’s strengths lie in his abilities as a blocker, especially in-line, and he should be a good complement to McDonald’s receiving ability.

Wyatt Rector (redshirt sophomore)

The former three-star, walk-on, and 2019 scout team offensive MVP is a solid role player and special teams contributor, and scored a short-yardage touchdown against the Pittsburgh Panthers last year.

Carter Boatwright (redshirt freshman)

Another former three-star prospect and an early enrollee, Boatwright didn’t see the field until the season finale against Duke. At 6’4” he has the frame to shield defenders from the ball and is a good blocker. If he has developed his body to better withstand the college game he could see his role expand.

Markeston Douglas (redshirt freshman)

When Douglas (who teamed up with Williamson in high school) signed with FSU, he reportedly weighed 255 pounds. The question then was whether his future was at tight end or at offensive tackle. That’s because Douglas, at 6’4”, moves extremely well for someone that size, likely due in no small part to his background in basketball. However, FSU now lists Douglas at 289 pounds. Is a position move in his future? Even if not, Douglas could be a force as a blocking tight end.

Preston Daniel (redshirt freshman)

Daniel was a solid but limited role player last season who primarily featured as a blocker. However, he also caught two passes, including a memorable and well-designed pop pass on third down in the upset over the No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels with FSU backed up. If Daniel adds more functional strength, he could increase his value as quality depth, but is likely to be passed by more talented players.

Newcomers

Koby Gross (redshirt freshman)

Florida State was Gross’ first major offer, as he was a relatively unknown and unranked JUCO prospect. Gross was eventually ranked as the third-best JUCO TE recruit by the 247 Sports Composite List. Norvell and company are hoping they found a hidden gem.

Jackson West (freshman)

West was listed at 231 pounds during his recruitment, but is already up to 245. That’s bad news for FSU’s opponents, as West was already not only a good blocker but a very willing one, a rare quality these days among skill players. West is also a good pass catcher with soft hands. He does everything well and should push for early playing time.

Projection

The good news is there’s nowhere for this passing game to go but up. The bad news is that even significant improvement would still likely yield below average results. The problem is this group doesn’t have a difference maker ready to make an immediate impact this season, although an argument can be made for Parchment. However, the future looks increasingly bright.

Norvell will do what he’s always done and scheme around his talent. An appropriate goal would be a more balanced offensive attack, but perhaps one where the run game is used to set up a developing pass game. The best way to do that is to raise the floor of the passing game and avoid falling into so many obvious 3rd and longs where defenses know what’s coming, as they have all too often recently.

It’s not all bad. While last season saw the return of just one of FSU’s top five receiving targets in 2019, the 2021 season should see the return of four of the ’Noles’ top five from 2020 with plenty of talent below them pushing for playing time. Consistency from this group to the point where they’re at least somewhat reliable should fix much, but not all, of what ails this offense.