Positional Preview: Receivers

As we continue to roll out our positional previews, TDD takes a look at what should prove to be one of the better positional units on the roster - the wide receivers.

Projected Starters: Eron Riley (6'3", 205 - SR), Raphael Chestnut (6'2", 190 – SR.)

Reserves Ryan Wood (6'1", 190 - SR), Sheldon Bell (6'4", 200 - SO), Jeremy Ringfield (6'5", 210 - SO), Austin Kelly (6'3", 195 - SO), Matt Pridemore (5'11", 190 - SO), Josh Trezvant (5'11", 185 - R-FR), Johnny Williams (5'10", 190 - FR), Donovan Varner (5'9", 170 - FR), *Tony Foster (6'1", 170 - FR)

With departed senior Jomar Wright no longer putting on the Duke uniform, the onus of responsibility now sits squarely on the shoulders of all-ACC candidate Eron Riley. In 2007, Riley hauled in 40 receptions for 830 yards and 9 touchdowns. Cutcliffe knows that he has a great talent in Riley and is planning on using him extensively. At one point Cutcliffe remarked, "Riley might double his catch total this season." This will undoubtedly cut into his amazing yards-per-catch total, but the coaches want the ball in the hands of their best playmaker. After hurting a knee midway through last year, Raphael Chestnut returns to the field this fall hoping to capitalize on the Cutcliffe offense to make his senior season his best. Chestnut has proven to be a reliable pass-catcher for the Devils. He's not going to blow by defensive backs, but he knows how find openings in zones and might have the best hands of any receiver on the roster.

If the Devils need any more big bodies on the perimeter, they can also call on sophomores Austin Kelly (6'3, 205), Sheldon Bell (6'4" 205) and Jeremy Ringfield (6'5", 210). Kelly might have the most potential of any Duke receiver but is raw. Bell has great hands and knows how to use his large frame to shield defenders from the ball. Ringfield is a big possession receiver that can move the chains. Senior Ryan Wood has also impressed in the offseason. He is neck and neck with Chestnut for the "best hands" title. Wood also doubles as the holder for the kicking game, and is described as "outstanding" in this role by Cutcliffe. The Devils can compliment these huge targets with speedy, smaller receivers. Sophomore Matt Pridemore and redshirt Josh Trezvant both give the Blue Devils athleticism and speed, albeit in smaller packages. Two true freshmen have really opened eyes this preseason. Johnny Williams has made the most noise. Despite not being a big guy, he has speed and shiftiness along with play-making instinct that gives opposing defenders nightmares. With Eron Riley sitting out preseason practices, Williams had received scrimmage reps with the first-team offense. Donovan Varner also has a similar skill set but is even smaller than Williams. Varner has missed a few practices and a scrimmage with a leg injury, but should be fine in plenty of time for the start of the season. A third freshman, Tony Foster, is a raw talent that will need some seasoning before he is ready for primetime.

In Riley, the Devils have arguably the conference's best deep threat. His 20+ yard-per-catch career average is tops among active ACC players. The Devils can compliment his deep speed with the underneath skills of Raphael Chestnut. Duke also has a good combination of size and speed among all of the wideouts. Players like Sheldon Bell and Jeremy Ringfield pose size mismatches on the outside, while guys like Williams, Varner, Trezvant and Pridemore, offer small, fast targets for slot screens and reverses.

Other than Riley, the Devils do not have another receiver that has shown the ability to get open on a consistent basis. Chestnut has the most experience, but he is coming off knee surgery. Austin Kelly is just two years removed from being a high school quarterback and needs to work on route running and his hands. Ringfield and Bell and big targets have yet to show the ability to gain separation for their defenders. The younger, quick receivers might be tough to tackle, but none are proven commodities. How will they react when the real game hitting starts?

Bottom Line:
Riley and Chestnut seem like solid starting options, but a few more guys are going to have to step forward and make plays this fall for the Devils to be successful on offense. Johnny Williams has exceeded everyone's expectations during his short time on campus and has passed everyone save the starters on the depth chart. While Duke seems to have found a good one in Williams, the question must be asked: What does it say about the upperclassmen when an undersized true freshman can pass them on the depth chart so quickly? The Devils will play seven or eight guys out wide this year, rotating everyone save Riley frequently. Two or three more options must be found so opposing defenses cannot blanket Riley with two or even three defenders. Williams seems to be part of the equation. Will guys like Kelly, Ringfield, Bell, and Wood step up to help out when the starters need a break? If so, the Devils might be on their way to the 30 point-per-game goal of Cutcliffe.

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