Spring Review: Wide Receivers

While the spring game didn't tell us much more than we already knew at most positions, the young wide receiver position was on full display in what amounted to a passing scrimmage. Given the losses of Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, it is imperative that the young players at this position fill the void to provide reliable targets for Jameis Winston.

Before we start, it's important to remember that FSU plays a base offense with three wide receivers, and Jimbo Fisher prefers having between six and eight reliable receivers to shuffle in the lineup in order to keep players fresh. Fewer than six receivers and fatigue becomes a problem, as it was in 2010, when FSU only had four reliable receivers through most of the season.

Rashad Greene returns, and there's little reason to expect anything but excellence from the senior, who has been consistent since stepping on campus. Greene did, however, struggle to get separation against Florida's physical secondary and was limited until the final drive against Auburn. These games indicated that Greene needs to improve his strength to better be able to handle physical press coverage, something I expect to be a focus in the offseason.

Greene will also have to shoulder more of the load in Benjamin's absence, that Greene enjoyed more favorable coverage looks in 2013 due to teams concerned about the jumbo wide receiver's big-play ability downfield. Greene will likely be the guy teams roll coverage towards in 2014, meaning he's going to have to be even better to have comparable numbers.

It's Your Time, Vets

One of the more positive developments in the spring game was that Christian Green showed a pulse, winding up with three catches for 60 yards. Perhaps even more positive was that he did some of that damage while lined up on the outside, which will be the tougher spot for FSU to fill in Benjamin's absence, while the slot positions are loaded.

Green had a solid start to his FSU career as a freshman but disappeared the next two years due to a combination of injuries, inconsistency, and a lack of confidence. But the 6'2, 200 pounder has as much talent as anyone at the position. If the light bulb goes on for Green next year, it will certainly make life easier for Winston and the FSU passing game. I didn't see enough to expect a total turnaround, but it was a good start for Green to build on in the offseason.

Jarred "Scooter" Haggins is the other upperclassman at the position, returning from a 2013 knee injury. Haggins is significantly bulked up after his rehab year and looked very good blocking in the running game from his slot position, which is bound to be quite significant in the 2014 offense. He also looked very good creating separation and catching the football between the hashes. I'd expect Haggins to fill much of Kenny Shaw's third-down role on the inside, and given his more physical presence, he may actually be an upgrade in some respects.

Youth Movement

Sophomore Jesus "Bobo" Wilson is already the second best receiver on the roster based on what I saw in the spring game. Wilson is cat-quick and accelerates smoothly out of his breaks, plucks the ball out of the air naturally, and generally makes everything look easy. The ease with which he ran by elite cornerback P.J. Williams on a 66-yard catch (despite the fumble at the end) was eye-popping.

Even more impressive was the way he consistently turned defenders around on his releases, demonstrating elite quickness, strength, and an innate sense of how to run routes. I expect a lot from Wilson in 2014, both in the slot and outside, despite him not being prototypical size for an outside receiver in Fisher's offense.

Isaiah Jones was perhaps the biggest surprise of the spring game. Jones arrived quite raw in 2013 and then had a slow start to the spring, which Fisher attributed largely to nerves. "He puts a lot of pressure on himself," Fisher explained. "Once he relaxes … he'll be a good player." Those nerves weren't visible in the spring game, where Jones was steady, reminding me of Rodney Smith with how smooth he runs given his 6'4 frame. Jones' route-running has clearly come a long way since arriving on campus, and he should serve as a solid big body on the outside in 2014.

Kermit Whitfield is already well-known to FSU fans due to his clutch kickoff return for a score in the BCS National Championship game. Whitfield is the fastest player in college (and probably professional) football and will be used all over the field in 2014. The offense didn't show much in the spring game, but look for lots of jet sweeps and reverses using Whitfield's speed to the edge next year—all the more dangerous as a counter to Karlos Williams' speed heading the other direction.

Whitfield showed in the spring game that he's more than just a speedster, however. His downfield catch-and-run from John Franklin in the two-minute drill was especially encouraging, as he ran a solid route from the slot position and then managed to shake free for a big play. Whitfield still needs to learn to control and vary his speed in his routes and generally get a bit more precise with his footwork, but he's improved in that respect even since what I saw of him in bowl preparation in January.

Incoming Freshmen

Florida State has one of the best incoming receiver classes in the country. Ermon Lane provides a big body (6'2.5) with outstanding acceleration and is a natural pass catcher much like Wilson. He'll fight for early playing time on the outside, where FSU could use his size to create mismatches. It's difficult to earn Fisher's trust early on as a WR, but Lane could see early action in the red zone at least.

Travis Rudolph is unusually polished for an incoming freshman and also brings decent size at 6'1, 190. Physically, he's something of a cross between Preston Parker and Rashad Greene, though not as fast as the latter. His consistency will help him earn trust early on, but because he's not as much of a potential matchup nightmare, there will likely be less of a rush to get him on the field immediately. I expect Rudolph to be a major contributor as the primary replacement for Greene in 2015.

Javon Harrison is less highly touted than the other two but is the most explosive athlete of the three. He's also another big body at about 6'2, 190. Harrison could wind up at cornerback if needed, but his high school tape displays terrific instincts with the football. Depending on how quickly he picks up the offense, Harrison could surprise and compete with Lane and Jones for reps on the outside earlier rather than later in his career


Lots of pundits have expressed concern about the receiver position in 2014. I am not one of them. I think the slot position will actually be upgraded in 2014, thanks to the added size of Haggins and the added explosiveness of Whitfield and Wilson. I expect to see more short throws turn into splash plays in 2014, and I see no reason to think Haggins and Wilson won't combine to replace Shaw's reliability on third down.

The outside receiver position will almost certainly experience a dropoff from Benjamin's dominance late in the season, but based on what I saw from Wilson, Jones, and Green in the spring game, it will be more of a gentle curve than a precipice. FSU doesn't have a jumbo mismatch like that on their roster anymore, but the added explosiveness from the likes of Wilson will help compensate for that lack, as speed will require much of the same respect that size did.

Yes, the group is younger as a whole than it was in 2013, but FSU won't be depending on true freshmen in the rotation like it did the last time the unit was young (2010). Instead, the "young" group stepping up includes two seniors and three sophomores.

These are all players with at least a full fall and spring practice under their belts and multiple years working with Winston. Inexperience should not be an issue with this group, and there are few teams over the past few years that could say they put anywhere near the kind of speed on the field that FSU will have at the receiver position in 2014.

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