Fresno State Fall Camp is less than two weeks away and in preparation BarkBoard.com is taking a look ahead to the position battles. While there are many new eyes on the coaching staff and coaches won’t be guaranteeing any starting spots, BarkBoard.com picks our starting locks and analyzes position battles. Next is the wide receivers and tight ends:
As much as Fresno State has struggled at the quarterback position over the last two years, there have not been many established receivers for them to throw to. When Derek Carr went, so did Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse.
The Bulldogs have had several players flash as the next great receiver, but none have proved themselves as premier Mountain West talents. The pool of receivers has slimmed down, however, giving Fresno State fans a clearer picture of what to expect in 2016.
Fresno State loses receiver Josiah Blandin to transfer, who is replaced by Aaron Peck who spent 2015 out due to injury. Young, hyped slot receiver Keyan Williams also transferred to Nebraska.
Because the Bulldogs are utilizing their tight ends more in 2016 with fewer four-receiver sets, no new receivers were signed on National Signing Day.
So what do we know?
Jamire Jordan showed flashes of being the next big thing at Fresno State. His 46 receptions, 540 yards and 5 touchdowns were more than Jalen Saunders produced as a freshman in 2010. The numbers were almost as much as Isaiah Burse’s underclassmen years combined.
Other than Jordan, there are questions to be answered. Aaron Peck returns healthy this fall. His drops left BarkBoarders in angst in 2014, but his 6-foot-3 frame will certainly be needed this fall, especially with Josiah Blandin’s departure.
Others who have flashed, but have yet to back it with consistent gameday success include KeeSean Johnson, Da’Mari Scott and Delvon Hardaway.
In this preview we will also discuss the tight ends who are expected to get an expanded role in 2016.
LOCK - WR - Outside - Aaron Peck
It was tough for spectators to watch Fresno State transition from Davante Adams and Josh Harper to Aaron Peck. However, Peck appeared to be a leader this spring as a fifth-year senior. Even as he was yet to reach 100 percent, he seemed to be a step above the competition on the outside.
Actually, Peck has impressed in each of the last two springs and fall camps, but he did not quite live up to expectations when the season came. Last fall, an injury kept him from proving his talents. In 2014, he did have over 400 yards, second best on the team, but criticisms of drops still hung over him.
We can’t promise Peck will overcome his shortfalls and become one of the Mountain West’s best in 2016, but we do expect him to be the most impressive outside receiver in fall and his big frame makes him one of the Bullogs’ best options.
LOCK - WR - Slot - Jamire Jordan
Fresno State has played a lot of young athletes in the last two years, but few have shown as much promise as Jamire Jordan. Jordan’s very first catch as a Bulldog was a touchdown. Jordan also had a 100-yard game in a Pac-12 venue at Utah, with an 82-yard touchdown. In the final four games, Jordan caught at least three passes for at least 50 yards.
Health kept Jordan off the field this past spring, but we expect him to return as the starter this fall.
The Bulldogs appear to be dropping to more three-receiver sets in 2016, which means one slot receiver and one tight end as the team's base set.
Fresno State is short on slot receivers, too. Keyan Williams was seen as Jordan’s biggest competition and he has since transferred. The new offensive coaching staff tried to move both DaMari Scott and DeJonte O’Neal to slot receiver this spring - though O’Neal eventually impressed as a fill-in back at running back. Scott may be the team’s best shot at additional slot talent, but he has played most of his Bulldog career on the outside.
Others to possibly be in the mix are Michael Martens and Justin Allen.
Lock - TE - Chad Olsen
Fresno State fans have called for more use of the tight end position for years. The Bulldogs had a talent in Marcel Jensen who got overshadowed by three star receivers in 2013. The last two years the staff has claimed to put an emphasis on the position, but didn’t have trust in enough of their options to implement it.
This fall, expect Offensive Coordinator Eric Kiesau to put the tight ends to work.
There has been one tight end to see the field the last two seasons and that is Chad Olsen. Olsen is expected to be the top option in that role this year as well.
His freshman year showed promise with 4 touchdown receptions - that put him third on the team. As a sophomore he added some weight and was ready for a bigger role, but his numbers only slightly increased from 2014 to 2015. A big year is now expected out of the junior.
More short-yardage runs and two-tight end sets means there must be depth beyond Olsen this year. Both Kyle Riddering and Jared Rice are expected to step into the rotation after having time to develop.
The Bulldogs are looking for two different kinds of tight ends, a blocking-first tight end and a receiving-first tight end. Kyle Riddering comes from an offensive line background and will be the go-to second tight end blocker. Rice will come in as a 6-foot-5 athlete who will be a big target for Fresno State’s QB.
Expect freshman Johnny Rojas to redshirt, with Donte Coleman either redshirting or seeing minimal time in a burnt season.
Open - WR - Outside - KeeSean Johnson / Delvon Hardaway
The biggest position battle for receivers we see this fall comes at the second outside receiver spot. Delvon Hardaway looked solid as a redshirt freshman in 2014, but an injury in the spring of 2015 limited his action last year. Though reports said he was healthy, he wasn’t quite the same receiver.
Meanwhile, KeeSean Johnson was the most hyped redshirt freshman since Davante Adams. Johnson didn’t put up huge numbers, but was the team’s second leading pass-catcher with 37 receptions. He turned them into 337 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Da’Mari Scott could also emerge as an option at the position, but as we noted earlier, depth may call him to play primarily in the slot this year.
The 2016 Fresno State receiving unit does not have a lot of star power, but it could be a step into a big 2017 season. The majority of BarkBoard.com's projected contributors are either sophomores or juniors. As is the ebb and flow with the non-powers in college sports, a very strong class of players seem to emerge every few years. The 2017 season could be a stacked year of Bulldog receiving targets, but a big year from Peck and Scott could mean a successful 2016 too. This is another spot where Fresno State can’t afford many injuries, however.
(Outside - Slot - Tight End - Outside)
First: Peck - Jordan - Olsen - Johnson
Second: Hardaway - Scott - Rice/Riddering - Fuery
Third: Washington - Martens - Rice/Riddering - Grayson