#80 Donald Bowens: 6'3 206 - Junior
#15 Darrell Davis: 6'4 200 - Redshirt Sophomore
#13 Owen Spencer: 6'3 180 - Sophomore
#5 Jarvis Williams: 6'4 205 - Redshirt Sophomore
Outsiders will look at the graduations of Darrell Blackman and John Dunlap and think NC State should experience a dropoff at wide receiver, but this should be one of the Pack's strongest positions in 2007, and spring practices will go a long way to determining just how strong the Pack can be.
Blackman and Dunlap accounted for 21 starts last year, but at times their struggles hindered the Wolfpack offensively. Blackman, who was playing just his second season at wide receiver after moving from tailback, often struggled with his routes and beating press coverage. Dunlap's problems went back to a lingering knee injury that hobbled him for much of the season. Being a leader, he played through the pain and continued to suit up, but he lacked the explosiveness he exhibited earlier in his career and could rarely create separation from defensive backs either after the catch or coming out of his routes.
The lone game he missed was a coming-out party for arguably the Pack's most talented wideout: Donald Bowens. Bowens, a 6-foot-3 junior from St. Petersburg, Florida, came up big with five catches for 93 yards in the win over East Carolina. He earned the start the next week against Virginia, and with Dunlap out he exploded. Bowens tallied 11 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns, earning ACC Offensive Back of the Week Honors in leading the Pack past the Cavaliers.
The 202 receiving yards is the fifth-highest total in school history, and the first time a Pack player went over 200 yards in a contest since Jerricho Cotchery had 217 versus North Carolina in 2003. His 11 receptions also ties as the fifth most in a single game, and the most since Cotchery had 11 against Kansas in 2003. Those are both top marks for a sophomore in Wolfpack history.
Despite making just three starts, compared to 11 and 10 respectively for Blackman and Dunlap, Bowens finished with 41 receptions, tied with Blackman for third on the team, only behind Dunlap and tailback Jamelle Eugene. His 14.6 yards per catch average led the team, as did his three touchdown catches.
The junior will enter the spring as NC State's probable go-to guy at wide receiver, and he appears poised to have a huge season. With that being said, he should have plenty of help around him. Three rising sophomores, Darrell Davis, Owen Spencer, and Jarvis Williams, add speed, height, and explosiveness.
Davis earned a start against Miami, and on the season he tallied 12 catches for 135 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown bomb against East Carolina. At nearly 6-foot-5, he is a big, physical wideout who should create some matchup problems in the redzone. Like Bowens, he will benefit from the graduations of Blackman and Dunlap.
Wiliams and Spencer tallied eight and five receptions respectively while receiving limited snaps. Williams has ideal size and is a strong blocker while Spencer is tall, lean and explosive. He could be the vertical threat the Wolfpack needs to stretch opposing defenses, as he has outstanding speed.
This spring each will be looking to continue improving and gaining experience. With improved quarterback play, the Pack returns enough talent at wide receiver to be above-average in the passing game.
POTENTIAL IMPACT NEWCOMERS
#88 Geron James: 6'3 200 - Redshirt Junior
#86 Jay Smith: 6'2 197 - Redshirt Freshman
#85 Steven Howard: 6'2 185 - Redshirt Freshman
The biggest addition this spring for NC State, maybe at any position, could be the return of Geron James. James missed the 2007 season after not being enrolled in school, and his return gives the Wolfpack another viable option at wideout.
As a redshirt freshman in 2006, he totaled six catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. He had his best game in the win against Florida State, as he caught four passes for 91 yards and a score. In 2005, he totaled two catches for 14 yards and a touchdown but missed the rest of the year with an injury and earned a medical redshirt.
James flashed big-play potential in the FSU game as he showed the ability to go over or around opposing defenders. Now a redshirt junior, he is back looking to make the most of the opportunity. This spring will be critical for him as he'll likely need to get back into football shape after not working out with the team for a full year.
Two freshmen reportedly turned heads for the scout team last fall: Jay Smith and Steven Howard. Smith enrolled at NC State as the Wolfpack's most-heralded member of the 2007 recruiting class, spurning offers from Miami, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Tennessee, and Penn State among others before inking with the Wolfpack. A deep-threat, Smith is very dangerous with the ball in his hands and in high school he was regarded as an exceptional route runner and great blocker.
Howard, an in-state product from Charlotte (NC) Olympic High School, caught a 50+ yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson in a scrimmage this fall and continued to make strides during the season as a member of the scout team. He is a productive, possession-type wide receiver capable of finding holes in zones and gaining yards after the catch.
Like the other scholarship wide receivers on the roster, Smith and Howard have very good size, speed, and athleticism. Add those two and James with the four returning contributors and NC State is in darn good shape at a position where quality depth is a positive.
Assuming NC State's base offense remains a two-wideout set, the spot opposite Bowens should be an intriguing battle.
Davis, Spencer, and Williams all have experience, and James adds big-play potential. The freshmen will factor in as well, so this spring it appears all of these wideouts will really push each other.
Because of the depth at this position, expect NC State to utilize a lot of three and sometimes four wide receiver sets in 2008, allowing the Wolfpack to get more playmakers on the field.
The starting spot opposite Bowens is definitely up for grabs and each of these players have a chance to win it.
As with all of the positions, you want to end spring workouts completely healthy with no major injuries. This is one of the few positions where NC State returns some experienced depth, and ideally if they can remain healthy it should be a strength.
To excel as a group, this unit will need Bowens to develop into a go-to weapon, the three returning contributors to continue improving, and James to fully realize his potential. Basically, make the plays you're capable of making when on the football field.
Bowens is the real deal. His production last year when called upon suggests that he could emerge as one of the ACC's top wide receivers. He may not enter the fall with a lot of buzz, but teams will focus on him when preparing for NC State. Now that Dunlap and Blackman have graduated, he'll receive more targets and will have the chance to make even more plays.
The rest of the group will continue improving, but it is hard to say who will take the next step because all of them are capable of doing so. If James can use this spring to get back into football shape and brings it everyday, potentially he could be the best of them all. He has great size, speed, and outstanding hands.
With that being said, this position relies more on quarterback play than any other. If NC State continues to struggle at quarterback, it really won't matter who steps out there at wide receiver. In Tramain Hall's first season at NC State, he tallied 69 catches for eight touchdowns. Over his final two seasons he finished with 56 total receptions. Did he regress as a wide receiver? Not at all. NC State just went from having Philip Rivers his first year to receiving inconsistent quarterback play.
If a quarterback can step up for the Wolfpack, the opportunity is there to succeed because there is plenty of talent around him at the skill positions, particularly at wide receiver. The fact that there isn't a senior among the scholarship wideouts gives even more hope for the future.