Floyd and his Fellows

IrishEyes continues its Pre-Camp Unit Rankings with our No. 2 group: the Wide Receivers.

Note: Each position is ranked according to my view of the groups entering the 2010 season. I've accounted for 2009 performance, apparent spring improvement, 2010 developed depth, and my own projection for 2010 (with an emphasis on the starters) as the determining factors.

For our No. 1 rated position unit and an explanation of the rankings, click here.

Wide Receivers

  • IrishEyes' 2010 Pre-Camp Rank: No. 2 behind the team's tight ends
  • 2009 Pre-Season Ranking: 1
  • 2009 Post-Season Ranking: 2
  • Highest 2010 ranking I can envision at season's end: No. 1
  • Lowest 2010 ranking I can envision at season's end: As low as No. 5-6 if Michael Floyd misses a chunk of the season for the third consecutive year.

Pre-season National Acclaim: As expected Michael Floyd has received ample summer hype entering what should be a huge junior season. Floyd ranks as Lindy's No. 1 wide receiver (with the unit, thanks in large part to the inclusion of tight end Kyle Rudolph) ranking as the nation's best by the respected pre-season annual; both the Sporting News and Phil Steele offered Floyd second-team All-America designation with Steele rating Floyd his No. 4 draft eligible receiver. Senior Duval Kamara is Steele's 32nd ranked wideout and the unit as a whole rated 7th nationally by the detailed analyst.

Position Coach: Tony Alford – The lone holdover from the 2009 coaching staff, Alford enters his 16th season as a college assistant, the first 15 of which were spent tutoring players at his former position, running back.

Starters: 6'3" 220-pound junior Michael Floyd (18 games/17 starts, 92 receptions, 1,514 yards, 16 TD); 5'11 185-pound freshman Tai-ler Jones (No. 21 rated WR prospect by Scout.com; caught 18-yard TD in Blue Gold Game); 6'4" 220-pound senior Duval Kamara (36 games/19 starts, 75 receptions, 781 yards, 6 TD).

Backups (Perceived 2nd Unit): 6'3" 205-pound junior John Goodman (9 games/1 start, 6 receptions, 104 yards, 1 TD); 6'1" 201-pound sophomore Shaquelle Evans (6 games/0 starts, 7 receptions, 61 yards); 5'9" 175-pound sophomore Roby Toma (3 games/0 starts, 3 receptions, 21 yards); 5'11" 190-pound sophomore Theo Riddick (12 games/0 starts at running back last season. 29 rushes for 160 yards; 6 receptions for 43 yards).

Veteran Depth: 6'3" 195-pound junior Deion Walker (5 games/0 starts, 1 reception, 15 yards); 5'11" 185-pound senior Barry Gallup Jr., (20 games/0 starts, 9 kick returns, 163 yards, long of 52).

Incoming Depth: 6'1" 195-pound freshman Austin Collinsworth (No. 99 rated S per Scout.com); 6'0" 170-pound freshman Bennett Jackson (No. 51 rated WR per Scout.com); 6'4" 215-pound freshman Daniel Smith (No. 53 rated WR per Scout.com)

Quote to Note: "The biggest (challenge) is you have to run up to that wall (a person's physical breaking point) and try to punch through that wall; so you can figure out how to go past that wall. You can't run up to it and stop." – Wide receivers coach Tony Alford.

Strengths

Floyd is one of the nation's four most explosive receivers and of that quartet, likely the most consistent mid-range pass catcher and chain mover. Factoring good health, and depending on the distribution of balls in the new spread offense, Floyd will challenge or eclipse several single-season receiver records this season and break nearly every career receiving mark at the program should he remain on campus for 24-plus games through the 2011 season.

Kamara looks the part but has yet to appreciably improve after a strong freshman season. He's the unit's best downfield and in-line blocker and should augment Floyd as another possession receiver in the contested middle of the field. Kamara has battled weight, injury, then an apparent crisis of confidence over the last two seasons. There's no reason the senior from Hoboken can't break through with his best season at the school in 2010.

Tai-ler Jones was the talk of the spring, and in my brief viewing periods, appeared to be the real deal – both mentally and athletically – as a true freshman. Jones ca get behind the defense, has reliable hands, and is both quick and aggressive after the catch; rarely going down upon first contact. If he fights off challengers in August, Jones will become the first true freshman to start the season opener at wide receiver since Milt Jackson in 1982.

The most intriguing prospect among the group is sophomore Shaquelle Evans, who could win a starting job or lock down the No. 4 receiver role with a strong August training camp (a spot that should equate to ample playing time). Evans has the most promising size/speed combination of any player in the group not named Floyd and showed flashes of his purported brilliance with the ball in his hands on two occasions during the Blue Gold Game.

Confident, versatile, athletic – sophomore receiver John Goodman will one day star for the Irish, but that ascent might have to wait until 2011-12. The redshirt-junior showed straight line speed, quickness when he had the football, and a desire to fight defenders for the ball in the air…each on one occasion. Like the remainder of the Irish receiver competitors, Goodman's sample size is too small to fully critique entering 2010.

Roby Toma presents a potential headache for opposing defenses. At 5'9" Toma is quick out of his cuts, has what most have referred to as the best hands on the team outside of Floyd and Rudolph, and possesses the innate ability to find seams in zone coverages and secure the catch in traffic. Opponents that turn their entire focus to the team's more heralded targets could be burned by Toma over the next three seasons. He unfortunately burned a year of eligibility with three October appearances last season.

Theo Riddick ran a beautiful post route for a touchdown in the Blue Gold Game, finding a whole in the middle of the field before making a leaping catch in the back of the end zone between Irish defenders. Look for the first-year receiver to acclimate to the position with a healthy dose of end around runs and short catches in space early in his playing cycle.

Though he's yet to make a meaningful catch at the college level, I saw Deion Walker make two catches in practice last season that would have made Lynn Swann proud. Walker appeared behind the top six competitors in April but is a player that could develop quickly under a new coaching staff if he can maintain snap-to-snap focus.

Barry Gallup's contributions will likely occur on special teams. The former running back made more than a few Wolverines miss in space during his season-high 52-yard kick return in Ann Arbor. Gallup didn't show great hands in the spring but a 5th year senior provides better back end depth for September than will the trio of incoming freshman pass catchers still learning the system. He'll be previewed in greater detail during our look at the Irish special teams.

Weaknesses:

The group as a whole showed inconsistent hands – mainly "concentration drops" – in the spring session…Kamara has regressed into a stand still possession receiver since his breakout freshman season; if that trend continues, he won't play long in Kelly's spread offense…Floyd's inability to stay healthy is puzzling but in a strange twist, the Irish finished just 2-5 with Floyd last season but 4-1 without him…Evans was less than spectacular with the ball in his hands last season, though he generally caught passes with his back to the defense (hook routes)...Gallup has yet to catch a pass in four seasons with the program while Walker has just one reception in two…Goodman appears far more athlete than polished wide receiver entering August 2010…

Can the undersized Toma stay upright as an underneath receiver vs. today's massive linebackers and strong safeties? He'll have to catch everything in his vicinity (three catches, two drops last season) to earn a consistent role as a sophomore…Riddick is a natural running back who'll enter month No. 8 in his conversion to wide receiver when camp opens. Don't expect the move to be seamless in '10, especially if Riddick's asked to run down the seam or catch the ball in traffic over the middle…I made a note that Walker ran sloppy routes in practice last November, then noted a similar occurrence in April…Expect a few major bumps in the road for freshman Tai-ler Jones; he has a bright future but securing a key catch under the lights on national television in Spartan Stadium is far different than showing well vs. teammates in a controlled April scrimmage.

Entering August Camp:

The bulk of the sport's media views the position not only as the team's best, but among or at the top of the pack nationwide. Conversely, their head coach has pointed out on numerous occasions the unit is more of a work in progress…one that keeps him up at night.

Somewhere in between lays the truth. While I feel the tight end group deserves the team's No. 1 ranking heading into August, the receiving corps isn't – or shouldn't – be far behind by the time Purdue rolls into town on September 4. The potential for the unit is great, though that nine-letter word has now felled three Irish head coaches over the last 14 seasons. Regardless, I'll take my chances that Kelly, Alford, and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar can turn the following parts into a well-oiled machine:

  • A proven veteran – one of the nation's best at his position
  • A physically imposing veteran target with one last chance to change the final perception of his Irish career
  • A quartet of second-year contributors – two juniors and two sophomores – from which at least one if not two bona fide targets should emerge by the season's second month
  • A freshman that stole the show in April and appears to be a player ready to challenge for an opening-day starting spot
  • The X-factor of an emerging talent working through a position change – one that should be much more comfortable in November than at the outset.
  • The advantageous position of awaiting a trio of freshman reinforcements that will join the group in August – without the hindrance or overreliance that any one of them need see the field in 2010. In fact, I'd be surprised if one member of this trio isn't called upon to lend depth to the secondary in a redshirt freshman season.

The Irish pass catchers are locked, loaded, and poised to improve from early August through Thanksgiving weekend. It's a unit that could rank as the team's – and the nation's – best at season's end.

For more on Tai-ler Jones, click here.

For detailed Pre-Camp Assessments of Irish receivers covered to date this summer, click the links below:

Duval Kamara

John Goodman

Shaquelle Evans

Michael Floyd's, Barry Gallup's and Theo Riddick's Pre-Camp Assessments will appear this month while the previews for Deion Walker and Roby Toma will be published in mid-August.


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