Auden Tate had a marvelous spring game performance for Florida State, leaving one question to ponder over the long offseason:
Can he become the next Kelvin Benjamin?
Tate stands 6-foot-5, just like Benjamin. He is athletic just like Benjamin. So the comparisons are natural. And Florida State could use a big-body at receiver with an ability to stretch the field, the way Benjamin did in 2013.
The numbers show exactly why. In the championship-winning season, Florida State had 78 pass plays that went 20 yards or longer; 20 to Benjamin. That season, Benjamin averaged 18.7 yards per reception.
Now let’s look at last season, when Florida State mainly relied on small, quick receivers. The Seminoles had 53 pass plays that went 20 or more yards. Among the top three leading receivers, Travis Rudolph led the way with an average of 15.5 yards per catch -- more than 3 yards below Benjamin’s average.
That season, Jameis Winston was back at quarterback. Rashad Greene was back at receiver. And the Seminoles made a run at a national championship, losing in the College Football Playoff semifinal to Oregon. But the long pass numbers looked more similar to 2015 than 2013.
In 2014, Florida State had 58 pass plays that went 20 yards or longer. Among the top three receivers on the team, Rudolph again had the highest yards per-catch average: 14.6.
So the common denominator in the decrease in explosive pass plays is not quarterback play, but the absence of a playmaker like Benjamin.
For Florida State to have the best chance to compete for a national championship this season, it needs a difference-maker at receiver. Tate finished with 100 yards receiving in the spring game, and showed great chemistry with Deondre Francois, who has a shot at winning the starting quarterback job.
Tate's performance continued an impressive spring. And during postgame interviews, one of the first questions he had to answer was about Benjamin. Though the two have never met, Tate said he studied Benjamin on tape to "look at how he ran routes, how he did things."
Tate played as a true freshman a year ago, but struggled through injuries and only appeared in six games. Once January rolled around, Tate dedicated himself to getting better, knowing he had a shot to do something big this season.
"I do see it as a time to step up," Tate said. "Last year was more a time for me to learn the playbook, learn how to play, learn how to get my attitude right. I think I can make plays this upcoming year."
So do his teammates.
"Tate’s going to be a great receiver for us," Rudolph said. "He makes acrobatic catches. He has great ball skills and he has good body control. He’s definitely showing it. He’s locked in in the film room, even in meetings. He’s going out there making plays in practice as well."
Florida State hopes that translates onto the field come September.