It’s a new week, but our debate over the best position groups in the ACC continues. Today, Andrea Adelson and Jared Shanker offer their views on the team they believe has the best receiver/tight end group.
Adelson says Clemson: This is a pretty easy layup for Clemson. All you have to do is take a look at the numbers. The Tigers return five of the six receivers/tight ends with over 100 yards receiving a year ago. The best duo in the ACC -- maybe in the country -- headlines the list.
Mike Williams and Artavis Scott both made the preseason All-ACC team after big seasons in 2014. Williams was one of four 1,000-yard receivers in the league; Scott nearly got there as a true freshman, with 965 yards off a team-high 76 catches. Keep in mind, this was with Deshaun Watson starting at quarterback in only five games. So imagine how much better they will be if Watson plays an entire season.
Beyond Williams and Scott, Clemson also returns Germone Hopper and Charone Peake, finally healthy after several injury-plagued seasons. The receiver coach Dabo Swinney raved about the most this offseason was Peake, who turned in a terrific spring. “The ACC hasn’t had a chance to really see this guy so there’s great opportunity there for him,” Swinney said.
As if this top four were not talented enough, several freshmen receivers have already turned heads during the early days of fall practice. Deon Cain and Ray Ray McCloud -- both ESPN 300 prospects -- have stood out. Swinney also has praised redshirt freshman Trevion Thompson, whom he called “tremendous.”
There does remain work to do at tight end – Jordan Leggett, Stanton Seckinger and Jay Jay McCullough need to step up their play. Clemson has been missing an impact tight end since Brandon Ford in 2012. But Swinney intends to get the tight end more involved in the offense, especially since Leggett made huge strides in the spring.
Put all the pieces together, and it’s pretty undeniable that Clemson has the best receiving unit in the conference.
Shanker says Florida State: It would have been much easier to make this argument a season ago when Florida State had Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary, record-breaking options for a passing game a Heisman Trophy winner orchestrated. All three have departed, leaving new quarterbacks Everett Golson and Sean Maguire with a group of receivers that didn’t break the 50-catch threshold in 2014.
Admittedly, that isn’t a great start to a case arguing for the Seminoles. However, look at the talent and depth the Seminoles have at receiver and tight end. That depth wasn’t showcased last season with established players like Greene and O’Leary drawing most of Jameis Winston’s attention.
This season, Golson and Maguire have a full complement of receivers all in positions to make an impact.
Travis Rudolph is an emerging star after hauling in 38 catches as a freshman. The sophomore has tremendous quickness and foot speed, which he displayed in a devastating juke near the goal line against Notre Dame.
Ermon Lane, the No. 2-ranked receiver nationally in the 2014 class, is the type of physical threat Kelvin Benjamin provided in 2013. Lane made several explosive plays as a freshman (20.5 yards per catch), and he was an elite blocker on the outside.
And Ja'Vonn Harrison, the most overlooked of the 2014 receivers, had a breakout performance in the spring game.
Now add elite 2015 blue chippers George Campbell, Da’Vante Phillips, Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate to go along with the 2014 class and junior Jesus Wilson, who leads all returning receivers with 42 catches a season ago.
If Mavin Saunders, who measures in at 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds, can turn potential into production at tight end -- the redshirt freshman from the Bahamas is still new to the game -- it could open up a dimension to the passing attack even the polished O’Leary didn’t bring. Redshirt freshman Ryan Izzo is the likely starter, and he might have the right blend of Saunders’ pass-catching ability and fellow tight end Jeremy Kerr’s run blocking traits.
Picking the Seminoles as the best receiver/tight end group is a leap of faith, but as a unit it will cause defenses headaches with all of its size, speed and mismatches.