Sizing up the Seminoles: Who will emerge as dependable WR option?

Florida State lacked dependable receivers in 2020, let alone a playmaker. Expectations for what Tamorrion Terry could do in Mike Norvell’s offense never materialized as he faced injuries and departed from the team. This is a group that offers plenty of promise with true freshmen (Malik McClain and Joshua Burrell) and redshirt freshmen (Kentron Poitier, Bryan Robinson, Darion Williamson) but also needs upperclassmen to be leaders and productive pass-catchers. FSU welcomes grad transfer Andrew Parchment from Kansas but also won’t have one of its top 2021 signees in Destyn Hill.

Florida State’s receiver group has seen turnover and is seeking veterans as well as freshmen to emerge. Will the group be more consistent in 2021?

Bob Ferrante: To complete a pass, there must be a rhythm between quarterback and receiver. The passer must be accurate, and the receiver must run the right route depth as well as a clean route. Timing can be disrupted by the pass rush and defensive backs in coverage. Plenty of things can go wrong and not all of the blame should be placed on the receivers. That said, I’ve been one of the harshest critics of FSU’s receiving group in recent years. As a fan or reporter, we don’t know the specifics of a play call, but we see it unfold and we realize the result. A drop can’t be the result. Coaches may drill receivers and expect a number of steps before a break — to curl, slant or post — but even if it’s not done crisply a catchable pass must be, well, caught. A drop is more than a play for zero yards. It can be argued it is even more than a missed opportunity. The result is a loss of momentum and often kills drives.

Coaches could be tempted to lean on veterans because they know the playbook better and are more dependable. In FSU’s case, Ontaria Wilson has impressed in his conversion from corner to receiver and led the team with 30 receptions and 382 yards in 2020. Camren McDonald has had moments of brilliance but hasn’t been consistent enough, while Keyshawn Helton didn’t have the same burst he did before his Oct. 2019 knee surgery. Due to injuries and departures of Terry and Warren Thompson, FSU completed 14 passes in the regular-season finale against Duke — with 10 of those going to running backs. 

With limited options among experienced receivers, coach Mike Norvell and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham should go all in and suffer some growing pains while playing true and redshirt freshmen around a few veterans. To the question of consistency, dependability and who will bring that on game days, it would be easy to say Parchment and Wilson are FSU’s two starting receivers and the Seminoles could go with Jordan Wilson (a better blocker) at tight end over Camren McDonald (a more athletic receiver). But that would also be ignoring what appears to be a talented group of first- and second-year options.

In FSU’s open practices this spring, McClain’s size, athleticism and footwork stood out. McClain didn’t look like a freshman. He would make a few catches and then drop a pass and it was a reminder that he’s a freshman. This isn’t to specifically knock McClain as it was the case for receivers with and without experience. The spring game was the best we’ve seen from McKenzie Milton (in an FSU uniform) and the receivers had their best day, too. It’s a lasting image going into August. Is what we saw in open practices leading up to the spring game the reality? Is the spring game a reflection of the chemistry built between quarterbacks and receivers? The answer to both questions may be yes, offering us glimpses of optimism as well as realism that there’s a long way to go.

Projecting a starting lineup: Norvell will go with Jordan Wilson at tight end (sometimes in the backfield) to open up the run game and also add a big body as a blocker off tackle in pass protection. Parchment appears to be a lock to start and has used the offseason to learn the playbook with quarterbacks and receivers. The coaching staff could go with Parchment as well as two others in three-receiver sets (some combination of McClain, Burrell, Poitier, Robinson, Ontaria Wilson and Helton). 

Which two will accompany Parchment? Not sure. What we’ll be watching for in August is consistency as well as the ability to block on the perimeter and buy a few yards for runners and other receivers.

Jerry Kutz: For Florida State’s offense to improve in 2021, it simply must get more productivity from the receiver position.

Here’s some data: Over the past eight years, dating back to the 2013 National Championship, FSU receivers averaged 13-15 receptions per game in six of those years. The exceptions being 2017 and 2020, when the average dropped to under 10. Yards per game dropped, too. In six of the eight years, Seminole receivers accounted for 192 or more yards but in 2017 and 2020 the ypg by receiver dropped to 125 and 115 yards, respectively.

I used the word dropped twice in the previous paragraph intentionally as drops have been the difference between 10 receptions and 13 or more. 

There’s no question the receivers must catch the ball more consistently. I think we’ll see better consistency on the receiving end if FSU’s quarterbacks become more consistent in delivering the ball on time. The passing game is all about timing and nothing frustrates a receiver more than the ball not in the air when it should be.

We did see improvement from Jordan Travis and Mckenzie Milton throughout the spring in this respect. Of course, their opportunity to get the ball out on time has an awful lot to do with the pass protection they receive or their ability to anticipate breakdowns in protection more quickly.

FSU’s returning receivers, Ontaria Wilson and Keyshawn Helton, will need to show consistency or will see fewer opportunities this fall. We saw too many drops from the veterans early in spring, fewer as the spring wore on, especially from freshmen receivers Joshua Burrell and Malik McClain. It’s no secret I have high expectations for redshirt freshman Bryan Robinson and believe there are other young’uns, guys like Kentron Poitier and Darion Williamson, who can win starting roles.

The fact Mike Norvell likes to throw it to tight ends and backs could cut into the number of opportunities receivers have especially if his tight ends and backs are consistent in catching what comes their way.