TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With Florida State’s fall camp set to begin next week, Seminoles.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 2017 Seminoles. Up next are the receivers and tight ends.
Welcome back: WRs: Da’Vante Phillips (6-1, 206; Jr.), Nyqwan Murray (5-11, 176; Jr.), George Campbell (6-4, 206; RSo.), Auden Tate (6-5, 225; Jr.), Keith Gavin (6-3, 225; So.), TEs: Ryan Izzo (6-5, 245; RJr.), Naseir Upshur (6-2, 249; So.), Mavin Saunders (6-5, 257; RJr).
Fresh faces: WRs: Tamorrion Terry (6-4, 208; Fr.), D.J. Matthews (5-10, 160; Fr.), TEs: Tre’ McKitty (6-4, 235; Fr.), Alex Marshall (6-8, 240; Fr.)
So long, farewell: Jesus Wilson (30-390, 1 TD in 2016, graduated), Kermit Whitfield (34-395, 1 TD, graduated), Ja’Vonn Harrison (1-1, transferred), Travis Rudolph (56-840, 7 TDs, declared for NFL draft)
Florida State’s passing game will feature a pair of juniors who both broke through in a big way over the second half of last season, and that’s welcome news for a passing game that lost 61.5 percent of its receiving production from a year ago.
Travis Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield, Dalvin Cook and Jesus Wilson accounted for 2,113 of FSU’s 3,433 receiving yards in 2016. All four are gone, and replacing that much yardage will be no small feat.
Fortunately for FSU, juniors Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate appear up to the task. Murray (27-441, 5 TDs) and Tate (25-409, 6 TDs) actually finished third and fourth on the team respectively in receiving yardage, and their average yards per catch –16.4 for Tate, 16.3 for Murray – were second and third behind tight end Mavin Saunders.
More than that, though, it’s what the pair did toward the end of the season that has Seminoles fans excited for an encore.
Starting with FSU’s game against Clemson on Oct. 29, Murray finished the season with 22 catches for 395 yards and five scores.
That includes an all-star performance at the Orange Bowl in which he caught two passes for 104 yards and two TDs – a 92-yarder that ranked as the longest in Orange Bowl history, and a 12-yarder with 36 seconds left that lifted the Seminoles to a victory over Michigan.
“‘Noonie’ is going to be one of the big keys for us to having the kind of year we want to have,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Because that guy can really, really change the game.”
In that same second-half stretch, Tate had 17 catches, 291 yards and a touchdown. His best outing came against Boston College, when he roughed up the Eagles for 101 yards and two touchdowns on just six catches.
“The emergence of ‘Noonie’ and Auden Tate the last half of the year created some big plays for us,” Fisher said.
As excited as they are about Murray and Tate, quarterback Deondre Francois will need more than two targets this fall. And while there are plenty of options in the receiving corps, don’t be surprised if FSU leans on its tight ends a little more in the passing game.
Fisher said as much in the spring, and given the development of both Ryan Izzo (19-227, 1 TD) and Saunders (10-182), it could be a pretty good plan.
Izzo was among the most consistently praised players during spring practice, and, at 6-5, 245 pounds, he can be a difficult matchup for opposing defenses.
The same goes for the 6-5, 257-pound Saunders, who averaged 18.2 yards per reception a year ago.
With several receivers sidelined by injuries during the spring, Fisher got creative with his tight ends and often lined them up either out wide or in the slot in hopes of creating a mismatch. That trend could continue this fall.
“After having all those playmakers leave last year, we knew we were going to have to step up,” Izzo said. “We were going to get an opportunity.”
Who will emerge as the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers?
After turning the tide of the Orange Bowl with a 66-yard kick return, sophomore Keith Gavin has generated a lot of positive momentum as one to watch in 2017. The Crawfordville, Fla., native certainly looks the part, but he also is still looking for the first catch of his career. And junior Da’Vante Phillips has impressed at times with both is hands and his route-running, but injuries and a crowded depth chart limited his production during his first two seasons.
That’s also true for redshirt sophomore George Campbell, who Fisher recently said is still recovering from an injury that sidelined him for all of last season.
Those two would get the first crack at making the receiver rotation, but the Seminoles also have two promising freshmen waiting in the wings. D.J. Matthews and Tamorrion Terry both topped 1,000 receiving yards as high school seniors, and Matthews earned U.S. Army All-America honors.
Regardless of how things shake out over the next few weeks of fall camp, Fisher is confident that the receiving corps has the pieces for a successful season.
“We feel very good about some young talented guys,” Fisher said, “Keith Gavin and some other guys coming in, in that regard. (And we have) a great tight end in Izzo.”