Photo courtesy of Ross Obley/Florida State athletics
In the third part of our series, breaking down Florida State head coach Mike Norvell’s offense, we turn our attention to the wide receiver room.
As was the case with previous offensive position breakdowns, Norvell has a pretty good track record with wide receivers. There was no shortage of big-time pass catchers during his time at Memphis.
In 2016 and 2017, Anthony Miller put together back-to-back season with at least 1,400 yards. After going for 1,434 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior, Miller had an even bigger senior year. He finished with 96 receptions for 1,460 yads and 18 touchdowns in 2017.
Despite Miller’s departure, big-time production from the wide receiver position didn’t stop. Damonte Coxie followed that up a 1,170-yard, 7-touchdown campaign in 2018 with 1,270 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019.
In each of his four years as Memphis head coach, Norvell had receivers put up big numbers. Others such as Kedarian Jones and Phil Mayhue were solid complimentary pieces with more than 500 yards receiving in a season.
With his track and record with receivers and what FSU was returning on offense, many believed that this was potentially the strongest and most proven group on the offense. Norvell’s biggest offseason achievement was convincing the dynamic Tamorrion Terry to return for another season.
Widely known as one of the best deep threats across college football, Terry was coming off consecutive seasons, averaging at least 19 yards per catch. If Coxie and Miller were able to be astounding in a Norvell-led offense, there was no reason to believe that Terry could not enter into that top wide receiver conversation with guys like Alabama’s Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, Purdue’s Rondale Moore, Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman and LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall.
Norvell came in hot. Despite losing a few players in DJ Matthews and Tre ‘Shaun Harrison, he retained the big fish in “Scary” Terry. He also was getting back from injury two very talented players in Ontaria “Pokey” Wilson and Keyshawn Helton.
While neither of those players have had Terry-type impact, they have shown good ability to be reliable when on the field and having the ball thrown their way. Add the fact that you had two young hot shots in “Abusement Park” Jordan Young and Warren Thompson.
Young and Thompson were two young receivers yet to reach their potential. Both are at least 6-foot-3 and upwards of 190 pounds. With each’s ability to run and make ridiculous catches, this position group was expected to carry the load for this team.
Coach Norvell and wide receivers coach Ron Dugans continued success on the trail. The duo was able to secure additions of Bryan Robinson, Kentron Poitier, Ja’Khi Douglas and Darion Williamsom.
Unfortunately for FSU, it hasn’t had its full array of talent out wide. FSU lost its second- and third-leading receiver before it got through summer practice. Prior to that, it lost one of our highest rated commitments at the position in Malachi Wideman. However, FSU felt good about what was coming back and the influx of talent. It didn’t appear that the Seminoles would really feel the impact of those losses.
Through eight games this season, FSU does not have a single player with 400 yards receiving. No receiver for FSU has 30 receptions this season. The Seminoles also don’t have a receiver with more than two touchdown catches.
Another negative for this group is the lack of perimeter blocking by the receivers. Of course, some wouldn’t harp on as much because receivers are judged by the way they catch and run. Still, they have more than disappointed in that area.
Costly drops have hurt this team with momentum and sustaining drives. Critical drops in the opener against Georgia Tech may have actually cost FSU the game. It’s just one game, but 3-5 is a lot better than 2-6.
As of today, FSU does not have a top-tier prospect committed at the receiver position. FSU has two intriguing prospects in Malik McClain and Joshua Burrell.
Burrell is a top-500 prospect from Blythewood, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Sources in South Carolina really like his big-play ability. While he might not be a burner, he has shown the ability to high-point and attack the ball.
McClain isn’t a premier prospect, per Rivals or 247Sports, but he is a 6-4 and 200-pound specimen, with a true vertical ability. His stride stretches the field and allows him to make more than enough acrobatic catches. McClain isn’t as fast as Terry coming out of high school, but is similar in other ways.
He’s certainly a prospect the Seminoles need to keep in the fold, because he has potential. It would certainly be amazing to flip McClain’s teammate Jacorey Brooks. He’s the type of instant impact player with juice that the Noles need to spark the revolution.
He’s committed to Alabama and FSU has no real chance of flipping him, but it would be nice. With that off the table, a more likely pickup is Destyn Hill. FSU jumped in early with him and have remained in the fight, but he’s a kid where the Seminoles will have to do whatever it takes to lock in to complete this wide receiver class.
Recently, we’ve seen an offer go out to Dartmouth graduate transfer Drew Estrada. He’s not exactly the big name we all were hoping, but he fits Coach Norvell’s system. It’s tough to judge his impact since he’s not against Power 5-level competition.
Estrada does run routes pretty well and catches the ball. He’s someone who could be a complimentary receiver in Norvell’s system when he’s running his triangle concepts and needs a smart player who can sit in grass — and if nothing else — make the catch.
If I told you that you were returning an entire offensive line, albeit not proven to be good, but with a new coach, new system, good offensive line coach, a graduate transfer who showed really well playing against Power 5 players, two quarterbacks, two incoming freshman behind center, a 1,000-yard receiver, returning from two receivers from injury who have plenty of experience and two others with limitless potential, there’s no way anyone would’ve guessed this would be the worst unit on the offensive side of the ball — if not the entire team.
Terry was a bright spot against Notre Dame as he was able to make some plays and go over 100 yards receiving. Wilson did the same against NC State with seven catches for 117 yards. But through eight games with the best offensive line play it has had in years, FSU has just two 100-yard games from its receivers.
We have seen the wide receivers room fall apart early prior to this. Unfortunately, DJ Matthews got the blame and eventually left the program. Terry, who returned 20 pounds heavier with first-round hype and worked hard to get faster, stronger and become a better route runner, has chose to leave the program as well after eight games.
Terry was riddled with injury or on-field disputes with coaches. He’ll leave with the worst stat line of his career at FSU. Terry’s final season in Tallahassee concludes with 289 yards receiving and just one touchdown. Blame it on the player, blame the coaches, blame COVID-19 or no spring for the results, but Terry this year performed the worst of his entire tenure at FSU.
Wilson, FSU’s No. 2 receiver who battled back from injury and also dealt with some nicks and bruises, leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. Helton, the team’s third receiver who battled back from injury, hasn’t looked anything like his previous self. Once a downfield explosive type of player, Helton has just 120 yards receiving and is averaging less than 10 yards per catch.
The No. 4 receiver for FSU, once a starting wide receiver across from Terry, has immense talent and unique ability. Unfortunately, that receiver Warren Thompson is more known for social media and personal battles with staff.
The Seminoles overcame those early difficulties to get him on the field and he now has many drops as he has catches with a flabbergasting five receptions. The next tier of guys have gotten on the field in spot duty, but no one has stood out to show next-level ability.
Young, Poitier, Williams and Douglas are still fascinating prospects. Maybe after a full offseason, full spring and better understanding of the playbook, those guys could be a major part of the offense and in helping FSU shake off a rough couple of seasons.