While we’re still (barely) over two months away from the season, it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off till July and August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.
This week, we’re on to the wide receivers and tight ends (we’ve also covered running backs and quarterbacks thus far). Like virtually every other conference in the country, you can’t necessarily call the overall receiving product in the ACC “stellar.” For some reason we’ve arrived at a dearth of talent at the position of late. But nonetheless, the league still possesses a strong group of receivers at the top, plus a ton of depth, even on the teams that are lower on this list.
Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual wide receiver or tight end is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of pass catchers is. Also note: Louisville (as has been the case since November) is included here. Additionally, since these are completely subjective rankings, the difference between the seventh and eighth team is almost entirely negligible (especially in the case of this position). Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.
ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
1. Florida State Seminoles: FSU just has too many players who can catch the ball in the open field, and that’s a good thing, especially when fielding an inexperienced quarterback. After a productive season last year (57 catches, 741 yards, six scores), Rashad Greene looks ready to take a huge leap forward for this group, and could be one of the better pass catchers in the ACC. Along with Greene, look out for Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, especially Benjamin, who could end up being a breakout player for the ‘Noles this season following a productive freshman campaign. At tight end, Nick O’Leary should continue his improvement, but with so man other players looking for the ball, it’s uncertain how many passes are thrown his way.
2. Clemson Tigers: Replacing Brandon Ford (TE) and leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson certainly has their work cut out for them. But you can’t underestimate the receiving depth Chad Morris and Dabo Swinney have built on this Tigers roster. After an uneventful offseason, Sammy Watkins should be back to his freshman year form, which immediately takes the load off of Adam Humphries and Charone Peake. While not overly experienced, the two still caught 66 combined passes last year, which should trend even higher in 2013. Tight end is a question mark, though Stanton Seckinger likely has the inside track to starting there.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels: In year two of Larry Fedora’s offense, it’s time opposing teams started to fear this group. Quinshad Davis put up one of the best freshman receiving seasons in ACC history last year and there’s little doubt he’ll continue to produce at that level again. And he’ll have help, too. Fellow starter Sean Tapley brings further speed on the outside, while tight end Eric Ebron will be putting his athleticism to use against linebackers and corners alike. Ebron’s slated to be one of the best TEs in the country this year, and one look at his 6’4″ 245-pound frame leaves little question as to why.
4. Louisville Cardinals: Louisville is simply stacked with top-flight talent at the receiver position, and that’ll only become more and more apparent as they play through a weak American Athletic Conference slate. Can lead wideout DaVante Parker improve upon last year’s 18.6 yards per catch? And will we see further progress from Damian Copeland and Eli Rogers? I’d also caution folks not to forget about Michaelee Harris, who missed all of 2012, but had 37 catches for 455 yards in 2011. The Cards won’t get a ton of production out of the tight end spot — who would need to with all those receivers? — but Gerald Christian is likely to fill that role, just the same.
5. Miami Hurricanes: With a 4.42 40-yard dash time, Phillip Dorsett is one of the fastest receivers in the conference, and based on last year’s numbers (58 catches, 842 yards, four TDs) he’s likely to be one of the best receivers in the conference as well this year. Along with Dorsett, the team’s second-leading receiver — Rashawn Scott — also returns, giving the team big-play talent on both sides of the field. Though tight end is not an overly utilized position for the ‘Canes in this offense, Clive Walford has shown glimmers of excellence and will have ample opportunities to get involved in the passing game this fall.
6. NC State Wolfpack: Last year’s State team had tons of depth at the wideout and tight end spots (eight players caught 19 or more passes), so this year’s should get along just fine after losing Tobais Palmer and Mario Carter. In their place, Quinton Payton, Bryan Underwood and Rashard Smith are all back, and all bring some big play ability that will be a boon to an offense looking for an identity. This group dropped a decent number of passes in 2012, which needs to improve, but the upside on these three, plus TE Asa Watson, is pretty high.
7. Maryland Terrapins: This rating is entirely dependent on whether or not Deon Long can deliver as the elite second-option the Terps think he can be — I’ll be upfront about that. Beyond him, it’s obviously all about Stefon Diggs, though. The electrifying wideout caught 54 passes for 848 yards and six scores last year, and now with a real quarterback and another viable receiving threat lining up with him, there’s talk Diggs could contend for the Heisman (don’t count me among those with that opinion). There’s a big question mark at tight end (no one on the roster’s caught a pass), however, which may be an issue for a passing game that’ll occasionally need a safety valve.
8. Virginia Cavaliers: Darius Jennings has all the earmarks of being a playmaker in this offense — now all he needs is someone to throw to him. All kidding aside though, that’s what will make or break this group of receivers. Behind Jennings, expect Dominique Terrell to find himself heavily involved in the passing game, but the player who could really shock folks is tight end Jake McGee. In his first season making any real contribution, McGee caught 28 balls for 374 yards and five touchdowns last year, and started to develop a penchant for big plays. As the quarterback situation gets settled at UVa, he’ll be an asset on short yardage routes.
9. Boston College Eagles: Even in last year’s pass-happy offense, BC’s receiving corps. was a one-man show. Alex Amidon seemingly came out of nowhere to put up a monster season of 78 catches, 1,210 yards and seven scores, and it’ll be interesting to see if his production stays up there with a target on his back now (I think it will). Beyond him though, there are a lot of questions around this group. Jonathan Coleman seems to be a viable second option, but not necessarily a game-changer. And tight end — which should figure more heavily in Steve Addazio’s run-oriented attack — is also a bit up in the air, with inexperienced personnel.
10. Duke Blue Devils: Just because Duke loses the ACC’s all-time leading receiver, Conner Vernon, doesn’t mean all is lost. In fact last year, Jamison Crowder put up fairly comparable numbers to his senior counterpart, so his return immediately alleviates some worry. Beyond him, though? Issac Blakeney‘s really it at receiver, with David Reeves figuring in at tight end. Can the Blue Devils continue having an elite passing game with this limited personnel? I believe they can, though don’t be surprised if it takes a few games.
11. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Michael Campanaro (79 receptions, 763 yards, six TDs) was the motor that ran this offense last year, and it’s very likely the same will be true in 2013. If Wake hopes to return to the postseason, however, it’ll also need production from others in the passing game. Sherman Ragland‘s the top candidate for that mantle, though Brandon Terry showed some big-play ability in limited opportunities last season. There’s virtually nothing going on at the tight end position, which is something to keep an eye out for during the year.
12. Syracuse Orange: Syracuse lost its quarterback and both leading receivers from last year, so excuse the Orange for dropping this far after posting a top-30 passing offense in 2012. While they’ll certainly be in transition this year, the cupboard isn’t bare either, contrary to popular belief. Junior wide receiver Jarrod West has all the makings of the team’s next deep threat and with speedster Jeremiah Kobena lining up opposite him, they’ll try to pick up where Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales left off. Though he doesn’t get a ton of national buzz, tight end Beckett Wales could be poised for a very strong campaign in his senior year at SU.
13. Pittsburgh Panthers: Like several other teams in the conference, the success of Pitt’s receivers is at least partially in question due to uncertainty at quarterback. Lucky for the Panthers, they’ve got Devin Street lining up along the outside, however. At this point, Street’s the team’s best offensive weapon and if Pitt is successful this year, it’ll be because of his playmaking ability. There’s help out there for him — Ed Tinker and J.P. Holtz, in particular — but beyond Street, this group is very much a work in progress.
14. Virginia Tech Hokies: This team has to hope that D.J. Coles is back at full strength after last year’s injury, otherwise it’s going to be another very long season for the Hokies’ offense. And even if Coles is back, he’ll need some assistance, which is where the problems start. Virginia Tech’s incredibly inexperienced at receiver, so it’ll take young players like Demitri Knowles stepping up in order for them to find success. Tight end Ryan Malleck was seemingly underutilized in the passing game last year (just 17 catches), so expect him to become a bigger factor in 2013.
15. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: No reason to be surprised here. Tech threw just 194 passes in 14 games last year, and completed just 102 of those. There are less than 20 career receptions attributed to the roster’s current wide receivers, and for the most part, Paul Johnson has always used them as blockers (especially lately). If anyone catches the ball with frequency, it’ll be Darren Waller and Anthony Autry, but (as always) don’t expect much on that front.