The third entry in our eight-part positional breakdown focuses on the well-aged bevy of receiving options at Russell Wilson’s disposal this year. Earlier this week, we discussed quarterbacks and running backs. Tomorrow we wrap up the offensive conversation by breaking down the linemen.
If you haven’t yet realized, experience (or the lack thereof) is a pervasive factor in evaluating each of the 2010 NC State offensive and defensive units. And no unit on either side of the ball brings as much across-the-board experience as the Wolfpack receiving corps.
The only pieces missing from State’s 2009 top ten receptions list are backs Toney Baker (28 rec, 355 yd, 12.7 ypc, 3 TD, #4) and Jamelle Eugene (16, 120, 7.5, #6) and wideout Donald Bowens (12, 175, 14.6, 1, #7).
Returning are a trio of seniors: Jarvis Williams (45, 547, 12.2, 11, #1), Owen Spencer (30, 765, 25.5, 6, #3), and Darrell Davis (25, 380, 15.2, 1, #5); junior return specialist T.J. Graham (12, 129, 10.8, 1 #8); redshirt junior Steven Howard (11, 112, 10.2, #9); and redshirt junior tight end George Bryan (40, 422, 10.6, 6, #2).
State’s two-deep features what is certainly the most veteran gang of receiving options in the conference. Williams, Spencer, Graham, Davis and Bryan have combined for 80 career starts and more than 4100 receiving yards.
Williams and Spencer are third-year starters and provide QB Russell Wilson dependable passing targets over the middle and on the edge. “Dependable” isn’t a superlative lost on the drop-prone Spencer, who overcame his issues with tactility late in 2009. Both were recently named to the preseason Biletnikoff Award watch list.
Spencer is slighter of frame and speedier than Williams and can line up wide for sideline streaks or in the slot to cause matchup issues with third-string corners and linebackers. His 25.5 yards-per-catch last season led the nation and broke his own single-season ACC record set a season earlier. Along with T.J. Graham, Spencer’s speed makes him a serious zone-buster on crossing and slant routes.
Williams’ bulkier build makes him a trusty possession-type receiver and a persistent threat near the end zone. His eleven touchdown receptions last season led the conference and his 15 career receiving scores are best among current players and the fourth highest total in Wolfpack history.
Tight end George Bryan is more athletic than anyone should be at 6’5”, 265 lbs., which makes him not just a key component in the passing game, but also a counter to blitzing linebackers. His 40 receptions last year was a conference best for tight ends and landed him a spot on the All-ACC first team. A darkhorse All-America and Mackey Trophy candidate this season, Bryan could lead the team in receptions due to a combination of his superb ability to catch the ball in traffic and the likelihood that Russell Wilson will spend a lot of time running from pursuit and looking for receivers underneath the coverage.
A former basketball player, both in high school and with the Wolfpack, Darrell Davis has shown signs of being the most dazzling receiver on the roster. He’s spent most of his receiving career as a fourth or fifth option, but should carry an increased load this season after catching 25 balls in 2009. He lacks breakaway speed, but his height (6’4”) and play-making ability create an attractive option much like with Bryant.
Others likely to see more balls come their direction include sophomore tight ends Asa Watson (ranked in the top ten at his position coming out of high school, but caught just one pass in 2009) and Mario Carter (another top ten high school TE, but suffered an ACL tear before last season), and wideout Steven Howard (suffered a season-ending knee injury late last year, also missed spring practice).
Newcomer Morgan Alexander redshirted last season after being converted from halfback. At 5’11”, 180, he’s small, but 4.4 speed could be dangerous from the slot.