It was just two years ago that NC State had one of the best and most underrated receiving corps in the country. And then, like so many other things in 2019, it went off a cliff. After posting two 1,000 yards receiving seasons in 2018, the Pack’s leading receiver in 2019 had just 576 yards. The good news is the Pack lose just one player who caught a pass last year, so things set up nicely for a bounceback season.
Things are going to start with Emeka Emezie. The senior receiver was a stud as a sophomore in 2018, but he didn’t get his due playing behind two 1,000 yard receivers in Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers. With those two leaving for the NFL, last season was supposed to be the year of Emezie, but that never came together and his struggles were mirrored in the rest of the receiving corps.
Going from Ryan Finley to the quarterback play of 2019 NC State will do a number on any receiver’s production. That is no receiver’s fault, But the entire group seemed to be in its own head by the end of the season. State racked up an uncharacteristic number of drops, a total that was contributed to by wideouts that had proven better than that in the past.
This year, Emezie and junior Thayer Thomas are looking to lead a resurgent effort for the position group, and both are more than capable of doing so. Emezie’s big frame combined with his ability to make contested catches makes him sort of a Kelvin Harmon lite, if you will, and even the lite version of Kelvin Harmon is worth the price of admission. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch his touchdown catch against Virginia in 2018. Having a reliable playmaker like that is a luxury for a quarterback, which makes a bounceback senior season for the wideout all the more important as State tries to rapidly develop Devin Leary.
Thomas resides on the complete opposite end of the spectrum as far as the type of receiver he is, but the same can be said for the junior former walk-on. You can do a lot of creative things within your offense with a speedy slot guy like Thayer Thomas. A new offensive coordinator and a new season will hopefully give us the sure-handed Thomas that flashed so much potential as just a backup in 2018.
C.J. Riley might actually be the most physically gifted wide receiver on the whole team. His combination of size and speed does not walk through the door every day. Riley has had two big problems though, the first obviously being his inability to stay healthy. He was out quite a bit early in his career, and he missed almost the entirety of last season after an injury in the first half of the ECU game. Second, he has struggled to consistently catch the ball. Riley’s been a boom-or-bust player when he’s gotten opportunities, making some incredibly difficult catches but also dropping some easy balls. A turn towards consistency could prime the junior wideout for a major breakout season.
State also returns Devin Carter, who was actually second on the team in receiving yards in 2019, as well as some intriguing young speed guys like Keyon Lesane. Wide receiver fits with a common theme across the offensive position groups. It wasn’t great last year, but it’s not devoid of talent. Far from it, actually. While this group isn’t going to be the Harmon/Meyers Unstoppable Machine of Football CatchesTM, Emezie, Thomas, and Riley playing at the levels we’ve all seen them play at would make a pretty formidable group.