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NC State needs multiple breakout seasons this fall from its receiving corps

A lot of candidates, all unproven

NCAA Football: Connecticut at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

It was only a couple years ago that NC State had one of the best receiving corps in America. Both Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers eclipsed 1,000 yards as part of a group that also featured Thayer Thomas and Emeka Emezie, who were both pretty good. With Thomas exhausting his eligibility after last season, State has officially moved on from every member of that group, and it hasn’t exactly filled the void they left.

Thomas was State’s best receiver last year with 642 yards and four touchdowns. Devin Carter was second with 402 and two scores. Both of those guys are gone, as is Darryl Jones who was fourth on the team in receiving yards. I don’t need to tell you that State’s air attack underwhelmed last year, and the fact that it now has to replace the majority of its stunted production can be seen as both very scary and also maybe a chance to refresh.

Lots of young (and some brand new) guys are going to get their opportunities next year, and the ceiling for the team in 2023 may hinge on how far this young receiver group that’s riddled with question marks can get. State is not in a great spot here, admittedly. We talked at length last year about how the Pack would be able to put more speed on the field at receiver than years before, but it never really did. Anthony Smith and Julian Gray were supposed to be the catalysts for that change, but Smith caught two passes in four games before a season-ending injury and Gray never played much, catching 11 balls for just over 100 yards.

Compounding things a bit is the fact that State only added two new faces at receiver, and one will be a true freshman. The Pack has one receiver on the roster who has multiple 100-yard receiving seasons in his college football career. That’s a tough place to find yourself, especially when you’re in a pretty good spot most everywhere else.

Some guys are going to have to step up in a big way if State is going to facilitate an offensive turnaround this year. Let’s meet some candidates.

Keyon Lesane

  • Leading returning receiver with 342 yards and two scores
  • Showed some nice ball skills against Wake Forest, making three difficult catches for a career-high 71 yards and a touchdown
  • Need more games like the Wake Game. Lesane had 1 or 0 catches in six games last year.
  • Can play both inside and outside
  • Likely starter on the outside

Porter Rooks

  • Only receiver on roster with multiple seasons of 100-plus receiving yards
  • Highly-rated recruit who has struggled to carve out a major role to this point
  • Plays inside, will play first season this year without Thayer Thomas starting in the slot
  • Likely starter in the slot
  • Had 19 catches last year for 151 yards and a score

Anthony Smith

  • Came to State in 2020 as a track kid who was wickedly fast and a very raw football player
  • Missed 8 games last year with an injury
  • Consistently drew praise in 2022 preseason and had a great spring game, but played sparingly before his injury
  • Has 11 career catches including two last year for 58 yards and a score
  • Plays on the outside

Julian Gray

  • Another very fast player who drew rave reviews in the preseason last year
  • Just like Smith, minimal opportunities raised questions as to why
  • Word on the street is he’s been inconsistent catching the ball
  • Can play inside and outside
  • Had 11 catches last year for 105 yards

Dacari Collins

  • Clemson transfer who caught 17 balls in two years for the Tigers
  • Extremely large human, apparently 6’5, big-bodied contested ball catcher that State thrived on in the Ryan Finley days
  • Obviously plays on the outside
  • Pretty unclear what to expect from Collins at this point

Terell Timmons

  • Pretty good athlete who got upgraded from the scout team in 2022
  • Played sparingly last year but caught a touchdown at UNC and displayed pretty sweet ball skills a couple of times against Virginia Tech
  • Showed a pretty good rapport with M.J. Morris in the short time they shared the field
  • Plays mostly on the outside
  • Had three catches last year for 79 yards and a touchdown

Kevin Concepcion

  • True freshman
  • Early returns from spring camp are that he’s pretty good, could see the field as a freshman
  • Can play inside and outside

Jalen Coit

  • Fast guy
  • Plays slot
  • Caught one pass last year for a garbage time touchdown
  • May return punts

Lesane and Rooks probably have inside tracks to the majority of snaps at their respective positions. State needs breakout years from these two, but it also badly needs some of these less experienced guys to start raising the floor of this unit. Timmons stands out as really the only guy from that group who we’ve seen make an impact play. State was hoping for some of these guys to step into bigger roles last year and add some explosiveness to the passing game, but Timmons’ three catches was the closest it got. Now the need for that grows as State has to replace 112 catches from a season ago. This will probably be the biggest personnel storyline of the preseason this year, even more so than the quarterback position.