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2023 NC State football preview: The wide receivers

Let’s talk about some football.

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

There’s an entirely different vibe to the preseason discussion of NC State football in 2023, though the same central question remains: we know this team is going to be good, but where is its ceiling? That’s a little hazier than it was this time last year.

Among the wild cards that will help determine that ceiling are the wide receivers—a position group with a solid amount of experience but not so much proven production. Before we get to the guys in the fold, here’s a quick look at what NC State must replace:

Key Losses

Player 2022 GP Rec Yds TD
Player 2022 GP Rec Yds TD
Thayer Thomas 13 57 642 4
Devin Carter 9 25 406 2
Darryl Jones 13 30 280 3
TOT 35 112 1328 9

Thayer Thomas’ loss is the one that will be felt the most, as his steady presence and wealth of experience meant a lot last year in particular, what with the Pack running through so many quarterbacks. Everybody leaned on him.

Devin Carter had another up-and-down year, marred by injuries, and sought a fresh start at West Virginia. Hopefully, State has effectively replaced his playmaking ability on the outside with Rice transfer Bradley Rozner.

And Darryl Jones essentially replicated his 2021 season at Maryland, with a few more grabs a little less yardage, proving himself a decent secondary option but not someone defenses had to make any special accounting for.

Returning Production and Additions

Player 2022 GP Rec Yds TD
Player 2022 GP Rec Yds TD
Bradley Rozner** 13 44 876 10
Keyon Lesane 13 31 342 2
Porter Rooks 13 19 151 1
Christopher Toudle 10 11 130 1
Trent Pennix 5 8 111 1
Julian Gray 13 11 105 0
TOT 67 124 1715 15

(**At Rice.)

Bradley Rozner’s recent addition certainly takes a fair bit of the worry out of State’s receiver situation heading into the fall, and even if the explosive plays dry up a bit with the step up in opponent quality, I would be surprised if he doesn’t pass his reception total from 2022. He’ll be important, and Robert Anae will find ways to put him in advantageous matchups.

Doing a better job of scheming players open will be essential, and one of the reasons I’m actually optimistic about the passing game is I think Anae will do a much better job of this than his predecessor.

Much to our frustration last year, for instance, NC State didn’t seem to have any idea what to do with Julian Gray, who flashed big-play potential but, like seemingly everyone else, was left to find touches within the constraining structure of the offense, Too much structure, not enough just-get-ball-to-fast-person—State’s passing game was never going to be great in 2022, but it was easier to defend than it needed to be. Just a smidge of imagination should help.

The changes this offseason hopefully will allow Keyon Lesane and Porter Rooks to become bigger threats down the field, and of course there’s Terrell Timmons, who many feel is due a breakout year. If that materializes, State should be fine.

Having a healthy Trent Pennix could go a long way as well; his season just never really got going, with an injury suffered Week 1 against ECU. His versatility was definitely missed.

There are also potential freshman contributors in Javonte Vareen and Kevin Concepion, both of whom enrolled early to help them get up to speed. Like a lot of facets of the passing game, though, they’ll probably be works in progress.

It’s tough not to worry about the uncertainty NC State has at receiver, just in general, but I’d be far more concerned if the team were running it back with the exact same approach it had in 2022. Maybe it’s putting too much faith in Robert Anae, but I feel like he’s going to make this group greater than the sum of its parts. Last year, it too often felt like just the opposite.