Louisville has recruited well at both the wide receiver and tight end positions over the last handful of years and this year should be the year that we see that recruiting pay off. Jamari Staples, Reggie Bonnafon, and James Quick are all guys that kind of fell in the laps of this offense, but how they've been utilized has been fun to watch. Staples became a go-to guy that worked the middle of the field last year. He's a big target and he's fearless so it made things a lot easier for the quarterbacks. Bonnafon has finally found a home as a slot receiver after being used as a running back during the back end of last year's schedule. Quick has been moved back outside and will be used as a deep threat this year. Quick showed last year that he might be best suited in that role with big catches against FSU and UK. What really stands out with this group, however, is how much depth there is and how good the future looks at wide receiver.
The tight end position tends to get overlooked because it's not a flashy position and big plays don't happen as often. Louisville fans should probably take more notice. Cole Hikutini, Micky Crum, Keith Towbridge, and Charles Standberry make up one of the best and deepest group of tight ends in the country. Hikutini and Crum showed last year that they can both make big plays as receivers. Crum is also an outstanding blocker. Towbridge is a polished route runner and has a great set of hands. From what I saw in the open practices he looks a little more lean and a little quicker than he was in the past. Standberry has worked on his body and now has the size to be a solid blocker, which will get him on the field more. It's rare that you get a group of tight ends that all have good game experience and can all be interchangeable. Louisville will have a big advantage in the redzone as well as just being able to be "multiple" on offense with this group.
I think that Jamari Staples will have a big year now that he's healthy but James Quick and Reggie Bonnafon have a chance to make this offense the big play offense that we're all expecting. Quick has been plagued by drops since he came to Louisville but I think that the offense plans to utilize him as a deep threat this year and I think that's the right call. Quick can make people miss as well as outrun people in the open field which is much needed in this offense. Bonnafon will move into Quick's slot position where I think his short area burst and quickness will be best utilized. Reggie is the type of guy that can make a catch in a small space and escape that space. Whether it be by breaking a tackle or making a guy miss, Reggie is the type of player that can create havoc for a defense.
What sets this group apart from previous teams is the guys behind the starters. Jaylen Smith was my personal favorite out of last year's recruiting class and he showed early on just how explosive he could be. This year he looks bigger and faster and I really think that he give Louisville a great back up plan if James Quick struggles. He will also give Louisville a strong 4-receiver set. Louisville will likely try to broaden the offense this year and be as multiple as possible. Having a guy like Smith allows Quick to be moved inside if needed without much drop off.
Ja'Quay Savage and Traveon Samuel both started last year with solid games and a few big plays but for some reason both saw their playing time diminish as the year went on. Both will be needed for depth this year and my personal hope is that Samuel is needed for specific package plays. Samuel is a dynamic player with the ball in his hands and guys like that need touches to really impact the game. My hope is that he lines up in different positions and gets a few special plays. Savage, Emonee Spence, and Devante Peete will all see the field some but I don't foresee any of them taking over a starting position.
AROUND THE ACC
Isaiah Ford, VaTech
This list could easily be six or seven players long but I went with Ford first because I think he's played with the worst quarterbacks and he's still put up crazy numbers. Tech has always been pretty bad on the offensive side of the ball but Ford has really helped their offense open things up over the last two years. I think that Ford will have a monsteryear with Justin Fuente taking over the program. New coaches always focus on getting their top players the ball and Ford is by far the best player on Tech's offense. Ford led the league in touchdowns, yards, and yards per game last year and I think he will do the same this year.
Travis Rudolph, FSU
The popular pick for the preseason All-ACC teams has been Mike Williams but I went with Rudolph because I think that FSU's offense will really take off this year and get back to where it was a few years back. Rudolph will be the beneficiary of a stronger running game and better pass protection. Rudolph is the most complete receiver out of the three studs they have and I really think he's the best deep threat they have. The question for Rudolph is, of course, how well does his young quarterback play?
NEXT IN LINE
Mike Williams, Clemson
So Williams is still being listed and he might have a better year than both the players above. But, he didn't play last year and I think it makes more sense to highlight guys that did. It's still impossible to not talk about Williams, though. He is such a big play receiver and he is absolutely going to dominate with Deshaun Watson throwing him the football. Williams is at his best on go routes but he will run the entire route tree this year. I don't think there is a better receiver in the ACC but I do wonder how the depth of Clemson's offensive talents eats into his numbers and opportunities.
Dontez Ford, Pitt
Pitt is my sleeper pick for what seems to be the 80th straight year and Ford is a big reason for that. Pitt will be a power running team and every defense will have to key on it. It only makes sense that the teams deep threat at wide receiver should benefit from that. Ford averaged nearly twenty yards per catch last year and he has the size to fight off defensive backs for jump balls. Pitt's quarterback play should be even better than it was last year and Ford could see a bump in production with Tyler Boyd gone to the NFL.