DEPTH CHART (expected starters in italics):
- WR Jamison Crowder, Jr.
- WR Max McCaffrey, So.
- WR Issac Blakeney, R-Jr.
- TE Braxton Deaver, R-Jr.
- WR Anthony Nash, R-Fr.
- WR Brandon Braxton, Sr.
- WR Erich Schneider, So.
- TE David Reeves, R-So.
- TE Dan Beilinson, R-Fr.
- TE Nick Sink, R-Jr.
- WR Terrence Alls, Fr.
- WR Johnell Barnes,Fr.
- WR Ryan Smith, Fr.
- WR Brandon Braxton, Sr. (Switched from safety)
- TE Nick Sink, R-Jr. (Switched from DT)
- WR Johnell Barnes, Fr.
- WR Ryan Smith, Fr.
- WR Terrence Alls, Fr.
Here are some interesting numbers: 85 catches for 1074 yards and 8 TD’s and 66 catches for 666 yards with 2TD’s. Those are Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott’s receiving numbers from last year. That represents a big chunk of the offense. The two combined for 42% (151 of 352) of Duke’s catches and 47% (1740 of 3691) Duke’s receiving yards. Fortunately Jamison Crowder returns. Crowder tied Vernon in both yards (1074) and touchdowns (8). Now Crowder is set to be the top receiver and lead a group of mostly untested receivers.
Max McCaffrey is a fundamentally sound receiver who can get open. He is a good enough athlete who uses technique, his body and good route-running to create space (If that sounds familiar, those same words are/were often used to describe Conner Vernon, although McCaffrey is two inches taller). McCaffrey earned the Most Improved Offensive Player award in the spring (along with guard Cody Robinson).
Coaches and players have also pointed to Issac Blakeney as a breakout player this season. Blakeney is a physical specimen at 6’6” 235 lbs. He played tight end last season but switched to receiver in the spring. Anthony Boone said Blakeney could run a 4.4 or so in the 40-yard dash. Blakeney will create major matchup problems in the slot. His presence forces the defense to adjust, and the offense can take advantage.
Along with Blakeney, some players have mentioned Anthony Nash as another potential breakout guy (see McCaffrey interview above). At the ACC Football Kickoff Ross Cockrell said Nash is one of the fastest guys on the team. At 6’5” 200 lbs, Nash can be a big downfield target for an aggressive quarterback like Anthony Boone.
A veteran addition by way of the defense is receiver Brandon Braxton. The senior started multiple games at safety last season. He is now back to his original position as a receiver. At 6’1” 210 lbs he has the size and speed to play all three receiver spots. He can also help mentor the younger receivers. After playing defense for a season, he can give the young guys a defensive back’s perspective.
At tight end, Braxton Deaver is back after sitting out last season because of a summer surgery. Deaver fits the mold that Duke recruits for tight ends: big, pass-catchers who can block. Behind him, David Reeves started every game last year. The team is four-deep at tight end with Dan Beilinson as a redshirt-freshman and Nick Sink (a converted defensive tackle). Coach Cutcliffe said Sink has some of the best hands on the team.
Duke also has several incoming freshman who could see time at wideout. Johnell Barnes has turned heads this summer, and some of the players have said Barnes is one of the toughest guys to cover because of his quickness. The highly touted prospect (number 38 at cornerback and 79 at receiver) has enough size to complement his speed and strength. Ryan Smith is a freshman receiver from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, Nevada who is Nevada’s all-time leader in pass receiving yardage. He was the top wide receiver from the state on some scouting boards.
With all of this depth, the offense can be flexible with a variety of looks. Two tight end sets, three or four receiver sets, all are in play because of the depth at both positions. The philosophy on offense is to create mismatches and force the defense to adjust.
What needs to happen in 2013:
Someone needs to step up this year alongside Jamison Crowder. His ability forces defenses to account for him, which can open things up for other receivers as they adjust to a bigger role on offense. Whether it is Blakeney, McCaffrey, Deaver, Nash, Barnes et al. is anyone’s guess.
The depth at receiver will also help as Duke will be even faster this year. Players can cycle in and out after 3-4 plays if they are tired and keep the offense rolling. An emphasis on the running game will help the team be aggressive when looking downfield. Play-action passes out of the read-option could freeze the safeties long enough for guys like Blakeney and Nash to go deep. Anthony Boone is an aggressive downfield passer and will look for those big plays.