With under two months till the season opener against Jacksonville State, let’s continue our position-by-position look at the Panthers as they head into the abbreviated fall camp.
Today, we’ll look at the receiving corps.
Last season saw the emergence of senior Shemar Thornton.
The Miami native led the Panthers in all major receiving categories as a junior.
Heading into 2020, the group loses a trio of veteran standouts in Maurice Alexander, Austin Maloney and Tony Gaiter IV, but they’re bolstered by the return of Bryce Singleton and Georgia transfer Jeremiah Holloman.
Let’s preview the group that wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill has to work with.
All stats listed are for the 2019 season unless noted. Projected starter(s) are listed in BOLD.
Bryce Singleton (R-Jr.) - 5-10, 193, redshirted last season - 29 receptions for 368 yards and two touchdowns in 2018
Shemar Thornton (Sr.) - 5-11, 182, 51 receptions for 668 yards and five touchdowns
DeAndre Williams (R-Jr.)- 5-10, 180, zero statistics
JJ Holloman (R-Jr.) 6-2, 205, redshirted last season - 24 receptions for 418 yards and five touchdowns in 2018 (at Georgia)
Nate Jefferson (R-Fr.) 5-11, 170, one rush for 15 yards
Kris Mitchell (R-Fr.) 6-1, 175, redshirted last season
Xavier McGriff (Fr.) 6-2, 180, three-star recruit, Jacksonville Baldwin HS
Teddy Richardson (Fr.) 5-11, 185, three-star recruit, Miami Booker T. Washington HS
Heading into Fall: It’s rare that a team can lose three of its top four performers at a position from the season prior and still consider that group to be a strength.
However, FIU’s group of wideouts has a chance to be the best in Conference USA at the season’s end.
Shemar Thornton’s breakout season made him one of the league’s most improved players in 2019. After beginning the season as a reserve, he started the final ten games of the season.
Along with increased playing time came a rise in Thornton’s production - his 28 receptions in the final six contests was put him in top-10 among C-USA wide receivers over that time span.
Bryce Singleton is one of the most gifted receivers in C-USA - unfortunately for FIU, he’s been injured for the better part of the past season and a half.
Without the benefit of spring practice, it will be interesting to see where he is health-wise.
JJ Holloman gives the Panthers one of the most talented offensive playmakers in Group of Five football.
As a redshirt freshman in 2018, Holloman was a budding superstar in the SEC, making one-handed touchdown catches against Florida. Now at FIU, he’ll instantaneously become a match-up problem for opposing defensive backs.
The speedy Nate Jefferson has been touted by Butch Davis as the potential heir apparent to Maurice Alexander as the slot receiver and kick returner and was one of a handful of true freshmen to see playing time last season.
Rounding out the group will be the trio of Mitchell and true freshmen McGriff and Richardson.
Summary: The most prominent question marks for this group will be the health of Singleton and the effectiveness of the quarterback position.
This receiving unit certainly has the ability to make any quarterback better, and FIU fans will get a chance to see Holloman in blue and gold for the first time.
While Holloman’s eligibility gives the Panthers another playmaker, Thornton won’t get lost in the shuffle - he’s in the upper echelon of returning Conference USA wideouts. His hard work in the 2018 offseason paid massive dividends in 2019, and he’ll look to continue that heading into 2020.
If Singleton can remain healthy for an entire season, it gives the team three experienced players that few teams in C-USA can match-up with defensively.
On the flip side of the equation, if either of the top three receivers are forced out of the lineup, the Panthers will be forced to turn to players who are young and inexperienced.
While this group has a chance to be as talented as the previous two years - the value of having veterans like Maloney, Gaiter, Alexander and Darrius Scott shouldn’t be understated.
Position Grade: B - I’m on the record as saying that JJ Holloman will be the most dynamic player in C-USA the moment he touches the field.
The Covington, Georgia native started five games as a redshirt freshman and would have been a full-time starter for the Bulldogs last season.
If Thornton is the WR2, it’s a toss-up between him and Rice’s Austin Trammell for the best in the conference.
Singleton’s ability to catch passes in tight windows makes him an excellent slot receiver who’s more than capable of playing on the outside and he’ll contribute in the return game as well.
If everything falls into place, this will be the top unit in C-USA come season’s end.