Our position-by-position outlook of the FIU football team entering spring practice continues with the wide receivers. For previous articles in the series, click here.
Key returners: Jalen Bracey (Sr. 5-10, 190 — 39 receptions for 294 yards and two touchdowns), Kris Mitchell (R-Jr. 6-1, 180 — 23 receptions for 348 yards and four touchdowns), Dean Patterson (R-Soph. 6-2, 205 — 17 receptions for 264 yards), Ross Fournet (Soph. 5-9, 175 — nine receptions for 55 yards), Artez Hooker (Jr. 5-9, 165 — nine receptions for 68 yards)
Key losses: Tyrese Chambers (transfer — Maryland)
Newcomers: Ja’coby Matthews (Transfer — SW Mississippi CC), Kyle McNeal (three-star recruit/Palm Beach Gardens, FL), Luby Maurice Jr. (three-star recruit/Palm Beach, FL)
Biggest unanswered question: WR1 or receiver by committee?
Once upon a time, FIU turned to a slew of unproven talents to replace former Panthers’ standout Thomas Owens in 2018.
That year, Florida transfer C.J. Worton and Austin Maloney would emerge as part of a receiver room that also featured current Detroit Lion Maurice Alexander, Bryce Singleton and Tony Gaiter IV.
The five players would combine 2,306 of the team’s 3,194 passing yards that season.
Following the graduation of several of the names above, three years later, the Panthers again entered a season with unproven receivers. Singleton and a then-unknown Tyrese Chambers would go on to rewrite FIU’s record books in 2021.
All of this is to say that despite the transfer of Chambers, there’s legitimate reason to believe that Jay MacIntyre’s receiver room can rise to the occasion.
The pertinent question is will the receptions come as a group effort — or will one or two players emerge from the pack to head the wideouts?
Why 2023 production could be better: No receiving room gets “better” with the loss of Tyrese Chambers, who was one of the top players in Conference USA during his time in Miami.
However, there’s no denying that in 2022, the Panthers’ offense was overwhelmingly geared towards finding ways to get the ball in his hands. Had Chambers played in the team’s final game of the season (or not been injured for the UTSA game) — he would have doubled the amount of targets as the next closest Panther. His 85 targets nearly equaled the next two closest wideouts, Jalen Bracey (54) and Kris Mitchell (45).
Without the pressure to get the ball to the dynamic Chambers, Panthers’ quarterbacks could — I repeat, could benefit as a result.
After arriving as a three-star recruit in 2019, Kris Mitchell has bided his time patiently and now is the veteran in the wideout room. The 6-1, 180-pound Mitchell drew eight starts as the Z-receiver after beginning the season outside the two-deep, responding with four touchdowns.
Mitchell’s best outing of his collegiate career came against Charlotte in a nine-catch, 93-yard performance that showcased his speed and an ability to win in one-on-one matchups.
Behind Mitchell, the wide receiver most featured in the slot was JUCO transfer Jalen Bracey.
The Mississippi native played over 97% of his snaps from the slot and 319 as a whole during his debut season with FIU, finishing second on the team in receptions (39) but had only 7.5 yards per grab.
The spring should serve as an opportunity for Bracey to reestablish himself in last year’s role, especially with players like redshirt freshman Mike Jackson and sophomore Ross Fournet and junior Artez Hooker as candidates for that role, when not filled by a tight end.
Hooker, a Tampa-area native is a shifty former three-star recruit, who should be in play at several receiver spots and in the return game. Fournet is an undersized former walk-on, who worked his way first to a scholarship, followed by earning game action in 12 contests with one start.
Another former walk-on, Dean Patterson has an opportunity to earn a full-time starting role and his efforts would be boosted by a strong spring.
The 6-2, 200-pounder began his career at Division II, but joined his former high school teammate in Haden Carlson at FIU in 2021. Patterson’s growth earned him a starting role coming out of fall camp, finishing the year with five starts and appearing in all 12 games.
Like several of the younger receivers behind Chambers, Patterson had moments of inconsistency, but shined in the season-finale with a career-high five receptions for 100 yards.
Behind that group are several players who did not see extensive game action on offense, including Caleb Lynum, Jett Law, Jay Barry Jr. and Nate Jefferson. Amongst the newcomers, JUCO transfer Ja’Coby Matthews is another speed-based player, while Luby Maurice Jr. and Kyle McNeal were highly touted signees.
Why 2023 production could be worse: For as unknown as Chambers was when he arrived from the FCS ranks in 2021, he quickly showed in spring ball that there was a spot for him come fall, having excelled at all levels prior.
While featuring several former three-star recruits, none of the wideouts on the roster have that type of pedigree — making the spring all the more important as they look to establish themselves and build confidence in the fall.
Like Patterson, Mitchell had his own struggles with consistency last season, unable to capitalize on multiple playmaking opportunities.
The easiest answer as to why this group would have worse production than last year is simple. They don’t need to rise to Chambers’ level of play in his two seasons. However, they need one of two things to happen — multiple players rising to the occasion as adequate FBS wideouts — or one player emerging to the pack to become WR1.
If neither of those happen, it will be a major disappointment and a detriment to the FIU offense.
Overall Outlook: In a very brief sample size, Mitchell looked like a player capable of being a standout Conference USA wideout.
During his career day against Charlotte, Mitchell made a contested one-on-one grab in the corner of the endzone at Jerry Richardson Stadium that many pro wideouts would have been jealous of.
After battling injuries throughout his career, last season saw him break through after not earning a starting role in camp. This spring, Mitchell has a chance to make another leap and secure a featured spots in the offense.
Patterson’s sizable frame is crucial as the only wideout who saw significant time that’s listed at north of six foot and over 200 pounds. Fournet, Hooker and Bracey resemble several smaller wideouts of previous FIU seasons (Singleton, Maloney, Shemar Thornton) as players who could serve well.
If all of those players along with talents like Jackson, Jay Barry Jr. and others can develop in the spring without the omnipresent shadow of Chambers, it could pay huge dividends for the FIU offense.