Spring Position Preview: Will potential lead to production at wide receiver?

Nov 21, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets wide receiver Malachi Carter (15) reacts after a catch against the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 21, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets wide receiver Malachi Carter (15) reacts after a catch against the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

As Georgia Tech looks to take a step forward in 2021, one position that will have a ton of eyes on it will be the wide receivers. The Yellow Jackets have a good deal of talent at the position but the production out of the group over the first two years of the Geoff Collin era have left much to be desired.

Now, it’s fair to say that’s not entirely the receiving room’s fault. A lot of it comes down to the play calling and of course, the quarterback play. It’s also fair to say that the play-calling at times the past two seasons has been a bit questionable while the quarterback play has been below-average at best.

But like the rest of the program, everyone in 2021 must take a step forward. A three-win season won’t cut in year three of the Geoff Collins era, meaning everyone must take a step forward and that includes the wide receivers.

Projected Starters: 

The position group will be led by returning junior Malachi Carter and senior transfer Kyric McGowan. Carter is the Jackets leading returning receiver and with Jalen Camp gone, Carter is the veteran leader of the room. He started in all 10 games last season for the Jackets recording 20 receptions for 290-yards and three touchdowns. His 14.5 yards per reception was third on the team for players with 10 or more receptions only behind Ahmarean Brown’s 16.6 yards per reception and Jalen Camp’s 15.4 yards per reception. Carter will likely be the Jackets’ top receiver in 2021 and rightfully so, since stepping on campus, Carter has been a consistent threat anytime he’s on the field and in 2021 he should finally get the opportunity to be the receiving room’s top guy. He’ll play mostly on the outside and be a big target in the red zone.

Kyric McGowan, the senior transfer from Northwestern comes to The Flats as a versatile weapon. With the Wildcats, the Dalton, Georgia native did a little bit of everything and could be in for the same role on The Flats. He’s a solid all-around receiver and has great open field speed that will make him an exciting weapon for the Jackets’ offense. He won’t be the No.1 wide receiver but he should end up being among the top three or four in targets over the course of the season. Yellow Jacket fans are going to love watching the former Northwestern standout even if it’s only for a single season.

Our final projected starter is Adonicas Sanders who didn’t make any starts last season but finished third amongst Tech receivers in receptions with 17. With those 17 receptions, he totaled 223-yards and one touchdown. He will most definitely see an increase in snaps this spring but is far from being a lock for being a starter next season.

Rotational players: 

We move into the rotational pieces at wide receiver though it is worth saying that any of three of these players could take that third starting wide receiver spot that we currently have projected for Adonicas Sanders.

One player, we’re watching to take a big step forward this season will be Marquez Ezzard. The former Miami Hurricane took the field for the first time as a Yellow Jacket last season. He appeared in seven games for the Yellow Jackets and recorded seven receptions for 114-yards. He should see more playing time in 2021 and as a result, should see more targets over the course of the season barring injury.

Peje Harris wasn’t a highly rated prospect coming out of Newnan High School in 2018 but has worked his way into the rotation at wide receiver and should see a slightly elevated role in 2021. It is worth noting that he did make two starts last year. Last season, Harris recorded 11 receptions for 138-yards and one touchdown, he’s not the type of player you would expect a major step forward from this spring and offseason but is be a quality depth piece. He’ll make some big catches here and there but likely won’t be a consistent threat.

Nate McCollum is in an intriguing spot entering the season. With Ahmarean Brown gone and with the South Carolina Gamecocks, there is definitely a spot open for a guy like McCollum to have a bigger role. With a forty-yard dash time of 4.41, McCollum has truly elite speed and could be a huge play threat anytime he steps on the field, very much like Brown was for the Yellow Jackets.  He only had two receptions for 15-yards in 2020 but should see a bigger role in 2021. It will likely be him and Adonicas Sanders fulfilling that hole left by Brown.

Depth and Development: 

This third tier of players are those we may see rotate onto the field this upcoming spring but likely will still have smaller roles.

Tallahassee native Avery Boyd didn’t see any playing time in 2020 and seems unlikely to see any playing time in 2021. There are some quality traits there for Boyd but with a mixture of experience ahead of him and a talented group of freshmen coming in this summer, he’ll need to find a way to separate himself from the rest.

Ryan King is a player who we saw break the Above the Line chart last season but an injury against Notre Dame knocked him out for the remainder of the season. If King is fully healthy, he has the chance to get above the line again in 2021 and become a key rotational player in 2021. Through this summer, he will need to hold off a few talented freshmen including James Blackstrain, if he hopes to get back on the field consistently.

Kalani Norris was expected to see a bigger role in 2020 after playing in seven games as a true freshman but appeared in just two games last season. There’s a lot to like about Norris from a talent perspective but it will be interesting to see if Norris can get back to that pre-2020 spot where it looked he was in for some considerable playing time.

Zachary Owens, a three-star recruit in the 2019 recruiting class has yet to record any receptions during his Tech but at 6-foot-3, he posses the type of height that could make him a quality target down the sidelines or in the red zone. He’s going to need a good spring and summer if he wants to get above the line and break into the rotation this upcoming season but could serve as a deep bench option for the Jackets this fall.

Overall, Georgia Tech’s wide receiver room has a chance to be one of the better ones in the ACC from top-to-bottom. It’s a versatile room with guys who can take the top off the defense and others who are your more traditional possession receivers. With that, it’s still a big question mark for the program. There is no doubt that the production level from the position group will need to be much higher than the prior two seasons and the talent level is there for it to do so but as we know, talent does not always lead to on field success.