Since the departure of wide receivers Darren Waller and DeAndre Smelter following the conclusion of the 2014 season, Georgia Tech's passing game has begun to stagnate. Quarterback Justin Thomas, normally a reliable passer, saw his completion percentage drop by nearly 10%, from 51.3% in 2014 all the way to 41.7% in 2015. That statistic, when considered in tandem with his 63% drop in raw QBR from 2014 to 2015, is ample proof that a change at the wide receiver position is needed. Who could step up and fill that void? One option very well could be rising freshman Steve Dolphus.
As a Recruit
Dolphus, a three-star wide receiver out of Westside High School in Macon, committed to Tech back in late October, choosing the Jackets over reported offers from Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Virginia among other schools. Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 200 pounds, Dolphus brings measurables on par with those of Darren Waller to the table for Paul Johnson. In fact, size like that very well could be the one dimension of Tech's offense that was missing last season; looking back at the impact of Darren Waller down the stretch during the 2014 season would certainly seem to indicate so, at least. Here's what coach Buzz Preston had to say about Dolphus at Tech's signing day event:
One of three wide receiver commits for the 2016 class, seeing how Dolphus is utilized during the early parts of his career will be very interesting. The size factor, if nothing else, is a huge advantage for the Macon product.
Watching just a few minutes of Dolphus' highlight reel will certainly show you why Paul Johnson -- and a slew of other power five coaches -- were interested in obtaining his services.
Though there's plenty to like from watching his senior year of high school, Dolphus' ability as a blocker is the thing that stood out to me the absolute most. He appears to be a very skilled -- and willing -- blocker, an asset that Paul Johnson has historically valued when deciding whether or not to play a younger guy. In fact, one could argue that Dolphus' unique combination of size and blocking ability make him the most attractive candidate for early playing time among the current wide receiver recruits at the moment.
From a receiving perspective, Dolphus reminds me a lot of current Carolina Panther and former Florida State Seminole wideout Kelvin Benjamin. That could just be the 6-foot-5 stature talking, but he and Benjamin are both physical wide receivers with the potential to be dangerous after the catch. Those two attributes combined with a tremendous catching radius (see 4:02 of the video above) could make Steve Dolphus one of Justin Thomas' best targets this season as well as in the future. He may not be burning many guys at the ACC level right off the bat, but defensive backs are only getting smaller and quicker. That bodes well for players with a Dolphus skillset.
(Unless they are playing against Jemea Thomas, that is. Speaking of Kelvin Benjamin.)
What to Expect
There are exactly zero people on planet earth who know exactly what will become of Steve Dolphus during the 2016 season. Paul Johnson has a track record of playing wide receivers as true freshmen -- particularly those who are able blockers -- but a returning core at the position that includes Brad Stewart, Ricky Jeune, Antonio Messick, and others along with newcomers Christian Philpott and Harland Howell could make it difficult to crack the rotation. That said, I fully anticipate Dolphus and others to get a good look during the offseason. If anyone is going to come in and make an offensive impact as a freshman, my money is certainly on the 6-foot-5 guy every single day. Look for him to either redshirt or play a valuable role in the offense this year depending on his success during training camp.