NC State

Not long ago, NC State’s receivers were last in the ACC in completed passes. Here’s where they stand now.

N.C. State wide receiver Stephen Louis pulls in a pass during the Wolfpack’s practice on July 29.
N.C. State wide receiver Stephen Louis pulls in a pass during the Wolfpack’s practice on July 29.

So much of N.C. State’s offense under coach Dave Doeren has been about the running backs or running backs who also play receiver.

So there was a welcomed quote from quarterback Ryan Finley after a recent practice.

“We feel really good about our receivers,” Finley said.

And the Wolfpack should.

After years as a question mark, or even weak spot, N.C. State returns two proven outside receivers in junior Stephen Louis and sophomore Kelvin Harmon. Finley will potentially get help from two other options on the outside in senior JuMichael Ramos and freshman C.J. Riley.

For the better part of Doeren’s first four seasons, running backs (Matt Dayes, Shadrach Thornton) have been the primary playmakers on offense with tight end/fullback/slot receiver (Jaylen Samuels) racking up 120 passes and 31 touchdowns.

Production from outside receivers had been scarce for the Wolfpack. In recent seasons, N.C. State’s receivers were better known for dropped passes than tough catches. In 2015, N.C. State’s receivers accounted for only 38.6 of the team’s completed passes (95 of 246). That was the lowest percentage in the ACC.

Heading into last season, that didn’t seem like a stat that would dramatically change. Ramos, the top outside target from 2015, was sidelined last August with a knee injury and missed the whole season. Johnathan Alston was moved from receiver to cornerback and used the 2016 season to redshirt.

Louis had missed all of the 2015 season after surgery on both shoulders and Harmon’s only reps were in high school.

The unproven group had confidence last August, Louis said, but it didn’t have the numbers to back it up.

“We have more confidence knowing what we did last season with really little college experience,” Louis said.

Samuels led the team again in catches (55) but Louis led the way in receiving yards (678). Harmon’s five touchdown catches were second on the team to Samuels (seven).

The receivers’ usage was way up. They accounted for 60.4 percent (159 of 263) of the the team’s completions last year.

Louis (35 catches for 678 yards) and Harmon (27 for 462) were the top targets on the outside. Nyheim Hines, who was used mostly as a slot receiver, caught 43 passes for 525 yards but has since moved back to running back.

Ramos, who has six career touchdown catches and had 34 catches for 457 yards in 2015, is working his way back to health. He has been limited in camp but he could be a valuable addition.

Riley, by all accounts, has stood out in camp. The 6-4, 204-pound receiver from Coconut Creek, Fla. suffered ligament damage in his right knee last August. His freshman season was wiped but he was on track, like Harmon, to help right away.

Riley has made up for lost time, Finley said.

“I’m excited about C.J.,” Finley said. “He’s just real smooth, long and lengthy with good hands. He has looked really good for not having played football in a long time.”

The improved options give Finley a chance to break another statistical drought for N.C. State’s offense. Last year, Dayes became the Wolfpack’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002. N.C. State hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2003 (Jerricho Cotchery, 1,369 yards).

“(Louis and Harmon) are grinders, they’re dogs and they worked their butts off this summer,” Finley said. “I’m really excited to see what we can do this year.”

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio