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Meet the Guys Who Help Make Florida State QB Jameis Winston Look Great

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - SEPTEMBER 28: Jameis Winston #5 of the Florida State Seminoles reacts in the second half against the Boston College Eagles in the second half at Alumni Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistOctober 15, 2013

Jameis Winston doesn't need anyone around to make him look good. His 6'4'' frame, feathery passing touch and effortless mobility accomplish that for him.

But having some playmakers doesn't hurt.

While Jameis has gotten (and deserved) most of the love for Florida State's fast offensive start this year, it would be foolish to say that he has thrived alone. His offensive line has been stout and his stable of running backs have been productive.

But more than anything else, Winston's quartet of preferred pass-catchers have found ways to get open and haul in all of his pretty, spiraling passes.

Let's take a minute to meet them.

 

WR Rashad Greene (6'0'', 180 lbs, JR.)

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 5:  Rashad Greene #80 of the Florida State Seminoles runs for a long first down against the Maryland Terrapins during the first half on October 5, 2013 at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. The Seminoles went to beat
Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

2013 Stats: 23 rec, 407 yards, 5 TD

Greene was the No. 16 receiver and No. 120 player on 247Sports' 2011 composite. The only receiver from prospect-rich Florida who ranked ahead of him was Sammy Watkins.

That's some pretty good company.

Like Watkins at Clemson, and much to Winston's aide, Greene has been making plays since his true freshman year of college. Here's a look at his three-year splits (so far):

Dating back to last year's Orange Bowl, Greene had recorded a touchdown catch in five straight games before snapping that streak against Maryland.

Still, he hauled in four passes for 108 yards against the Terps, extending his streak to 20 straight games with a reception and remaining one of Winston's top targets.

"[Greene's] individual accolades would be so much higher if we didn't have the type of guys that we have around us," Winston told the Orlando Sentinel after beating Boston College, the last game of his touchdown streak. "He's so unselfish."

Greene leads this team by example and cares about winning more than numbers. FSU has been defined by depth over star power at receiver—everyone knows the passing game is great, but most fans only know of Winston—and Greene typifies that commitment to unsung contribution.

He plays his best on big stages, too: In two non-conference games this year, Greene has seven catches for 83 yards. In three ACC contests, he has 16 catches for 324 yards.

Those are the splits of a true gamer.

 

WR Kenny Shaw (6'0'', 170 lbs, SR.)

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 21:  Kenny Shaw #81 of the Florida State Seminoles runs for yards against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats during a game at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 21, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

2013 Stats: 23 rec, 466 yards, 3 TD

Shaw was a 4-star recruit in the Class of 2010, ranking top-100 on the 247Sports composite and No. 13 among wide receivers.

Unlike Greene, though, the Florida pass-catchers ranked ahead of him—No. 7 Chris Dunkley, No. 9 Ivan McCartney and No. 12 Kadron Boone—were all varying degrees of busts for the teams that recruited them.

Shaw has had to carry his state's banner from that class.

He's done a good job of that in his four-year tenure, topping over 400 yards in each of the past three seasons and becoming a reliable option for both E.J. Manuel and, now, Winston.

Despite his gaudy yards-per-reception average in 2013 (20.3), Shaw has always been a bit more of a possession receiver who excels over the middle. Sometimes, however, that can leave him exposed to hazard:

Shaw was taken off the field in a stretcher after that hit against top-ranked Oklahoma in 2011, but he didn't miss any extended time. He was back in uniform the following Saturday, hauling in a couple of passes against hated rival Clemson.

In the end, that's what makes Shaw so valuable: his toughness and reliability. He's Winston's safety valve and the receiver he can trust most when Florida State needs a play.

As a senior, he's been doing this for a long time, and it shows when he breaks down coverages with ease.

 

WR Kelvin Benjamin (6'5'', 234 lbs, SO.)

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - SEPTEMBER 28: Kelvin Benjamin #1 of the Florida State Seminoles makes a catch as C.J. Jones #6 of the Boston College Eagles defends in the second half at Alumni Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by J
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

2013 Stats: 17 rec, 299 yards, 3 TD

Benjamin is the physical freak among Winston's targets, standing 6'5'' and possessing elite "go up and get it" ability.

That skill was on full display against Maryland two weeks ago, when he launched into the air and hauled down, perhaps, the best touchdown catch of his career:

Benjamin is a redshirt sophomore who ranked one spot behind Greene on 247Sports' composite rankings (for receivers) in 2011. Though he wasn't as game-ready coming out of high school, the Seminoles' patience has appeared to pay dividends, and Benjamin is slowly starting to realize his potential.

As he does, his presence puts a hefty burden on opposing defensive coordinators. If their best cover cornerback is also their tallest, whom should they have him defend?

Putting him on Greene or Shaw might leave Benjamin with a shorter guy that he can leap over; but putting him on Benjamin would leave Greene and Shaw with the Nos. 2 and 3 cornerbacks.

Unless a team is loaded with big, talented corners (which few teams outside of Blacksburg are), the defense is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. 

That's the type of mismatch Benjamin creates.

 

TE Nick O'Leary (6'3'', 248 lbs, JR.)

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 02:  Nick O'Leary #35 of the Florida State Seminoles catches a twenty four yard touchdown pass in the first half against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game on September 2, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

2013 Stats: 11 rec, 132 yards, 5 TD

O'Leary, best known for being Jack Nicklaus' grandson, has burst onto the scene as Winston's favorite and most reliable red-zone threat.

It didn't take long for the two to establish a rapport, as three of the four passes O'Leary caught against Pittsburgh in Week 1 went for touchdowns.

He had two more against Maryland last week, upping his total to five on 11 total catches. And one was on the back end of what—to date—has become Winston's signature "Heisman play":

O'Leary's success should come as a surprise to no one: He was a consensus 5-star recruit in 2011, ranking No. 1 among tight ends and No. 27 overall on 247Sports' composite.

The site's subjective rankings were even more bullish on his abilities, ranking him No. 16 overall, ahead of future stars in the top 25 like Jarvis Landry, Braxton Miller and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

On his official Florida State profile, O'Leary's "2013 outlook" includes the line, "Hard-nosed, old-school player who doesn't wear gloves and possesses strong hands with a knack for finding the ball whenever it comes in his direction."

It's hard to sum things up any better than that.

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