With three players nearing 1,000 yards receiving and a tight end with more than 550 yards receiving, Florida State's passing game is certainly dynamic. But not all of these players approach the game in the same way. Using charting data from Bill Connelly's Charting Project, the way each player is used becomes apparent.
First, a few disclaimers. The data in the following charts only includes throws made by the starting quarterback, Jamies Winston. I also completely excluded any incompletions due to defensive pass interference. And, most importantly, not every Seminoles game has been charted yet, so this information only includes the games against Boston College, Clemson, North Carolina State, Miami and Syracuse. Five games isn't a great sample size, but it is better than zero.
Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw, and Nick O'Leary are Florida State's four leading receivers. But these charts help show their differences. Shaw had nine targets behind the line of scrimmage, more than the other three receivers had combined. Likewise, Benjamin had 11 targets that were 20 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage, more than the other three receivers combined.
Because of his ability to get open so quickly, Rashad Greene leads the team in receptions. It's possibly also a reason that he gets relatively more targets when his team faces a blitz. And finally, O'Leary gains as many yards after the catch as he does by simply making the catch, even without a 77-yard run after a 17-yard pass.
Kenny Shaw, behind the LOS
The Florida State offense can do lots of things and do them well. The first play against Syracuse was a jet sweep-type play (with a touch pass) from a shotgun formation with an H-back. The second play started from I-formation and ended up with a screen pass to the fullback. The third play was also a screen, but it was a bubble screen to Shaw, who was the third receiver in the trips formation.
Syracuse's secondary was playing soft coverage, and there were only two defenders in view on the trips side. This made the blocking downfield too easy, and Shaw gained lots of yards after the catch until a safety finally made it across the field to force him out of bounds.
Two plays later, Shaw ran the bubble screen route again, though this look should be familiar to Auburn fans. Winston showed a handoff to the running back at first, but he pulled the ball back and quickly fired a pass to Shaw. Shaw took a pass three yards behind the line of scrimmage and turned it into a 10-yard gain to set up a touchdown run on the next play.
Kelvin Benjamin, the deep threat
Though Winston seems to be pretty good at finding the open receiver, even if that means taking the check down, he also throws a number of home run balls per game, and Benjamin is perhaps his favorite target when throwing the ball 20 yards or more downfield. Benjamin offers a lot to his team, whether in run support, blocking for screens or even running some of the shorter routes in the offense, but he leads the team with 19.14 yards per catch. If a defense is not providing help over the top, it doesn't matter if the cornerback is playing soft or tight. He's getting open.
Against Boston College, Benjamin lined up with a defender in his face, but the safety was in no position to help over top.
Against North Carolina State, all three receivers faced soft coverage. It looks like the Wolfpack were playing an inverted Cover 2, with the cornerbacks providing the deep coverage and the safeties playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Regardless, Cover 2 is vulnerable straight up the middle, especially when the deep zone defenders are coming from farther outside, and Benjamin easily got open on a post route for a touchdown.
Rashad Greene, reliably open
Though Benjamin leads the team in yards per catch, his teammate, Greene, leads FSU in receptions (67) and receiving yards (981). All season, Greene has been the receiver who Winston has turned to for sure yards. Even in the face of a six-man blitz, Greene quickly runs his simple in route just past the first-down marker. Winston is able to stand in the crumbling pocket just long enough to deliver the ball and get the first down.
Greene runs deeper routes, as well, but watch this video of his work against Boston College to get a sense of just how often he runs shallow crossing routes and comebacks.
Nick O'Leary, the YAC machine
With three dangerous receiving threats on the field, often at the same time, defenses have to keep safeties back to prevent as many one-on-one matchups as possible. O'Leary at tight end is the beneficiary. Since he is often single-covered and the safeties are trying to help their cornerbacks, he often only has to beak one tackle in order to gain plenty of yards after the catch.
Against Clemson, Florida State took a shot at the end zone from 40 yards out. Though the ball fell incomplete, the Tiger defense knew that they had to respect the speed of the outside receivers. On the next play, Winston hit O'Leary for what could have been only a 6-yard gain, but the defender played the ball and missed. With no one else to tackle him, O'Leary ran for an additional 15 yards.
Similarly, in the first quarter of the Syracuse game, O'Leary leaked out of the backfield after play action and no one picked him up. Once Winston finally made found his wide open receiver, he delivered the ball 7 yards downfield and O'Leary took it another for another 22.