Wolfpacker roundtable: Leading receiver

NC State loses its leading receiver in total catches from last season. Tobais Palmer caught 54 passes for 781 yards and six touchdowns and is currently in preseason camp trying to make the Jacksonville Jaguars roster.
However, NCSU returns other options, including their leader in receiving yards and touchdown receptions. Fifth-year senior Quintin Payton had a breakout campaign in 2012, catching 51 passes for 798 yards and two scores, while redshirt junior Bryan Underwood finished with 44 catches for 620 yards and 10 scores. Underwood caught a touchdown in the first eight games of the year to set a new school record.
So who will lead NC State in receiving in 2013? There are other candidates besides Payton and Underwood. Fifth-year senior Rashard Smith caught 19 passes for 315 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, his first full season at the position, and led all players in the spring game with eight receptions for 84 yards.
Fifth-year senior tight end Asa Watson caught 24 passes for 282 yards and a score in a reserve role last fall, and the returning running backs each caught at least 30 passes (redshirt junior Tony Creecy had 34 catches for 182 yards and a score and sophomore Shadrach Thornton added 30 receptions for 274 yards and a touchdown).
The Wolfpacker tackles the question, who will lead NC State in receiving in 2013?
Matt Carter
I'm going on a limb and going with Rashard Smith. Conventional wisdom would be to select either Quintin Payton or Bryan Underwood based on what they did last season, and I do believe that Underwood has shown that he can be one of the top receivers in the ACC.
However, Smith has always struck me as a natural playmaker, and his contributions last season were impressive considering he was playing behind three other wide outs and he spent the first half of his career at NC State playing mostly cornerback.
When you combine Smith's natural abilities with the new offense being installed, I think you'll find a good match. Indeed, we saw some of that in the spring game even though State was using a vanilla version of what to expect this fall.
Jacey Zembal
NC State returns three veteran receivers in fifth-year seniors Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, and redshirt junior Bryan Underwood, but Underwood has proven to be the big-play threat and knows how to get into the end zone. I think he will lead the team in receiving in 2013.
The new coaches seemed to be concerned with how to get Underwood untracked during the spring, but those concerns seem to have alleviated during fall camp. Underwood can get deep with the best of them, but also go over the middle and get popped in traffic. The main thing for Underwood is to eliminate any simple drops.
Underwood caught touchdowns in the first eight games last year en route to finishing with 44 catches for 620 yards and 10 scores, despite starting four games out of 13. If the Wolfpack go with three- and- four-wide receiver sets this season, his opportunities to make even more plays should skyrocket.
Smith could be the one that challenges Underwood, even though he has 20 career catches. His ability to take short passes in space and take off in a elusive manner has meshed well with the new offense. He also has emerged as a leader for the Wolfpack receivers. Smith will also get touches in the return game and perhaps on Jet sweeps or in the Wildcat, so he doesn't always have to catch passes to make plays.
Payton actually led the Wolfpack in receiving yards last year with 798 yards on 51 catches and added two touchdowns. He topped 100 yards in a pair of non-conference games - Tennessee (129) and The Citadel (100) - and had a season-best six catches against both Florida State and Virginia. Payton is the biggest of the projected starting receivers at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, which could help the new quarterback in the red zone.
Ryan Tice
I think there are two ways to answer this question - who will lead the team in receptions and who will lead the team in receiving yards, and I think there could be two different answers for these questions.
I think fifth-year senior Quintin Payton will continue the rapid improvements he showed last year and emerge as the go-to possession receiver while hauling in the most passes. The 6-foot-4, 212-pounder is the top returning receiver after he totaled 51 catches for 798 yards in 2012 despite having a career total of 11 catches heading into the campaign. The offense should also try to take advantage of his size in the red zone; he has just two touchdowns in 62 career catches.
In terms of receiving yardage, I expect the dynamic Bryan Underwood to lead the way. The 5-foot-9 speedster pulled down 44 passes for 620 yards last year and scored 10 touchdowns through the air, which is tied for the fifth-best single season total in program annals. This was all with Underwood undergoing knee surgery three weeks before the season opener, but that didn't stop him from hauling in at least one touchdown reception in each of the first eight weeks. Underwood, who has averaged 14.1 yards per catch for his career, could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new offense and I expect he'll lead the squad in receiving yardage.
Now it's your turn. Go on over to The Wolves' Den message board and participate in the poll asking the same question:
Who will lead the team in receiving in 2013?