College Football's Top WRs Entering 2014 Spring Practice
The best receivers from the 2013 collegiate landscape are all headed to the NFL. A few of those athletes, like Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews, are entering the pros after using up their eligibility. However, for the bulk of the faces that dazzled the scene a year ago, early entry into the draft was the move. They pushed to get into the NFL and closer to a professional contract.
2014 will be about new faces assuming the top roles and filling out the ranks.
With the influx of offenses designed to play to receivers' strengths, this upcoming season should not lack high-level receiver play. The cupboards are stocked all over the nation, and receivers at schools big and small are ready to explode when the light shines on them for the season.
There is plenty of talent coming back and this group is comprised of players expected to have big years in production and guys likely push their way toward the top of the draft. Here's a list, in alphabetical order, of some of the players who should be among the big names for the 2014 season.
Last year, Bralon Addison played No. 2 to Josh Huff in the Oregon Ducks offense. This year, with Huff headed to the NFL, Oregon will be the Addison-from-Marcus Mariota show. While Oregon has a stable of quality running backs, Addison is tasked with delivering more than his 61 catches from a season ago.
The speedy junior has the tools to be successful, especially in the Ducks offense. He is shifty, which helps him to be effective in the short passing game that is a staple of the offense. The third-year receiver also shows an understanding of route running and spacing, which helps him be a reliable option to move the sticks.
"Mariota to Addison" is a phrase that college football fans should get used to headed into next season, as the pair will likely be one of the nation's best duos.
Nelson Agholor led the Trojans in receiving yards in 2013, and he is back to do it again for his junior season. Last year the sophomore put on a show, demonstrating his versatility and how ready USC could be for life without Marqise Lee.
Now, as Lee moves onto the NFL, this is officially Agholor's receiving group to lead. He has shown he can get the job done. While there is a quarterback battle for the spring between last year's starter Cody Kessler and redshirt freshman Max Browne, the top target is without a doubt Agholor.
At 6'0", he isn't the tallest receiver, but he does consistently play well in both traffic and space. The speed allows him to take a short pass the distance as well as take the top off a defense.
Regardless of who wins the quarterback job in Los Angeles, he will have an elite receiver to throw to in Agholor.
Entering 2013, Pitt knew it had Devin Street as a go-to guy and likely 1,000-yard receiver. As the season played out, the Panthers indeed had a 1,000-yard pass-catcher, but that player was freshman Tyler Boyd. Street put together a 51-catch, 854-yard season, but Boyd stole the show.
He was a 4-star recruit, according to 247Sports, and he lived up to every bit of the hype, and then some, during the 2013 season.
He showed he could run the routes. He showed he was fast enough to get away from defenders. He showed he was capable of taking the top off a defense. He showed he could catch the ball in traffic. He showed he could be dynamic with the ball in his hands.
And he showed he could, as a freshman, be the go-to receiver for a 7-6 Pitt team in its first year of ACC football.
Pitt found its way into a bowl game, and in 2014, in a wide-open Coastal Division, the Panthers have the opportunity to win more than seven games.
The 2013 Hurricanes expected Allen Hurns and Phillip Dorsett to set the pace at the receiver position for the 'Canes a season ago, and they were half right. Dorsett got hurt, and instead of just getting a little help from true freshman Stacy Coley, the Hurricanes got a big-time contribution from the speedy receiver.
Coley came in as a 4-star recruit, per 247Sports, and as he was pressed into action, he came alive. Although speed was the currency he dealt in for the most part, he also showed concentration and strength. Now in 2014, the rising sophomore has to get more consistent as he grows into a bigger role.
Spring will be interesting for the Hurricanes, as they are looking for a quarterback to take advantage of all of the weapons. Between a healthy Duke Johnson and early-enrollee Joseph Yearby, plus Coley, Dorsett and tight end Clive Walford, Miami has the weapons. It just needs a trigger-man.
When a team wins 11 games, and a player leads that team in receptions and yards, it is tough to call that season a disappointment. Unless the team is Alabama, and the player is Amari Cooper. Both the Crimson Tide and Cooper were down from the 2012 season that helped establish both as powers.
In 2014, with college football set to move into a new era, Cooper and the Crimson Tide are looking to get back to the 2012 form that had both at the top of their games. For Cooper, that means minimizing drops, proving he can get into the end zone from anywhere on the field and reminding defenses that he is still a dangerous deep threat.
He, like several other receivers on this list, will have to wait to find out whom his full-time signal-caller will be, but the talented rising junior should be a major target for whomever wins the job. If Cooper wants to leave behind a lasting legacy at Alabama, he'll need to improve on his numbers from 2012 (1,000 yards, 11 TDs) and 2013 (736 yards, four TDs).
Antwan Goodley is one of the few leading receivers in the nation to return to his team despite being eligible for the draft. He played well all season for the Baylor Bears, including stepping up his production when fellow stud receiver Tevin Reese went down with an injury.
In large part due to Goodley, the Bears put together a Big 12 championship season and made it to a BCS bowl.
He is not just one of the few well-known commodities at the receiver position; he is also one of the few who returns with his quarterback still in place. The rising senior will play alongside Bryce Petty, as the Bears hope to make a run for the new College Football Playoff.
The seniors will need some help, and coach Art Briles has done a good job of stocking up at the skill positions. For Goodley, this year will be about continuing the success from a year ago and proving that he can be as deadly against press man as he is against zone and off-man coverage.
Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was the No. 1 recruit overall in 2012, according to 247Sports composite rankings, and his totals of 28 catches for 395 yards in his freshman season did not impress many people. However, in 2013, as a sophomore, he more than doubled his numbers on his way to leading Mizzou in catches and receiving touchdowns.
This season, quarterback James Franklin is gone, but the Tigers' receivers will be catching passes from a proven commodity in Maty Mauk. DGB will be the go-to guy, and after a season in which he shined time and again, he will be looking to prove he is the nation's top receiving threat on a game-by-game basis.
However, he does have a legal matter hanging over his head. USA Today reported at the end of January that new evidenced showed Green-Beckham did not sell marijuana. However, until the case is resolved, Missouri fans will remain concerned. As long as things go as planned, Green-Beckham will be back to haunt SEC secondaries. If he can be more consistent, he will push his way to the top of most receiver rankings in 2014.
If Deontay Greenberry had elected to go to Notre Dame as he originally planned, the entire college football world would be a witness to just how amazing he is on the field. However, he is at Houston, and so many on the collegiate landscape seem to forget that the AAC receiver even exists.
This year, look for him to continue to remind people he's as talented as anyone in the nation.
John O'Korn, the true freshman who was throwing the ball to Greenberry, is back in the mix and ready to keep slinging it for the Cougars. With an extra year under their belts, expect the rapport between the rising junior receiver and sophomore quarterback to improve and benefit both on the field.
Greenberry, a former 4-star in the 247Sports composite rankings, has lived up to expectations. Now, he is proving his worth to the NFL. As an athlete with the size (6'2", 200 pounds) and speed to be a factor, he will be grabbing the attention of plenty of scouts.
Even as he helped propel Florida State to a national title with nine catches for 147 yards in Pasadena, Rashad Greene has remained somewhat of an under-the-radar player. The Seminoles leader in receptions and yards was a sort of third fiddle in the passing game behind Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston and the giant receiver who caught the game-winning touchdown, Kelvin Benjamin.
As Benjamin leaves for the NFL, Greene returns to be an anchor for the passing attack in 2014. The rising senior is the Steady Eddie of the receiving group.
He runs quality routes. He makes sure catches. He knows how to slip defenders in both zone and man. He is remarkably sound in his skills, and with a lot of youth at the position, the senior will have to set the pace.
With Greene, Winston and Karlos Williams back in the fold, Florida State's offense has the primary skill options to be a special unit again. The younger players, including speedster Kermit Whitfield and highly touted early-enrollee running back Dalvin Cook, will have to fill in the gaps, but the team is stocked and ready to score points again.
Tyler Lockett was the Big 12's leading receiver in yards per game, and yet, because he played at Kansas State, he was less than a household name outside of the conference. In 2014, with more experience under the belt of quarterback Jake Waters, Lockett will get a chance to find out if the nation is paying attention to what he does on the field.
He is one of the nation's best off the line of scrimmage. He handles press coverage very well, staying low and fighting through jams to get his takeoff started with the inside or outside stem required for a successful route. Once into his routes, he works his cuts well, gaining separation from defenders. When the ball is in the air, he has a knack for reeling it in, even in traffic.
This year, defenders will have to pay more attention to his posts, streaks and crosses that he torched them on in 2014. If teams do not force another receiver on Kansas State's roster to beat them, Lockett should again have a standout season for the Wildcats.
Laquon Treadwell caught 72 passes in 2013, and while he was not the Rebels' leading yardage producer, his presence was a blessing to Ole Miss because he was a force that teams had to consider. He helped Donte Moncrief have a big year, who was able to take the top off the defense, while the freshman worked underneath to outmuscle defenders.
This year, Bo Wallace is one of the few returning quarterbacks in the SEC, and he will look for Treadwell to make an impact not just in the intermediate areas but on deep balls as well. He is a monster receiver who has shown a knack for being physical off the line and after the catch.
Like Mike Evans from Texas A&M, who is headed to the NFL this season, Treadwell has the ideal size (6'3", 215 pounds) of a prototypical receiver. He's tall and strong, and even when he is not open, thanks to his size and body control, he is still open for his quarterback.
The Wallace-to-Treadwell connection should be special in 2014; the question will be whether the rest of the Rebels can do enough for this duo to reach new heights.
Other Notable Wide Receivers
Nationally, the story remains that new receivers are poised to fill the stardom void left by those who are headed to the NFL.
At Arizona State, Jaelen Strong is set to be one of the nation's more exciting players as he returns to play with quarterback Taylor Kelly. Also in the Pac-12, Cal has Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper back to help make Sonny Dykes' offense go.
In the ACC, North Carolina's Quinshad Davis, Duke's Jamison Crowder and Stacy Coley's Miami teammate Phillip Dorsett should have big years catching the football. The conference has talent at so many schools that defenses will have plenty to key on while trying to stop receivers from making plays—especially if Maryland's Stefon Diggs returns to form after missing the end of 2013 and spring drills in College Park.
One player to watch in the SEC will be Auburn's Sammie Coates. The Tigers get help on the edge with D'haquille Williams, a JUCO receiver, but Coates is set to blossom in Gus Malzahn's offense. As Nick Marshall is pressing to improve his passing consistency, watch for Coates to be a more reliable option.
For those who are interested in players off the beaten path, receiver Justin Hardy has Shane Carden back to throw him passes at East Carolina, and the duo should build off last season's big numbers.