The SEC has a number of highly talented receivers this season, including four guys who reached the 1,000-yard plateau last season. And the SEC also has three of the nation’s top six or seven tight ends.
The problem for all those big-time receivers? For the most part, the quarterbacks with whom they’ll work are not of the same caliber.
But just as a high-level quarterback can make a middling receiver look good, these high-level receivers will make some of their quarterbacks look better than they really are.
We have ranked the SEC’s receiving corps, from first through 14th. Here they are in reverse order. This is the second part of our position-ranking series; offensive backfields are here and offensive lines will be released Wednesday.
14. South Carolina
The skinny: Sophomore Deebo Samuel looks like a rising star. He missed most of last season with an injury, but he has the skill set to be a playmaker. The concern is whether South Carolina’s quarterback(s) can get him the ball. The No. 2 receiver? Good question. TE Hayden Hurst (6 feet 4, 250 pounds), who turns 23 on August 24, played two seasons of minor league baseball and could become an important factor in the offense this season.
The skinny: Alabama grad transfer Chris Black – who for a variety of reasons never really got on the field for the Tide – is expected to be Mizzou’s go-to receiver. But no receiver on the roster has done much, and while there is some interesting talent, this is an inexperienced group overall. TE Sean Culkin could be a 30-catch guy.
The skinny: The return of C.J. Duncan, who missed last season with a leg injury, is big. So is the return of TEs Jared Pinkney (he missed all but one game with a shoulder injury) and DeAndre Woods (he missed all but three games with a torn ACL). Plus, leading receiver Trent Sherfield is back. All of a sudden, a receiving group that was embarrassingly shallow last season has some ability.
The skinny: Auburn signed perhaps the nation’s best receiving class, and the youngsters will get every opportunity for playing time, considering that the holdovers are nothing special. Thing is, the quarterbacks don’t appear to be anything special, either, which makes you wonder if all the talented receivers are going to get the ball all that often.
The skinny: Sophomore Terry Godwin looks as if he can develop into a star. But the rest of the group is rather unproven, and some young guys will be given a chance for playing time. Truth be told, the passing attack wasn’t all that much last season with QB Greyson Lambert because he is limited. True freshman QB Jacob Eason has a huge upside, but how soon can he be ready? The receivers will be eagerly anticipating the unleashing of his right arm. Get this: Georgia had just three pass plays cover 40 yards last season.
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The skinny: UK actually has a solid group of receivers; the question is whether new starting QB Drew Barker can consistently get the ball to them. The Wildcats have four returnees who had at least 20 receptions each, led by juniors Dorian Baker (53) and Garrett Johnson (49). Neither is a true deep threat, though. Jeff Badet and Blake Bone are effective complementary targets, and TE C.J. Conrad is underutilized.
The skinny: Sophomore Antonio Callaway was a big-play guy for an offense that didn’t make many big plays last season. He has All-SEC talent. Big things are expected from two newcomers – JC transfer Dre Massey, who will play in the slot, and highly touted true freshman Tyrie Cleveland. As with Callaway, Cleveland should be an effective deep threat. There also is a nice group of tight ends headed by DeAndre Goolsby.
The skinny: The Vols have one receiver returning who had more than 30 receptions last season; that’s Josh Malone, who had 31. TB Alvin Kamara actually is the leading returning receiver. Tennessee looks to have a solid group of receivers, and they have a lot to prove. The Vols are going to be a run-first team, but at some point, the receivers are going to need to make some plays. UT’s lack of a deep passing game was a glaring problem last season; the Vols had just five pass plays of at least 40 yards, an embarrassingly low number. TE Ethan Wolf is solid.
6. Mississippi State
The skinny: Fred Ross emerged as a star last season, when he had 88 receptions. But there is some angst because of the early departure of De’Runnya Wilson (who was not drafted) and the dismissal of Fred Brown; their departures mean the loss of 87 catches and 13 TDs. Good things are expected from Donald Gray and Malik Dear, and Jesse Jackson, Gabe Myles and Jonnas Spivey will be in the mix, too. There is talent, but a lot of it is unproven. And tight end is a concern, too; sophomore Justin Johnson figures to be the guy.
The skinny: Junior Malachi Dupre is a big-timer, even if he is underutilized in the Tigers’ offense. He has excellent size (6-3, 190), high-level athleticism and good speed, and on a team that truly throws the ball, he’d be a 75-catch, 1,200-yard, 10-TD guy. Senior Travin Dural is a good No. 2 receiver, and he, too, is underutilized. Indeed, there is talent at wide receiver in Baton Rouge, even if the offense doesn’t make use of it.
The skinny: The gap between fourth and fifth is wide. The Hogs are surprisingly deep at receiver – and we say “surprisingly” because Bret Bielema is a run-first coach. But this group of receivers would’ve fit nicely in former coach Bobby Petrino’s offense. Numerous injuries last season thrust Drew Morgan into the go-to receiver role, and he responded with an impressive season. Now, all the injured guys are back, and there is a deep group that includes upperclassmen Jared Cornelius, Keon Hatcher and Dominique Reed and underclassmen such as redshirt freshmen La’Michael Pettway and Deon Stewart. As for TE Jeremy Sprinkle, he could lead SEC tight ends in receptions and is a potential All-American.
3. Ole Miss
The skinny: Yes, Laquon Treadwell is gone, but Ole Miss will be fine. Look for Damore’ea Stringfellow to become the go-to guy and be ably complemented by Quincy Adeboyejo, Van Jefferson and Markell Pack. There’s also TE Evan Engram, who might be the best “receiver-first” player in the nation at his position. QB Chad Kelly has a legit chance to set the SEC single-season passing record, and one of the reasons is because of all the targets at his disposal.
The skinny: What’s this – a Nick Saban-coached team is better off at receiver than running back? It’s true. Sophomore Calvin Ridley is the best wide receiver in the league and there is ample depth with the likes of ArDarius Stewart, Robert Foster, Cam Sims and Gehrig Dieter. Dieter is a touted grad transfer from Bowling Green who had 94 receptions, 1,033 yards and 10 TDs last season. Oh, yeah: There’s also TE O.J. Howard, who was the hero of the national-title win over Clemson.
1. Texas A&M
The skinny: Alabama is deep at receiver. Texas A&M is even deeper: Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil and Damion Ratley is a quintet that any team would covet. Kirk and Reynolds can get deep at any time. Seals-Jones (6-5, 249) is a huge and physical target. Noil has a ton of talent but must develop consistency and maturity. Ratley has good speed, started six times last season – and basically is the fifth option. And senior Edward Pope was a 30-catch guy in 2014. There’s also a tight end this season in Virginia Tech grad transfer Kalvin Cline, who gives A&M another red zone weapon.
(You can follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin)
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