Five players who were among the league’s top 10 in receptions return, and each team in the league has a star at either wide receiver or tight end, if not both. But it gets a bit dicey when you start looking for top-flight wide receiving duos around the league.
The good: TE C.J. Conrad is one of the best in the league at his position and should contend for All-SEC honors. Senior WR Garrett Johnson is a proven commodity.
The bad: Outside of the two mentioned above, the position is a mystery. UK will miss Jeff Badet, a grad transfer who left for Oklahoma. Senior Dorian Baker had a strong sophomore season but was an afterthought last season; can he regain his form? And are there any young guys who will prove effective?
The good: Senior Jared Cornelius will be the go-to receiver; he should be expected to have a big season. There is some intriguing young talent on the roster. The receivers will work with one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Austin Allen.
The bad: One reason Cornelius will be the go-to guy is that he is talented. The other? There is zero proven talent other than Cornelius, who is the only receiver on the roster who has double-digit career catches. A lot of young guys must prove themselves. And for a team that likes to throw to its tight ends, it’s not a given that there is a tight end who can be an effective weapon.
The good: The Commodores return their top seven pass-catchers from last season. Sophomore TE Jared Pinkney is an emerging talent.
The bad: How dangerous are these guys? QB Kyle Shurmur threw just nine TD passes; most of that is on Shurmur but some is on the receivers, too. Senior Caleb Scott is a deep threat of sorts. We say “of sorts” because while he has averaged 16.4 yards per catch in his career, he has just two TDs. Maybe sophomore Kalija Lipscomb can become a playmaker.
The good: Senior D.J. Chark has good size and speed, and should be one of the best receivers in the league. There is some intriguing young talent, too.
The bad: Chark is the only proven commodity on the roster – and in his case, “proven” means just 24 career catches. No other wide receiver on the roster has even 10 career catches. It’s imperative that two or three young guys develop into complementary targets this season, or the offense will be like it was under Les Miles – tailback left, tailback right, tailback up the middle.
10. Mississippi State
The good: Senior Donald Gray is a big-play guy. He has averaged 17.7 yards per catch, and the average length of his seven career TD receptions is 45.6 yards. Last season, he had seven catches that covered at least 30 yards, five that covered at least 40 and three that went at least 50. Sophomore Keith Mixon has a nice upside.
The bad: With Fred Ross gone, the Bulldogs need a go-to receiver, and the question is whether Gray can fill that role. He has been a good complementary weapon; can he handle the pressure of being “the guy”? He’d better be able to handle it because with the ACL injury suffered by Malik Dear (he likely will miss the season), the only other returning receiver of note is Mixon, who had 20 receptions last season.
The good: There’s a deep group of young receivers with potential (in some cases, a lot of it), which should come to the fore in coordinator Chip Lindsey’s revamped offense.
The bad: Junior Ryan Davis has the most career catches of anyone on the roster – and he has 27 (and for just 214 yards). Sophomores Kyle Davis, Nate Craig-Myers, Darius Slayton and Eli Stove must prove they can be weapons. Coaches say there will be a renewed emphasis on throwing to the tight ends, but Auburn tight ends have caught just 15 passes in the past three seasons (and 13 of those came in 2014).
The good: There is an enviable group of tight ends headed by sophomore Isaac Nauta, a former five-star prospect who had a solid freshman campaign. Senior Jeb Blazevich and sophomore Charlie Woerner – a converted wide receiver – also should figure heavily into the passing game. This appears to be as good a group of tight ends as there is in the nation.
The bad: You’ll notice we didn’t mention any wide receivers. Junior Terry Godwin looks as if he will be the No. 1 receiver, but no self-respecting SEC corner looks at tape of Godwin and says, “Oh, my, that guy scares me.” Godwin has 73 career catches, with just two TDs, and is a possession receiver, not a deep threat. Is there a truly dynamic receiver on the roster?
The good: Jauan Jennings, who will be the No. 1 receiver with the departure of Josh Malone, has the talent and potential to vie for all-league honors. This is just his third year of playing receiver (he was a high school quarterback), but he should become just the fifth UT receiver with a 50-reception season in the past 10 years. He has good size and speed and is athletic. TE Ethan Wolf is a solid complementary weapon; he has 44 receptions the past two seasons and needs to be targeted more often.
The bad: Who is the No. 2 receiver – and the No. 3 guy, for that matter? Jennings had 40 receptions last season, and the top three returning wide receivers behind him combined for 35. There are high hopes for sophomores Tyler Byrd and Marquez Callaway, but neither is a proven commodity.
6. Texas A&M
The good: Junior Christian Kirk is the best receiver in the league and one of the most explosive players in the nation; he is dangerous as a receiver and return man, and should vie for All-America honors. Sophomore TE Aaron Hansford has a high ceiling.
The bad: Kirk had 83 receptions last season. All the other returning receivers on the roster combined for eight – total. True freshman Jhamon Ausbon enrolled early and began to live up to his high-level recruiting hype in spring ball; can he produce this fall? Senior Damion Ratley returns, but to call him inconsistent is to be kind. The Aggies need two or three guys to become legit complementary weapons.
The good: Junior Calvin Ridley had a great true freshman season in 2015, then had a slightly disappointing sophomore campaign in ’16. But he has talent and is going to be the go-to guy. He has All-America potential, though he’s not as good as Amari Cooper. TE Miller Forristal certainly isn’t O.J. Howard, but he can be effective. True freshman Jerry Jeudy – like Cooper and Ridley, a south Florida product – had a great spring and looks like a future star.
The bad: Like a lot of SEC teams, Alabama has just one proven receiver. Ridley had 72 receptions last season, but no other returning receiver had more than Cam Sims’ 15. Sims and Robert Foster are seniors with one more chance to prove their worth. And while Jeudy had a great spring, will he be as good during the season?
The good: Antonio Callaway is the Gators’ go-to guy, and while he has had off-field issues, he has been productive on the field. There is a nice group of tight ends headed by DeAndre Goolsby. Brandon Powell is solid in the slot. Sophomore Tyrie Cleveland has a big upside.
The bad: Quarterback play remains an issue, which means these guys may not get enough chances. Powell has been a possession receiver; he needs to show he can make big plays. And none of the other wideouts has done all that much.
3. South Carolina
The good: In Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards, the Gamecocks have a solid 1-2 combination. Both have 60-catch potential. And Hayden Hurst – a former minor-league baseball player – is the best pass-catching tight end in the league.
The bad: While Samuel and Edwards have 60-catch potential, it’s OK to be skeptical about their production because, after all, Will Muschamp is their coach. Samuel has been nagged by hamstring injuries since high school and needs to show he can get through a season unscathed. No other receiver or tight end on the roster really has done anything.
The good: Mizzou is going to throw it around with coordinator Josh Heupel and QB Drew Lock, so there is no question a solid receiving corps is going to get a lot of opportunities. J’Mon Moore is a legitimate go-to option and could be an 80-catch guy in this offense. Sophomores Johnathon Johnson and Dimetrios Mason showed good things as freshmen; Johnson is a burner who can get deep out of the slot. Plus, Nate Brown returns from an ankle injury that sidelined him last season; he had emerged as a solid complementary receiver in 2015. Junior Emanuel Hall had his moments last season.
The bad: Not much. It’s on Lock to become more consistent. If he is, this is going to be a highly productive unit, even if there isn’t a standout tight end.
1. Ole Miss
The good: As with Mizzou, Ole Miss figures to throw it around with sophomore QB Shea Patterson at the controls. And that means potentially big seasons for three sophomores: A.J. Brown, Van Jefferson and D.K. Metcalf. There’s also senior Markell Pack and junior DaMarkus Lodge. In short, there is no shortage of targets.
The bad: TE Evan Engram is gone, and that hurts. He was Ole Miss’ go-to guy last season, which means one of the sophomore wide receivers will be in that role this season. Each of the three has the talent to handle it, but they haven’t done it yet, so there is a bit of intrigue. As for who replaces Engram, it could be sophomore Dawson Knox, who had a strong spring – especially considering he’s a walk-on.
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