The SEC had four 1,000-yard receivers last season – third-most among the Power Five conferences, behind the Pac-12 (six) and Big 12 (five) – and three return this season.
Issues at quarterback may keep each of those three from reaching the plateau again, but this will be an instance where the stats don’t tell the whole story.
The SEC has a handful of truly elite receivers and another dozen or so who could be legitimate go-to receivers for a Power Five team. The “problem” is that some of those dozen or so play on a team that has a different guy as the No. 1 target.
Here are the top 10 wide receivers in the SEC this season, weighted heavily toward their projected production; it was tough cutting the list to 10. There’s also a look at the top five tight ends; it was not tough cutting the list to five.
10. Terry Godwin, Georgia
The particulars: 5 feet 11, 174 pounds, sophomore.
The skinny: If you think the majority of Georgia fans want highly touted true freshman Jacob Eason to be the starting quarterback, think about Godwin. With Eason in the lineup, Georgia’s pass offense actually becomes something for opponents to worry about and Godwin would have a chance to be a 60-catch guy. (Get this: The last time Georgia had a receiver with 60 catches was . . . 1993, when Brice Hunter became the only player in school history to reach that plateau; he had 76.) Godwin had 35 receptions last season as a true freshman, with 40 percent of them (14) coming in the final three games. He is elusive and could develop into one of the most dangerous players in the league.
9. Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
The particulars: 6-0, 205, sophomore.
The skinny: Meet South Carolina’s most important offensive player – a guy, by the way, with 12 career receptions. He was set to play an important role for the Gamecocks lasts season, but suffered a hamstring injury in the opener and ended up playing just five games and making three starts. But he gave Gamecocks fans – and opposing coaches – a tantalizing look at his potential with a big game (five catches for 104 yards and a TD) in a season-ending loss to a Clemson team with one of the nation’s best secondaries. Given South Carolina’s issues at quarterback, don’t expect huge numbers this season. But Samuel will make an impact this season, and he’ll roast a few SEC corners along the way.
8. Drew Morgan, Arkansas
The particulars: 6-0, 193, senior.
The skinny: Morgan had 10 receptions total in his first two seasons with the Hogs, then took advantage of others’ injuries and emerged as Arkansas’ go-to receiver last season. He had 63 catches for 843 yards and 10 TDs (tied for second in the league); he was especially good in the second half of the 2015 season. Morgan will team with Keon Hatcher, Dominique Reed and Jared Cornelius to form a potent receiving quartet, but there’s no reason to think Morgan won’t be the top target for new QB Austin Allen.
7. Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
The particulars: 6-4, 190, senior.
The skinny: Reynolds, a former JC transfer, has 103 receptions in his two seasons with the Aggies – and has scored on 18 of them. That’s a TD every 5.7 receptions, and he has scored on almost 18 percent of his catches. He has excellent size, is a long-strider and has been clocked in the 4.4s in the 40. There are few better deep threats in the SEC: Reynolds has averaged 16.9 yards per catch while at A&M. He will not be the Aggies’ go-to receiver this season (more on that guy in a bit), but as far as No. 2 receivers go, he is the best in the SEC – and might be the best in the nation.
6. Antonio Callaway, Florida
The particulars: 5-11, 195, sophomore.
The skinny: Callaway, currently on an indefinite suspension, had 35 receptions last season – but he averaged 19.4 yards per catch, which led the SEC among receivers with at least 20 receptions. He scored six TDs last season and those six catches averaged 59 yards. He has the ability to line up wide or in the slot, and while he is not a true blazer, he is quick and can get in and out his cuts seemingly without slowing down. He also has good hands and seems set for a big season. The Gators haven’t had a 70-catch guy since 2005 (Chad Jackson, 88 receptions) and haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2002 (Taylor Jacobs, 1,088). That gives Callaway something to shoot for.
5. Fred Ross, Mississippi State
The particulars: 6-2, 207, senior.
The skinny: Ross was second in the league with 88 receptions, for 1,007 yards (which was fourth in the league) and five TDs. He can line up wide or in the slot. Ross lacks elite speed, but he has been clocked in the high 4.4s, and his size/speed mix make him a tough cover for opposing defensive backs. He led the SEC by averaging 8.8 receptions and 93.2 receiving yards per game in league play. Ross had a huge November, with 41 receptions and 500 yards in four games that month. With De’Runnya Wilson gone, Ross will see more double-teams this fall.
4. Damore’ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss
The particulars: 6-2, 211, junior.
The skinny: With the early departure of Laquon Treadwell to the NFL, Chad Kelly needs a new favorite target and it’s seemingly a given that it will be Stringfellow, who played at a high level in the second half of the 2015 season. Stringfellow has good size, is physical and can get deep. While he lacks top-end speed (he runs in the high 4.5s in the 40), he gets off the line quickly, then knows how to use his size to his advantage. Stringfellow had 36 receptions for 503 yards and five touchdowns in 2015. Even though Ole Miss has a deep group of receivers, Stringfellow could (should?) double his production from last season. Off-field problems led to his transfer from Washington, but he hasn’t had any issues at Ole Miss.
3. Malachi Dupre, LSU
The particulars: 6-3, 190, junior
The skinny: Dupre was a national top-20 recruit but has just 57 receptions in two seasons in LSU’s run-oriented attack. But 11 of those catches have gone for TDs. He averaged 16.3 yards per reception on his 43 catches last season, with six TDs; he averaged 23.3 yards per catch on those six scoring receptions. Dupre has an exciting combination of size, speed (mid-4.4s in the 40) and athleticism (he was a Louisiana state champ in high school in the triple jump, long jump and high jump). He doesn’t seem likely to pile up the stats this fall, but NFL teams have to salivating at his pro potential.
2. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
The particulars: 5-11, 200, sophomore.
The skinny: Despite joining a team with an experienced and deep group of receivers, Kirk became the Aggies’ No. 1 receiver as a true freshman last season. Kirk led the Aggies in receptions (80), receiving yards (1,009) and TD receptions (seven). Kirk – who also is a dangerous return man – has good speed and exceptional quickness. He scored nine total TDs last season, and they averaged 39.1 yards. Kirk had five receptions of at least 40 yards, seven of at least 30 and 15 of at least 20. He again will be the ringleader on one of the nation’s best receiving corps.
1. Calvin Ridley, Alabama
The particulars: 6-1, 188, sophomore.
The skinny: Ridley had a huge season as a true freshman last season, leading the league with 89 receptions and leading the Tide with 1,045 receiving yards, which was second in the league. Ridley – like former Tide star Amari Cooper, a south Florida high school product – was No. 2 among freshmen nationally in receptions, third in receiving yards and tied for fifth with seven TD catches. His seven TD receptions averaged 41 yards and he led the SEC with six receptions of at least 50 yards (three of those went for touchdowns). Ridley also had eight receptions covering at least 40 yards, nine covering at least 30 and 12 covering at least 20. As he becomes a more polished receiver, all the school receiving records will be in jeopardy. While Alabama has a deep group of receivers, Ridley unquestionably is the best.
TOP 5 TIGHT ENDS
5. DeAndre Goolsby, Florida
The particulars: 6-4, 240, junior.
The skinny: TE Jake McGee was the Gators’ second-leading receiver last season, but he graduated and Goolsby should be the go-to tight end. Unlike McGee, who was a possession receiver like most old-school tight ends, Goolsby has the speed and athleticism to occasionally get deep. He had 17 receptions last season, and a legit goal for this fall is doubling that total. Goolsby’s athleticism means UF coaches can use him in a variety of ways; heck, he could line up in the slot if they so choose.
4. Ethan Wolf, Tennessee
The particulars: 6-6, 245, junior.
The skinny: Wolf, who never redshirted, will be in his third season as the Vols’ starter this fall. He is an important blocker in the Vols’ offensive scheme, but he has shown the ability to be an effective safety-valve receiver. He has had 23 catches in each of his first two seasons. While he is not a deep threat, he does a nice job of finding an open spot and giving QB Josh Dobbs a big target. He has two career TD catches and they came in the same game, last season’s opener against Bowling Green.
3. Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas
The particulars: 6-6, 253, senior.
The skinny: Arkansas’ Hunter Henry won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end last season, and Sprinkle should be in the mix this season. Sprinkle had 27 receptions for 389 yards and six TDs (the most of any SEC tight end) last season, when he was the Hogs’ second tight end. He obviously will see more defensive attention this fall, but a 50-catch season seems a possibility. Sprinkle also is a good blocker and has the ability to get deep.
2. O.J. Howard, Alabama
The particulars: 6-6, 242, senior.
The skinny: He is a former five-star prospect who never could seem to break through – until the national championship game against Clemson, when he had five receptions for 208 yards and two TDs. Those were his first two TDs since Oct. 9, 2013, during his freshman season; he had gone 32 games without a TD. In addition, the 208 receiving yards against the Tigers is almost 20 percent of his career total (1,131 yards). Enough for the negativity: He is a legitimate big-play threat at tight end, as nine of his 38 receptions last season covered at least 20 yards. Howard is improving as a blocker and has the ability to be a “traditional” in-line tight end or line up out wide.
1. Evan Engram, Ole Miss
The particulars: 6-3, 227, senior.
The skinny: No, Engram isn’t the best blocker around. But he is a dangerous weapon in the passing game and has shown excellent versatility. He can be used in the traditional in-line tight end role but also in the slot and spread wide. He has good speed, solid hands and can get deep. He has 1,298 career receiving yards, a school record for a tight end; he has a legitimate shot at finishing in the top 10 in school history in receiving yards. He has had 38 catches in each of the past two seasons and a goal this season should be to get to 40.
(You can follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin)
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