SDS will be looking at superlatives for many different positions as we head into season. Next up are the wide receivers.
Many big-time wide receivers from a year ago are now gone. Guys like Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and Marquis Maze are playing on Sundays. But there are a proven veterans and talented new comers ready to take the reigns for the position.
Every receiver in the SEC will not be named – several receivers are extremely important to their teams, but there are a few who stand above the rest at the position.
Judging receivers is a very tough job, because they are essentially only as good as their quarterbacks, but let’s give it a shot:
Complete Package: Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas (SR)
Cobi Hamilton has been overshadowed his first three years on campus by upperclassmen in Jarius Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams. However, it’s his time to shine and really prove he’s the top wide receiver in the SEC. He totals 85 catches for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career. And you can probably argue that he wasn’t even the top wide receiver on his own team the last few years, and I can’t dispute that. But at 6-3, 209 pounds, Hamilton has size, speed, hands and blocking ability on the perimeter. He is the complete package. Hamilton has averaged 17.87 yards per reception on his 85 catches in his first three years. Expect that number to be around the same, but he’ll likely have 65 to 70 catches as Tyler Wilson’s primary go-to receiver. Hamilton will rack up some sick numbers in his last season and go on to be a top-tier NFL Draft pick next spring.
Highest Ceiling: Justin Hunter, Tennessee (SR)
While Hamilton is the complete receiver in the SEC, because he’s proven it over the last few years, Justin Hunter has the most upside at the position in the SEC. The track star also excels on the gridiron, and he might be the complete package before this season is over. In an unfortunate turn of events in 2011, Hunter went down in game three with an ACL injury against Florida and missed the remainder of the season. At 6-4, 205 pounds, Hunter catches everything in a 10’ radius. During his freshman season and before his injury last year, Hunter racked up 22.1 yards per reception. We haven’t seen this kid play for a full season yet, and he could be the top wide receiver taken in next year’s draft.
Best Hands: Ryan Swope, Texas A&M (SR)
You want a proven wide receiver in college football? You look no further than TAMU senior Ryan Swope. All this kid has done is put up numbers since he set foot on campus. Swope totals 180 catches for 2,204 yards and 16 touchdowns, and while he may not be a huge deep threat or a sure-fire game breaker, he’s oh-so dependable. He’s averaged 12.24 yards per catch for his career. Now, he bears the task of leading this new-look Texas A&M offense into the SEC as a proven leader. 180 catches is a great career, and he has one more year to add on to that.
Biggest Deep Threat: Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia (SO)
Isn’t it ironic that the biggest deep threat in the SEC at receiver will start off at corner for Georgia? That will indeed be the case. But he’ll find his way back to offense once the suspended players return in Georgia’s secondary, and he could play both ways to start. We’ll just have to see how it shakes out. Mitchell developed into Georgia’s most potent weapon when he was healthy in 2011 as a freshman, catching 45 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns. In addition, he also missed games with an injured hamstring, or he would have been the Bulldogs’ top receiver. He has blazing straight-ahead speed and can get by corners quickly. Mitchell threatens to take a quick hitch or slant to the house every time he touches the football, and he can burn defenders in coverage on deep routes.
Most Physical: Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee (JR)
Da’Rick Rogers is almost the complete package at wide receiver. He’s big (6-3, 210), fast and very physical, but he lacks attitude. He’s been knocked in his short career for having a selfish attitude on the field and in the locker room. We’ll find out how much he matured in the off-season rather quickly. Rogers returns as the SEC’s leading receiver with 1,040 yards, minus Ryan Swope, and added nine touchdowns. His build and physical presence in the SEC is second to none, and he looks to make strides at becoming an elite receiver this season, if he can get his issues cleared up.
Best Leader: TJ Moe, Missouri (SR)
TJ Moe has been extremely blessed in his three-year career to play with some great quarterbacks. He tallied 92 catches for 1,045 yards his sophomore year playing with Blaine Gabbert. His numbers dropped off somewhat last year with 54 catches for 649 yards and four touchdowns, but it was the first season with a new starting quarterback. And with a year under James Franklin’s belt, expect Moe to get 60 to 70 receptions in his final year in Columbia. This kid is a leader, and he impressed everyone at Media Days, and not just for his witty speeches. Moe, like Swope, will be tasked with leading his team into a brand new era of SEC football.
Most Irreplaceable: Emory Blake, Auburn (SR)
Emory Blake is ‘the man’ at wide receiver for the Tigers. You take away Blake, and Auburn just has a bunch of athletes who are unproven. Blake is the senior leader for the Tigers, and he looks to have a bigger year than last. Blake caught 36 passes for 613 yards and five touchdowns. The next receiver on the roster had 13 catches. Auburn has been waiting on others to step up for some time now. He totals 78 catches for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns in his career thus far. Hopefully he’ll have a quarterback in 2012 who can get him the football more often.
Most Underrated: Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (JR)
Oh, you haven’t heard of Jordan Matthews? Neither has the rest of the SEC, yet. Matthews quietly was Vanderbilt’s most productive wide receiver last year as a sophomore. James Franklin’s aim is getting respect for his team and program, and he’s counting on his top receiver to help get them there. Matthews caught 41 passes for 778 yards and five touchdowns. And while he doesn’t play on a big tradition-based team, he’ll be a top playmaker for the Dores this season as a junior. With another year of working in the same system and an experienced quarterback, expect Matthews to become more of a household name in the SEC and garner a little respect from other teams.
Best All-Purpose: Andre Debose, Florida (JR)
Let’s face it: Andre Debose hasn’t exactly developed the way Florida would like him to thus far in his career. Debose is Florida’s best receiver, but that’s not saying much, considering no proven playmakers or game breakers have emerged just yet. But Debose averaged 27 yards per catch last season on 16 receptions totaling 432 yards. While being Florida’s biggest threat at receiver, he’s one of the conference’s best at returning kick offs for touchdowns. He has straight-ahead speed that can hit the crease quickly. He has a school-record three touchdowns on kick returns, with 1,082 yards on 40 total returns. Debose looks to take his game from Florida’s best weapon to one of the best weapons in all of the conference in 2012.
Best Up-and-Comer: Odell Beckham, LSU (SO)
I was torn on whether Odell Beckham or Donte Moncrief was the best up-and-coming receiver in the SEC for 2012. Both had very good seasons as freshmen on teams that had low passing numbers. They were both bright spots and will be bright spots for years to come. Taking nothing away from Moncrief, I think Beckham is a little bit more dynamic at receiver. Beckham will take over the punt return duties in Tyrann Mathieu’s absence. He caught 41 passes for 475 yards and two touchdowns a year ago, but look for his numbers to really explode this season as Zach Mettenberger takes over the quarterbacking duties for the Tigers.
Best New Comer: Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee (JR)
There has been a lot of preseason hype for Tennessee newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson. At 6-4, 225 pounds, even fellow receivers Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter are taking note of his ability. Tyler Bray has described Patterson as a mix between Rogers and Hunter. Other teammates have expressed his body control on routes and in the open field. It will be fun watching Patterson team up with Rogers and Hunter, with Tyler Bray throwing them passes. This passing offense has a chance to be one of the best in the country.