Each SEC team's top receiver in 2016
It’s an exciting time to be an SEC receiver.
In the NFL, players like Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Jarvis Landry are some of the best in the game. Many of them have contributed immediately, and in a big way.
At the college level, two 2015 signees earned freshman All-America status last year and several others made instant impacts.
Now if we could just get the quarterback play back to where it was in 2013.
Here are the projected No. 1 receivers for every SEC team in 2016, along with some analysis about other pass-catchers who should be significant.
Alabama: Calvin Ridley
The Tide has vowed to get tight end O.J. Howard more involved in the offense. Graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter was a 1,000-yard receiver for Bowling Green last year, and he’s one of many talented Bama wideouts. But Ridley was one of the best receivers in the SEC as a true freshman last season, and he may be the team’s No. 1 option on offense all year.
Arkansas: Drew Morgan
JUCO transfer Dominique Reed can fly, and he seemed to emerge as a legitimate SEC threat during the second half of last season. Still, Morgan was one of the breakout players of the entire conference in 2015. With Hunter Henry gone, he should get every opportunity to become the go-to target for the new starting quarterback.
Auburn: Tony Stevens
This one is tricky, as the Tigers got hardly any production at receiver last year beyond Ricardo Louis. Melvin Ray also exhausted his eligibility. The veterans don’t have many career catches and figure to be pushed by a talented group of incoming signees. Jason Smith and Marcus Davis are other options to argue, but Stevens caught all 14 of his passes in the final eight games of 2015. At 6-foot-4, he’s a downfield threat, so he could get yards in chunks.
Florida: Antonio Callaway
With Demarcus Robinson and Jake McGee exiting, this one is obvious. The Gators just need to settle on which quarterback will be throwing him the ball and make sure that there are one or two other options to prevent defenses from game planning too much around Callaway.
Georgia: Terry Godwin
At just 5-foot-11 and 174 pounds, Godwin is not a prototypical No. 1 receiver at a program like UGA. Yet the all-purpose player caught 35 passes as a true freshman. There should be plenty of balance in the passing game with players like Jeb Blazevich, Reggie Davis and newcomers Isaac Nauta, Javon Wims and Cavin Ridley. But most expect Godwin will get the most targets.
Kentucky: Garrett Johnson
Dorian Baker (608 yards) and Jeff Badet (430) also are prime candidates for increased production. The trio will improve markedly just by cutting down on the unacceptable number of dropped passes. We’ll go with Johnson (694) as the No. 1 mostly because he averaged 4 yards per catch more than Baker in ’15.
LSU: Malachi Dupre
Travin Dural remains the preeminent deep threat in the SEC, averaging 19.9 yards per catch for his career. But Dural has yet to show he can do much more than execute a go route to perfection. A slow and steady developer, the former five-star recruit Dupre is ready to evolve into one of the SEC’s premier receivers. If the passing game as a whole improves, he could even creep toward a 1,000-yard season.
Mississippi State: Fred Ross
Fred Brown and Donald Gray make for nice complimentary pieces for Nick Fitzgerald or whomever starts at quarterback. But with De’Runnya Wilson leaving to pursue the NFL, Ross is entrenched as the clear No. 1. He’s one of just three returning 1,000-yard receivers in the SEC.
Missouri: Nate Brown
The Tigers need a much better season from the passing game in every aspect, including quarterback play and pass protection. But at least what was a historically-green group of pass-catchers entering the 2015 season now has a chance to make progress. Alabama transfer Chris Black should make an impact and J’Mon Moore is a serious contender for the team’s top receiving option. But the feeling here is that Brown, who caught 20 passes in the first seven games last year, will avoid another late-season swoon and threaten 50 catches.
Ole Miss: Damore’ea Stringfellow
In some ways, losing Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core is a blessing. It will allow players like Quincy Adeboyejo, Markell Pack, Evan Engram and some talented newcomers to get more opportunities. Our best guess, though, is that Stringfellow — the player who most closely resembles Treadwell — will emerge as the true No. 1.
South Carolina: Deebo Samuel
It’s telling that the Gamecocks’ leading returning pass-catcher is a 6-foot true sophomore with 162 career receiving yards. No matter who starts at quarterback, South Carolina may struggle to pass the ball downfield with regularity in 2016. Terry Googer and D.J. Neal are the only other scholarship receivers who have caught a college pass. The team did its best to replenish the position through recruiting. The top-rated signee, 6-foot-3 Bryan Edwards, may make an instant impact.
Tennessee: Josh Malone
With the departure of Marquez North, Josh Smith remains the only other returning wideout with significant production. JUCO transfer Jeff George could help right away and Ethan Wolf is a steady tight end. But if anyone is to challenge Malone to become the No. 1 option, it could be touted ’15 recruit Preston Williams or quarterback-turned-receiver Jauan Jennings.
Texas A&M: Christian Kirk
Most SEC teams would gladly take the Aggies’ third and fourth options, which appear to be Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil in some order. Josh Reynolds largely is considered one of the 10 best receivers in the SEC. Texas A&M’s roster includes a few young talents waiting to break into the lineup as well. But Kirk topped 1,000 yards as a true freshman. He’s special in the open field, and one would expect Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight or holdover Jake Hubenak to get him the ball often.
Vanderbilt: Trent Sherfield
Perhaps C.J. Duncan will return from a leg injury that forced him to miss last season and surpass 2015 breakout player Sherfield. Caleb Scott emerged as a significant receiver during his sophomore year. Senior-to-be Latevius Rayford caught 36 passes in 2014. But with more stability around him, Sherfield will have every opportunity to improve on his more-impressive-than-it-looks 659 yards.