Excluding the obvious candidates at Alabama and LSU, these 6 guys could become All-SEC receivers
It’s too easy.
If you ask the question “who will be the SEC’s best receiver in 2020,” your first answer should be Ja’Marr Chase. I say that even as someone who believes it’ll be next to impossible for Chase to repeat his 2019 season even if LSU’s offense is one of the nation’s best.
If you don’t want to roll with the Biletnikoff Award winner as the SEC’s top receiver in 2020, it’s probably DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle. Nobody will be surprised if those guys go off and earn All-America honors in 2020. They’ll probably be all over the All-America teams come August. Actually, let’s throw Terrace Marshall in there, too. When healthy last year, he was capable of taking over a game. You don’t score 13 touchdowns by accident.
But with all the receiver talent that the SEC just lost to the NFL Draft — it was just the second time in the 7-round draft era with 3 first-round wideouts from the conference — it’s fair to say that there’s a bit of a changing of the guard. There are all sorts of candidates who could be primed to join the elite group of SEC receivers.
Maybe a new quarterback could be the difference. Perhaps a new coach who likes pirates will fuel a high-powered passing attack.
Oh, and a quick heads up. If you’re wondering why I stayed away from a team like Florida, who I believe will have a top-20 offense with Kyle Trask at quarterback, it’s the same reason as always. Dan Mullen’s system spreads the wealth. As great of an offensive mind as he is, he hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Fred Ross in 2015. In fact, that’s the only 1,000-yard receiver Mullen had in 11 years as a head coach.
Could Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney make plenty of big-time plays? Certainly, but the more likely scenario is that they aren’t high-volume guys.
With that in mind, here are 6 candidates who I believe could become All-SEC receivers aside from that obvious aforementioned group.
Elijah Moore, Ole Miss
I know. He’s the fake dog pee celebration guy who changed the futures of something like 7 FBS programs. He had a dumb underclassman moment, and it proved costly.
But go back and watch the rest of that game (or don’t because I just did and you can take my word for it). He can play. He gets separation at an elite level, and with a quarterback like John Rhys Plumlee who needs guys to succeed running intermediate routes, Moore is a perfect fit.
In steps Lane Kiffin, who figures to want to throw the ball more than Rich Rodriguez. What are the odds that Moore takes another significant jump after having an extremely underrated season in Oxford? I’d say that’s fairly likely. As long as he’s able to move on from his Egg Bowl fiasco — something we shouldn’t assume is a given — Moore has all the makings of a high-volume 1,000-yard receiver.
Osirus Mitchell, Mississippi State
Mitchell is probably the biggest surprise on this list. I get why even MSU fans would question this selection because he built a name for himself as the guy who makes the spectacular catch, not the routine catch. That could prevent him from taking a big step in 2020.
But here’s what I keep coming back to. MSU is going to throw the ball a ton this year with K.J. Costello. If you don’t believe that, perhaps you didn’t see last year when Washington State averaged 10 more passing attempts than any FBS team in America. In this pass-heavy era, that’s hard to do.
Mitchell stands to benefit from that. A lot. An improved signal-caller who can stretch the field will allow for more of the jump-ball opportunities where he thrives. I don’t ever see him being an 80-catch guy or anything like that, but I’d be stunned if he didn’t significantly increase his downfield usage.
A reminder — Mitchell is a highlight waiting to happen.
Tommy Stevens ➡️ Osirus Mitchell
What a throw, what a catch for the Bulldogs. pic.twitter.com/edIizUFiEr
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) September 14, 2019
Treylon Burks, Arkansas
In the midst of the poop storm that was Arkansas’ 2019 season, Burks gave the Hogs some hope. What Burks did as a true freshman in that offense was admirable. Already a fan favorite, Burks led the team with 475 receiving yards with an impressive 16.4 yards per catch. The versatile sophomore-to-be is going to be asked to become an even bigger playmaker in Year 1 of Kendal Briles’ offense.
There’s a lot to like about Burks. His attitude, his willingness to stick with the program, his explosive skills in the open field, etc. The key for Briles is finding out a way to maximize his abilities. Scheming him open in space has to become a bigger priority. There’s no reason he should only average 3 scrimmage touches per game. That’ll inevitably change.
And while Feleipe Franks isn’t exactly the guy who is about to make every one of those Arkansas receivers look like All-Americans, he is certainly better than what they had last year. He has an NFL arm that’ll inevitably be shown off on some of Burks’ SportsCenter-worthy catches this year. His first college receiving touchdown is coming, and if his freshman season was any indication, it won’t take long.
George Pickens, Georgia
Not to do the whole “overhyping the talented true freshman who breaks out in a bowl game” thing, but we did at least see why Georgia fans have been so excited about Pickens. It’s not just the viral grabs he makes along the sidelines. He showed in that game that he can be virtually un-guardable in the right matchup. That was Amari Cooper-like.
But also like Cooper, Pickens has already shown the tendency to disappear for significant chunks. I chalk that up to a couple of things. His route-running hasn’t caught up to his skills yet. Up until last year, they probably haven’t had to. In a scheme that shrank the field far too often, that was a detriment to Pickens’ production.
Even if Pickens doesn’t become an all-world route-runner as a sophomore, he should at least have more opportunities to make plays in space. Todd Monken’s system will be conducive to that. And while Jamie Newman still needs to prove himself in the SEC, he did show a willingness to trust his receivers to go up and make plays. Jake Fromm, much to the frustration of Georgia fans, was hesitant to do that throughout 2019.
Pickens has a high ceiling. There’s no question about it. If Georgia is going to go through a true identity shift with this new offense, it seems like one of the results it’ll yield will be an All-SEC season from Pickens.
Seth Williams, Auburn
Are you sensing a theme on this list? It’s filled with SEC receivers who made some impressive catches on the outside as underclassmen but are some improved route-running short of being elite receivers. Need a reminder of the grab that put Williams on the map?
Play No. 1: Bo Nix to Seth Williams to beat Oregon on Saturday (1/2) pic.twitter.com/6OKBFLCPZ1
— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) September 1, 2019
Obviously that wasn’t the last we heard from Williams. Auburn fans are banging the drum for him to get more love nationally, and I understand why. If Bo Nix improves as a passer in Year 2, Williams will see another spike in production. While I’m admittedly not sold on Chad Morris’ offense working on The Plains, the Tigers will throw the ball plenty.
There’s a good chance that Williams works his way into the first-round conversation for the 2021 NFL Draft. Gus Malzahn would love to showcase those skills as much as possible, and of course, they’d love to get the ball into the hands of their best offensive weapon.
If there’s a guy on this list who has a chance to best the LSU and Alabama duos for receiving yards in 2020, it’s Williams.
Jhamon Ausbon, Texas A&M
Somewhat quietly, 2 of A&M’s top 3 receivers declared early for the NFL Draft … and went undrafted. But the guy who stayed, Ausbon, was arguably the best of the bunch. He’s a tremendous downfield weapon, and now he has to show he can be a true No. 1 receiver. I’d argue that in the first 2 years of the Jimbo Fisher era, A&M really hasn’t had that.
Ausbon can stretch defenses, which is something that the Aggies desperately need. There are loads of favorable matchups for him in the first part of the season, as well. He needs to be able to take advantage of that.
Few SEC wideouts have as much experience as Ausbon, who was well known by A&M fans in the final year of the Kevin Sumlin era. Let’s see that route-running improve to make life a little easier on Kellen Mond.
And a wild card to keep in mind …
Who? The Mizzou grad transfer is on his third school after stints at Ball State and Virginia Tech (that wasn’t disciplinary or a lack of playing time so much as wanting to get to the NFL with the best surroundings). There’s still no official ruling on whether he’ll be eligible immediately because he transferred twice. But the coaching staff expects that he will be, which would add someone to Eli Drinkwitz’s offense with 133 catches for 1,834 yards and 20 touchdowns at the FBS level.
Hazelton is a red-zone machine who could fill the void left by prolific tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, though perhaps more as an outside threat. This is a time when coaches have to be more thankful than ever to have veterans in their program who aren’t necessarily in need of as much coaching. Hazelton, assuming he’s eligible, will add that immediately.
He’s got the makings of one of those guys who doesn’t show up on a single preseason SEC list, but you look up at season’s end and he’s among the top 5 in the league in all the major categories.
Don’t sleep on Hazelton becoming a household name in 2020.