I can't wait to watch these 10 SEC receivers in 2021
Recent history suggests that watching SEC receivers is worth the price of admission.
Seven SEC receivers went in the first round in the last 2 years. Let me rephrase that. Seven of the 11 receivers selected in the first round in the last 2 drafts came from the SEC.
And in honor of it being July 11, like 7-Eleven, I thought I’d list off some guys who are always open. At least I expect they will be in 2021.
This is NOT necessarily a ranking of the 10 best receivers in the SEC going into this season. Some guys will earn All-SEC or even preseason All-America honors and not make this list. I have one reason or another why I’m looking forward to seeing these specific guys.
A new offense? A new role? An expectation that they’ll be exceptionally good? Those are all fair game.
So these are the 10 wideouts I can’t wait to see in 2021:
1. Treylon Burks, Arkansas
Let’s start with the guy who deserves to be considered the best returning receiver in the SEC. I hope nationally, people finally start to realize how special the Arkansas junior is. Last year, he basically played in 8 games (he got hurt early vs. MSU) and finished with 820 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns. Burks’ PFF receiving grade ranked No. 5 among Power 5 receivers. He could take over games like he did against Ole Miss and Mizzou, and he could make the highlight reel play from anywhere:
Arkansas’ Treylon Burks might be the most underrated WR in football ⚡️
— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 3, 2021
Not bad for a guy who plays predominantly in the slot, which doesn’t seem fair at 6-3, 230 pounds.
There’s a major question in Fayetteville about who will step into that No. 2 role with Mike Woods off to Oklahoma. Burks already showed in that 10-catch, 206-yard performance against Mizzou that he and KJ Jefferson have an excellent connection. We’ll see if that connection has All-America and first-round potential by season’s end.
2. Wan’Dale Robinson, Kentucky
If you’re unfamiliar with Robinson, just know this. You could make a pretty good case that he was Nebraska’s best player in his first 2 years of college ball. The problem? He didn’t want to be used to heavily as a tailback. Now back in his home state of Kentucky, he’ll play in Liam Coen’s Sean McVay-style offense. What sold Robinson on coming to Kentucky, besides the local connection, was talking with Coen and seeing film of Rams receiver Cooper Kupp. That’s the type of role we’ll see Robinson in.
He’ll probably earn a lot of Lynn Bowden comparisons because of his frame and athleticism, but they’ll be used in much different ways. Robinson has a drop step in the open field that’s already devastated many a Power 5 defender. That’s not going anywhere, no matter who his competition is.
3. Caleb Chapman, Texas A&M
We need to be talking about Chapman. He was off to a magnificent start last year, and he exploded in that upset of Florida. The problem? He tore his ACL on this long touchdown grab:
— Steve Helwick (@s_helwick) October 10, 2020
Chapman was A&M’s leading receiver at the time of his season-ending injury. Now, he’s expected to make a full return to a team suddenly loaded with promise at the skill positions. He’s the deep threat that A&M needed at times last year. Well, I suppose a team who finished the year with 8 wins in a row didn’t need Chapman, but it would’ve made life a lot easier to have his 6-5 frame winning jump balls downfield. He can be that guy this year, especially with so much attention focused on the ground game, the mobility of Haynes King and the always-reliable Jalen Wydermyer.
Oh, and of course there’s another A&M wideout who will be at the top of scouting reports …
4. Ainias Smith, Texas A&M
Smith’s hybrid role was invaluable for the Aggies last year. He was unlike anything we had previously seen in the Jimbo Fisher era, and it paid dividends for an A&M team who found its identity after that Alabama loss. Smith will be spending much more time in the slot this year, which is still an exciting possibility. His ability to make people miss in space is second to none.
Fisher was noticeably critical of Smith in the spring game. It was a byproduct of wanting to coach up someone who has immense talent and is on the cusp of being arguably the best player on a preseason top-10 team. There are still some natural instincts that Smith needs to work out as a receiver in terms of when to break off a route, but one would think that’ll improve with more reps. Smith is part of a group of SEC weapons like Robinson, James Cook and Tyler Badie who could force us to loosen our definition of both “tailback” and “receiver.”
5. Mookie Cooper, Mizzou
The Ohio State transfer has a unique physical makeup at 5-8, 174 pounds. There’s some Elijah Moore-ness to his frame. In an ideal world for Eli Drinkwitz, there would be an Elijah Moore-ness to his game, too. Drinkwitz spoke highly of Cooper, who was buried on the depth chart in a loaded receiver room in Columbus. In Columbia, he figures to be a dangerous weapon out of the slot. Can he instantly come into the SEC and get separation?
Connor Bazelak told me that Cooper can “create separation unlike anyone I’ve ever seen.” That’s about as good of an endorsement as you can ask for from your starting quarterback. Drinkwitz would love it if Cooper could make SEC defenses respect the deep passing game, but at the very least, he should thrive in that 10-19 yard range, where Bazelak is at his best.
6. Arik Gilbert, Georgia
Yeah, we’re talkin’ receivers here. Gilbert goes by that title now.
We know Gilbert is an athletic freak who posted some incredibly impressive numbers in the passing game as a true freshman tight end at LSU. But how will he handle the full-time move to wideout? If the thinking is that Gilbert is going to take a significant chunk of George Pickens’ reps on the outside (where Pickens played 92% of his snaps), it’ll be a transition. Getting separation at those spots, potentially with a No. 1 corner standing across in press coverage, will be different than getting a free release in the slot.
Having said that, Gilbert has already proven to be one of those guys who can dominate when you get him in a mismatch. Even though Kearis Jackson worked almost exclusively out the slot last year, Todd Monken will still give him plenty of reps there. All eyes will be on Gilbert in his new home.
7. Agiye Hall, Alabama
I can still picture the sound of Joe Tessitore belting out “UH-JYE HALL!” in that Alabama spring game. In Tessitore’s defense, the true freshman made some ridiculous grabs in the first live action of the post-DeVonta Smith/Jaylen Waddle era. On a day when even John Metchie wasn’t playing, Hall was magnificent.
One of my “breakout” players for this year is Alabama’s WR “Agiye Hall”. The kid is tough as nails and will go up & grab contested catches. He’s a 1 on 1 nightmare, & I don’t think his name is mentioned enough. Keep ur eyes on the #17 AGAIN this year!!! #RollTide 🐘❤ @HallAgiye pic.twitter.com/kCS8cfmaaT
— Alabama Rydeouts 🐘🅰️ (@MarvinBama16) July 6, 2021
We know that Hall can make the spectacular catch. What we still need to figure out is if he can be a reliable target to make the unspectacular catch. Can he get separation and help out his new starting quarterback? Alabama is obviously undergoing a massive shift in the passing game. Besides Metchie, guys like Slade Bolden, Jahleel Billingsley, Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams and Cameron Latu figure to be featured predominantly. Can Hall carve out a role for himself from the jump? If the spring game was any indication, he’ll at least provide his fair share of must-see catches.
8. Kayshon Boutte, LSU
One of the silver linings of Terrace Marshall opting out late in the 2020 season was it yielded the emergence of Boutte. The true freshman had a special connection with Max Johnson, and Ole Miss still hasn’t tackled him. In those final 3 games, Boutte averaged 9 catches for 176 yards. The guy was unstoppable.
Like Burks and Metchie, there are questions about who will step up and be the No. 2 option. Jontre Kirklin’s spring game performance suggested he can be that guy, but he’s a 5th year player who has only exceeded 30 receiving yards against Vandy and Northwestern State. Can second-year wideout Koy Moore be the No. 2? Or will a bigger option like Jaray Jenkins step up? Then again, maybe Boutte can be a bit of a 1-man show like he was down the stretch. The big moments always seem to follow him.
No matter who starts at quarterback for LSU, don’t expect that to change.
9. Jaden Walley, MSU
While we’re on the subject of 6-foot receivers who broke out as true freshmen in the SEC West (that’s awfully specific), Walley quietly snuck into the top 10 in the SEC in receiving in 2020. Four consecutive 100-yard games to close the regular season will do that. That included a 176-yard performance in the Egg Bowl, which set the MSU single-game freshman record. He didn’t get the national attention of fellow true freshmen like Boutte or Marvin Mims, which was probably a product of the team he played for.
— Mississippi State Football (@HailStateFB) November 29, 2020
We know that the volume won’t be lacking for Walley, regardless of whether it’s Will Rogers or Jack Abraham starting at quarterback. Mike Leach’s Air Raid figures to yield at least one 1,000-yard receiver. All signs point to Walley being that guy. It would help if MSU’s offensive line improved and didn’t face drop-8 coverage on a regular basis. Walley looks like someone who is already comfortable finding the soft spots in zones and catching passes in traffic. MSU needs about 3 more like Walley.
10. George Pickens, Georgia
Hey, who said this list only had to be for healthy receivers? You bet I’m excited to see Pickens, if and when he returns from his torn ACL. Whether that’s November or in the midst of a potential postseason run, Pickens finally has a quarterback and an offense built for his skill set. Even though I’m not as high on Pickens as others are, his potential is through the roof if he’s able to make a full recovery. Nobody in all of college football is better at making that miraculous sideline grab than Pickens. That can be a full-extension dive or soaring over the top of a hopeless defensive back. Pickens does things that few can.
It’s a bummer that in his pre-draft season in this offense, we’re not going to see what a full offseason would’ve meant for his game. Would the route-running have improved? Would he have looked like a true No. 1 on a consistent basis? It’s certainly possible. We’ll never know.
What we do know is that when Pickens returns, the expectations will be sky high in Athens.