O'Gara: Who will be the SEC's next elite transfer WR? These are the top 7 candidates
There’s always 1.
In the transfer portal/NIL era, which began in 2021, the SEC has had at least 1 elite transfer at the receiver position. Granted, we haven’t always known who that would be in January.
It’s weird to think that when Wan’Dale Robinson transferred from Nebraska to Kentucky, it wasn’t official that the NCAA would allow undergraduates to have a 1-time transfer rule without sitting a season. It’s also weird to think that Jameson Williams was a post-spring transfer at Alabama. Both of them set the SEC ablaze and led the conference in receiving.
In 2022, that was Juice Wells. When South Carolina became the talk of the college football world late in the season, Wells was at his best. While he didn’t finish as a top-2 SEC receiver, he did earn first-team All-SEC honors from the coaches after he finished 5th in receiving.
In 2023, Tre Harris was a force when healthy. Like Wells, he came up just short of a 1,000-yard season, but he was 5th in the conference in receiving yards. Go figure that those 2 will be teammates now at Ole Miss.
Recent history tells us that one of the best receivers in the SEC will be a transfer. As in, an SEC newcomer. That means for the sake of today’s discussion, we’ll exclude Wells as a candidate after he transferred from South Carolina to Ole Miss. That also excludes someone like London Humphreys, who transferred from Vanderbilt to Georgia.
We’ll instead include these 7 SEC newcomers who could set the conference ablaze after transferring:
CJ Daniels, LSU
There are 11 FBS players who had 1,000 receiving yards with at least 10 receiving touchdowns. Of those 11 players, only 1 of them averaged 19 yards/catch. That was Daniels, who torched defenses as Kaidon Salter’s go-to target at Liberty and finished tied for No. 2 in America with 9 catches of 40 yards. He’ll now operate in an offense that’s replacing 2 of the other 11 FBS players who had 1,000 receiving yards with at least 10 receiving touchdowns. He’ll do that with a gunslinger at quarterback in Garrett Nussmeier, who isn’t shy about stretching the field. Besides, things worked out pretty well the last time LSU added a “Daniels” in the transfer portal.
Ja’Cori Maclin, Kentucky
Remember how I just mentioned that 11 FBS players had 1,000 receiving yards with double-digit touchdown grabs? Maclin was on that list (he’s Jeremy Maclin’s cousin). The former Mizzou wideout found a home at North Texas, where he became a star receiver on the outside, where he played 92% of his snaps. He’ll perhaps give Kentucky more flexibility to use Dane Key and Barion Brown in the slot. The hope is that Maclin can be a more sure-handed, steadying presence at receiver to pair alongside those dynamic wideouts.
Deion Burks, Oklahoma
It’s not often that an All-Conference Power 5 receiver transfers, but hey, welcome to 2024. Burks had a nice second season at Purdue, where he had 629 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns, which tied for No. 4 in the Big Ten. Burks was a huge addition to a team that’s undergoing an offensive shift after the departures of Jeff Lebby and Dillon Gabriel. Like the aforementioned Maclin, Burks is a sub-6 foot receiver who lines up almost exclusively on the outside. His speed is next-level, but his ability to separate will determine how much Jackson Arnold can trust him to move the chains.
Matthew Golden, Texas
Texas has as much turnover at the pass-catcher spots as anyone in America. The Longhorns have to replace their top 5 leaders in receiving yards, but they got some immediate help in the portal. In addition to raiding the Alabama roster by landing Iron Bowl hero Isaiah Bond and tight end Amari Niblack, the Longhorns plucked Golden from Houston. A late-season injury halted a promising second season from Golden, who had 984 receiving yards and 13 touchdown grabs in his first 2 years at Houston. Working alongside Quinn Ewers with Steve Sarkisian dialing up looks, Golden is stepping into a much more favorable situation than the one he left. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if he rises up NFL Draft boards with a 1,000-yard season in the role that Xavier Worthy had.
Germie Bernard, Alabama
You’ll look at Bernard’s numbers and tell me that he’s not a worthy addition to this list. Do that. A sophomore season with 419 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns wasn’t head-turning production. But remember, that was in a Washington receiver room that had Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan. Bernard is lucky that he ever saw the rock. He followed Kalen DeBoer and Ryan Grubb to Alabama, where the Tide only returned 1 wide receiver who had at least 150 receiving yards in 2023 (Kobe Prentice). Bernard was utilized in the ground game, as well. He can play both in the slot and on the boundary in the DeBoer/Grubb offense, which he already knows well. There’s a world in which Bernard becomes Jalen Milroe’s go-to target now that he’s not fighting for looks with that dynamic trio.
Chris Brazzell II, Tennessee
Brazzell is just 1 of the many reasons that I’m bullish about the Nico Iamaleava-led Tennessee offense in 2024. He became a favorite target of Michael Pratt in a breakout redshirt freshman season that saw him finish as Tulane’s leading receiver. The 6-5 wideout should pair nicely opposite fellow outside receiver Bru McCoy, who announced his return for 2024 after a season-ending injury. Brazzell should benefit from Iamaleava’s ability to push the ball to the sidelines, which is where the Josh Heupel offense often breaks off chunks of yards and moves the chains. Speaking of that, Brazzell led FBS with 85% of his catches going for a first down or touchdown (H/T Nick Baumgardner). In that offense, he could be set for takeoff.
Jabre Barber, Texas A&M
At one point during the bowl game, A&M had 2 scholarship receivers. To say that the Aggies needed an influx of help at the pass-catcher spots would be an understatement. Fortunately, they added Barber, who had 999 receiving yards in his junior season at Troy. He had a bunch of Power 5 interest after hitting the portal, but ultimately, he opted to join the new-look Collin Klein A&M offense. One would assume that Barber will be catching passes from Conner Weigman, who flashed plenty of potential before his season-ending injury in September. Barber has the makings of a target machine in College Station.
Why not Colbie Young at Georgia?
Georgia has major shoes to fill at the pass-catcher spots with Brock Bowers and Ladd McConkey off to the NFL. The plan is to do that with a bunch of former Power 5 transfers — Dominic Lovett and RaRa Thomas are back — the latest of which was Young from Miami. In 2 years with up-and-down quarterback play, Young totaled 939 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. At 6-5, he’s a big, physical wideout who can get upfield well for an outside receiver. He can satisfy an area of need that Georgia struggled to find after AD Mitchell left for Texas.
So what’s the problem? Georgia has only had 1 1,000-yard receiver (Terrence Edwards in 2002) in program history. Young could be a key contributor in a championship team, but finishing in the top 5 in the SEC in receiving feels unlikely when Brock Bowers was the only Dawg to do that in the past 15 years.