Ranking the SEC's top 10 receivers: Can new go-to targets take over top spots?
I promise. Preseason rankings season is almost over.
Technically, the college football season started last weekend. But after this weekend, we’ll have actual SEC games to talk about.
These rankings will serve as a prediction for what’s ahead in 2017, even though they’ll likely be off the mark. Receivers, especially breakout ones, are a bit tougher to predict than other skill positions. The Christian Kirk and Calvin Ridley freshman seasons are few and far between, but inevitably, they’ll happen.
The better question might be which sophomore can make the jump into that upper echelon of SEC wideouts.
For now, though, here are the SEC’s top 10 receivers:
10. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Why not start this list off with the freshman? Sure, Jeudy hasn’t caught a college pass yet, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that he could be a breakout star as a true freshman. The former 5-star recruit has done nothing but impress since enrolling early. His Odell Beckham-like catch in practice certainly didn’t squelch the hype, either. Jeudy will get an opportunity to play immediately. The question is if he or another Alabama freshman wideout earns a regular spot on this list.
9. Jared Cornelius, Arkansas
If Cornelius can recover from his back injury — that’s not a given — he could easily finish among the league’s most productive wideouts. After all, he has Austin Allen throwing to him. That’s a major boost in itself. Pro Football Focus’ top SEC slot receiver from 2016 flashed his upside with that monster three-game stretch of 16 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns. If that guy returns to 100 percent, look out.
8. A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Brown has the look of a guy who could become Shea Patterson’s favorite target. The slot receiver caught 10 passes from Patterson in those final three games of his freshman season.
At 6-1, 225 pounds, Brown can almost be a tight end for his young quarterback with his ability to make catches in the middle of the field. The sophomore might have as much upside as anyone in what looks like a deep group of receivers.
7. Antonio Callaway, Florida
Callaway was easily the toughest person on this list to rank. No. 7 might seem low considering his production (89 catches, 1,399 yards, 7 TDs) with sub-par quarterback play the past two years. But will Callaway play 11 regular-season games? His suspension could last beyond the season opener against Michigan. And even if he does return, there are more options around him to steal targets. The talent is there. The maturity and reliability obviously still are a major question.
6. Donald Gray, Mississippi State
Without Fred Ross, Gray is poised to take a big next step as the Bulldogs’ new go-to wideout. As Nick Fitzgerald’s No. 2 target, Gray still racked up 709 receiving yards and five scores last year. Yes, the monster game against Samford (207 receiving yards, three touchdowns) had something to do with that. But nobody stands to benefit more than Gray if Fitzgerald can improve his 54 percent accuracy.
5. Jauan Jennings, Tennessee
Speaking of wideouts ready to step into go-to roles, Jennings is that guy for the Vols. No more Josh Malone means that Jennings will have a chance to build off his solid sophomore season. If Jennings can stay out of trouble, there’s a lot to like. He had 485 receiving yards and six touchdowns in SEC play alone last year, including a certain Hail Mary that broke the internet.
Jennings might still have some maturing to do, but it’s tough not to like his ability to make some more big-time plays, regardless of who starts at quarterback.
4. Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
Few college football players should be more entertaining than Samuel in 2017. Will Muschamp already said that the Gamecocks are going to dial up whatever they can to get do-it-all speedster the ball in space. Sure, he only had one receiving touchdown last year, but in his final eight games (seven with Jake Bentley starting), Samuel racked up 55 catches for 717 yards. That’s a 12-game pace of 83 catches for 1,076 yards, which would’ve tied and led the SEC, respectively. Another year with Bentley and all those weapons should mean a whole lot of second-half Samuel.
3. J’Mon Moore, Missouri
The SEC’s leading returning receiver might be worthy of a higher spot on this list. His six games of 100-plus receiving yards was more than Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk had combined — and five came against Power 5 opponents. So why is Moore not in one of the top two spots?
The drops certainly have something to do with that. His numbers also might’ve also been a bit better than Ridley simply because Missouri played from behind a whole lot more than Alabama did. Still, he’s set to thrive in that loaded Missouri offense.
2. Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Ridley didn’t quite make the big sophomore jump many predicted him to. But there’s reason to believe he’ll live up to the preseason All-America hype. Another year with Jalen Hurts will help. The Tide figure to let Hurts air it out a bit more in his sophomore season, which is where Ridley is best. He’s still a touchdown waiting to happen, and when healthy, nobody in America is more likely to get behind a secondary than Ridley.
1. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
The Aggies get one more year of Kirk making opposing coordinators sweat. The matchup nightmare is as consistent as they come in terms of production. In 26 career games, he had at least three catches in 25 of them. In 15 of those 26 games, Kirk had at least six catches. Considering the Aggies’ quarterback issues in that stretch, that says a lot. As long as Texas A&M’s quarterback situation isn’t a complete train wreck, Kirk still has the ability to become college football’s best receiver.