We continue our series ranking the SEC squads by position group. This time, it’s receivers (but not tight ends). We list three probable top receivers, and consider the rankings accordingly. We tended to favor the guys who are proven qualities over those who aren’t — again, because we can’t see the future.
But for the present, here’s the top receiving groups in the SEC for 2017.
14. Auburn: Jr. Ryan Davis, Soph. Darius Slayton, Soph. Nate Craig-Myers
Auburn passed little and to little effect in 2016. The Tigers finished last in the SEC in attempts (289), yards (2,203) and only Vanderbilt threw fewer TD passes than the Tigers (12).
Maybe transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham changes all of those issues in 2017.
While the Tigers return several of their top receivers, no returning player topped 25 catches or 300 yards last year. Slayton started 11 games and did manage some big plays (15-292-1). Davis caught the most passes of any returning player (25-194-1). Craig-Myers was the all-everything prospect who did little (4-70-1), but might explode with Stidham under center. There is depth, but it is essentially unproven depth.
13. Arkansas: Sr. Jared Cornelius, Soph. Austin Cantrell, Jr. Brandon Martin
Most of the Hogs’ top pass catchers were seniors. Cornelius (32-515-4) is by far the most experienced guy left.
Cantrell played reasonably well as a backup (13-120-2), but those are the only returning receivers with more than three catches from 2016. Enter Brandon Martin, a 4-star JUCO recruit who will probably see the field from day one. Austin Allen might have good weapons in 2017, but they’re much less experienced than last year’s group.
12. LSU: Sr. D.J. Chark, Sr. Russell Gage, Soph. Dee Anderson
Top receivers Travin Dural (a senior) and Malachi Dupre (an NFL entrant) are gone, so the cupboard, while talented, is not loaded with experience. D.J. Chark (26-466-3) is the top Tiger who returns, and will see plenty of passes. Behind Chark, it gets dicier. Gage has been around, but contributed little (5-62-1 in ’16). The Tigers had several recruits in the ’16 class who might contribute—Anderson caught four balls in 2016 to lead the group. But guys like Drake Davis or Stephen Sullivan could step up. For now, there are plenty of questions in this group.
One X-factor: Running back Derrius Guice. If the Tigers can use him in the screen game, LSU’s passing attack automatically becomes more dangerous.
11. Georgia: Jr. Terry Godwin, Sr. Javon Wims, Soph. Riley Ridley
Isaiah McKenzie went pro, and Georgia also relies heavily on backs and tight ends. Still, there’s some talent around this team. Godwin (38-397-0) has been the second receiver for the past two years, but now will have to step up into a lead role. Wims was a JUCO addition (17-190-1) who could explode in ’17. Ridley wasn’t as decorated a recruit as his 5-star brother, Calvin, but he showed skills as a true freshman (12-238-2). There is potential in this group, but a relative lack of proven qualities.
10. Tennessee: Jr. Jauan Jennings, Soph. Tyler Byrd, Sr. Josh Smith
Tennessee lost Josh Malone to the NFL Draft, and Preston Williams to a midseason transfer. Still, Jennings (40-580-7) developed into a top-level wideout in 2016 and not just because of one spectacular catch.
Tyler Byrd showed a ton of potential as a true freshman (15-209-0), and is the best candidate to develop opposite Jennings. Smith (13-97-1) has plenty of experience, but time is running out on him to make an impact. Tennessee has a capable unit, but aside from Jennings, they haven’t shown they can make plays in the SEC.
9. Kentucky: Sr. Garrett Johnson, Sr. Dorian Baker, Fr. Lynn Bowden
Kentucky lost two of its top three receivers, but big-play threat Johnson (39-585-5) returns. Baker (14-208-2) was the team’s leading receiver in 2015, but battled injuries and struggled to get on the field last season. He’ll get a bigger shot this year. Bowden is a true freshman who evokes comparisons to Randall Cobb from the UK coaches — he’ll play early and often.
8. Vanderbilt: Jr. C.J. Duncan, Sr. Trent Sherfield, Soph. Kalija Lipscomb
Vandy returns all five receivers who had more than 10 catches in 2016. Duncan (44-494-0) showed potential in 2014, but missed 2015 with injury. Sherfield (34-472-1) was the team’s leading receiver in 2015, but slipped a bit last year. Lipscomb (27-319-2) was a true freshman who was ranked near the bottom of even Vandy’s mediocre recruiting class. But Vandy returns quality depth and if they can get a better season from Kyle Shurmur, this is one of the SEC’s quietly effective groups.
7. Mississippi State: Sr. Donald Gray, Jr. Malik Dear, Soph. Keith Mixon
All-time leading receiver Fred Ross is gone, but the Bulldogs retain significant depth this time around. Gray emerged in 2016 as a legitimate second option (41-709-5), and could have a Ross-like season in 2017. Dear (23-264-2) and Mixon (19-228-2) are both unimposing but speedy players who will likely increase their production this season. State will miss Ross, but isn’t in bad shape at all at receiver.
6. Texas A&M: Jr. Christian Kirk, Sr. Jamal Jeffrey, Fr. Jhamon Ausbon
A&M lost a ton of quality players at receiver — from seniors Josh Reynolds and Jeremy Tabuyo to NFL entrants Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones. They return Kirk (83-928-9), who is as good of a receiver as there is in the nation. That’s good for the Aggies, because they have no other known qualities and are breaking in another new quarterback.
Jeffrey was the second most productive returning receiver and it’s a long way down (6-74-0) — he’s been the subject of transfer rumors. Don’t be surprised if freshmen get the call, and 4-star Jhamon Ausbon will probably get an early shot to play. Kirk is a star, but it’s hard to know what else the Aggies have.
5. Alabama: Jr. Calvin Ridley, Sr. Cam Sims, Soph. Trevon Diggs
Ridley is the wily veteran of the group. He had a huge season in 2015 (89 catches-1,045 yards-7 touchdowns), but fell off some in 2016 (72-769-7).
The other star receiver ArDarius Stewart went pro, so spots are up for grabs. Robert Foster is an option but might transfer; he has loads of talent, but has done little on the field (5-55-0 in 2016, 116 yards and two scores in 2015). Sims is similarly inexperienced (14-152-0 last year). Diggs actually averaged more yards returning punts than as a receiver in 2016.
Don’t forget true freshman Jerry Jeudy, a 5-star prospect per 247sports.com who could star. Still, the Tide has one proven quality and some question marks for now.
4. South Carolina: Jr. Deebo Samuel, Soph. Bryan Edwards, Fr. OrTre Smith
Samuel was highly regarded by Steve Spurrier and in 2016 developed into a rising star (59-783-1). The other main threat was true frosh Bryan Edwards, who has big-play skills (44-590-4). The Gamecocks rely heavily on tight ends, and might line up K.C. Crobsy or Hayden Hurst out wide at times. If not, 4-star recruit OrTre Smith is a possibility for significant playing time.
3. Missouri: Sr. J’Mon Moore, Soph. Dimetrios Mason, Soph. Johnathon Johnson
Given the influence of Josh Heupel on the Mizzou offense, it’s no surprise that the Tigers have some pass-catchers. Moore (62-1,012-8) put up huge stats, but needs to be more consistent in 2017. Mason was a very lightly regarded recruit who played well (47-587-3), as did Johnson (24-435-2). The biggest knock on this group is that they have feasted on mediocre opponents, but with another season with Hueppel and QB Drew Lock, they might even out significantly.
2. Ole Miss: Soph. Van Jefferson, Soph. A.J. Brown, Jr. DaMarkus Lodge
While two of Ole Miss’s top three receivers are gone (Quincy Adeboyejo to graduation, Damore’ea Stringfellow to the NFL Draft), there is still plenty of talent in Oxford. Jefferson (49-543-3) was a remarkably consistent player as a redshirt freshman, and should be ready to be the main man for the Rebels. Brown was a true freshman, but came on late to play well (29-412-2). There are other options behind the two, and Lodge (15-203-5) could emerge as a big-play threat. 2017 recruit D.D. Bowie could help out as well.
QB Shea Patterson has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Ole Miss’ passing attack has ranked No. 1 each of the past two seasons. It’s not going away.
1. Florida: Jr. Antonio Callaway, Sr. Brandon Powell, Soph. Tyrie Cleveland
Florida’s passing game was mediocre in 2016, but don’t blame the receivers. This is as good of a group as exists in the SEC, and it’s led by Callaway (54-721-3), who could post a 1,000-yard season with a better QB and solid line play. Powell (45-387-2) gives the Gators a proven second option. Cleveland (14-298-2) came on late in the season as a true frosh, but has the home run ability needed to thrive in the league.
If the Gators can figure out their quarterback situation, don’t be surprised if the three receivers combine for 150-170 catches and 2,500+ yards in 2017.