Ranking the top 10 SEC wide receivers after spring practices
The SEC lost a few big-name receivers this offseason — Ole Miss’s A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel, Mizzou’s Emanuel Hall, Georgia’s Riley Ridley and Auburn’s Darius Slayton among them.
Still, the conference is loaded at the receiver position, especially down in Tuscaloosa, where the Alabama Crimson Tide have an absolutely stacked receiving corps.
From there, most teams have a clear No. 1 target, many of whom will be playing on Sundays in the very near future.
So, who are the 10 best pass catchers on SEC rosters? Here’s a look heading into the 2019 season:
1. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
This one is easy. Jeudy could have potentially been the first receiver picked in the 2019 NFL Draft had he been eligible.
Instead, the rising junior returns for (presumably) one last ride in Tuscaloosa, where he’ll try to build on last year’s outstanding numbers — 68 catches, 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns. No one else can juke defenders like this:
Jerry Jeudy is different 👀 pic.twitter.com/zsJV2C0C6u
— Receiver Life (@ReceiverLife_) November 11, 2018
He’s a star and should once again put up huge numbers for the Crimson Tide in 2019 catching passes from QB Tua Tagovailoa. Then, he’ll almost certainly be off to the 2020 draft, where he could end up as a top 10 pick.
2. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
Waddle’s speed is off the charts, and he gets to show it off quite a bit in an Alabama uniform.
Just look at this touchdown against Tennessee last year. Notice how he breaks away from the defenders to make the catch, then turns the corner and leaves everyone in his dust:
— InsideBamaRecruiting (@RTRnews) October 20, 2018
Waddle also contributes on special teams, making him even more valuable to the Crimson Tide:
3. Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt
Lipscomb led the SEC in receptions last year, hauling in 87 passes from QB Kyle Shurmur. He’ll have a new quarterback this fall, but he should continue to be one of the most-targeted receivers in the conference.
His 10.5 yards-per-catch average could be better, but he catches everything thrown his way.
4. Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
Much is made of Ruggs’ speed (and rightfully so), but the guy has elite hands, too. Look at this catch against LSU:
Are we sure that Henry Ruggs isn't made of wool?
Because this man has some MITTENS. pic.twitter.com/Tf2zWWbh4G
— Carter Donnick (@CDonScouting) May 3, 2019
And this touchdown grab against Auburn:
Henry Ruggs means business.
– Uses a little inside hesitation at the LOS
– Attacks CB vertically
– Tracks the underthrown deep ball well.
– Flips hips in MID-AIR.
– Brilliant concentration to haul in the underthrown pass with one hand.
Guy can play. pic.twitter.com/UZReg2JXoD
— Carter Donnick (@CDonScouting) May 3, 2019
Ruggs is the total package and should be fun to watch alongside Jeudy and Waddle this fall.
5. Bryan Edwards, South Carolina
With Deebo Samuel off to the NFL, it will be Edwards’ time to shine in Columbia this fall. If QB Jake Bentley can take a step forward in 2019, Edwards could have a career year.
He’ll be counted on to use his size, strength and speed to lead the Gamecocks’ receiving corps, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him make a couple of unbelievable plays like this one from last year’s Ole Miss game:
— Gerry Hamilton (@HamiltonESPN) November 3, 2018
It’ll be interesting to see what he does as the No. 1 guy. If he shines, the Gamecocks’ offense could be even better than it was in 2018.
6. Justin Jefferson, LSU
The LSU passing game still didn’t look great in 2018, despite new QB Joe Burrow’s efforts. That didn’t stop Jefferson from putting up a solid statistical season, though.
With Burrow entering Year 2 as LSU’s starter, Jefferson could really come into his own this fall. He has a lot of Emanuel Hall-like tendencies in his game with his ability to stretch defenses:
Joe Burrow : 21/34 for a career-high 394 yards, 4 TD's & an INT; 9 carries for 24 yards
Justin Jefferson : 4 catches for 87 yards & 2 TD's pic.twitter.com/MAsu2EGBWS
— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life25) January 1, 2019
TD Tigers…! Joe Burrow to Justin Jefferson for the deep Strike… pic.twitter.com/sz3uQZDlDG
— Josh Lemoine (@LsuFBallTruth) November 11, 2018
We’ll have to see how the LSU running game evolves without Nick Brossette, but Jefferson could definitely improve on his numbers from 2018 — 54 catches, 875 yards and 6 touchdowns.
7. Johnathon Johnson, Mizzou
Without Emanuel Hall, Johnson will be the top receiver in Columbia this fall. He’s shown flashes of brilliance in his 3 years, but the 2019 season will be his real chance to shine.
Johnson can catch the ball (59 catches for 737 yards and 5 scores in 2018), run it when needed and also returns punts. He’ll have a new quarterback in Kelly Bryant who won’t stretch the field like Drew Lock did, but that works in Johnson’s favor.
Look for Johnson and TE Albert Okwuegbunam to be the focal points of the passing game this fall.
8. Lynn Bowden Jr., Kentucky
Bowden is another versatile weapon, though he has been hurt a bit by Kentucky’s inconsistency at quarterback. Last year, he still managed to put up good numbers: 67 catches for 745 yards and 5 touchdowns.
He also returns kicks and punts, and does it better than most in the SEC. He returned 2 punts for touchdowns last year, including this huge one against Mizzou:
— KY Clips (@KY_Clips) October 29, 2018
With Benny Snell off to the NFL, the Wildcats’ offense might throw more this fall, so we’ll see what Bowden can do.
9. DeVonta Smith, Alabama
Smith has one of the most-iconic catches in college football history, as he was on the receiving end of Tua Tagovailoa’s 2nd-and-26 pass against Georgia in the College Football Playoff title game two years ago.
However, he’s often the forgotten man in the Alabama receiving corps, as Jeudy, Ruggs and Waddle get a lot of the attention. Still, the guy can make plays when he gets a chance. Just look at him laying out for this touchdown against Texas A&M last year:
…well that was FAST.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 22, 2018
He managed 42 catches for 693 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. There are only so many passes to go around in Tuscaloosa, but Smith shouldn’t be overlooked at all this fall.
10. Marquez Callaway, Tennessee
Callaway came into his own in 2017, recording 5 touchdown catches. He improved his receptions and yards in 2018 (37 for 592), but only had 2 touchdown grabs.
His first one, though, came in dramatic fashion against Kentucky, as you can see below:
🚨 HAIL MARY 🚨
Guarantano throws it up … Marquez Callaway brings it down.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 10, 2018
Oh, and like some other guys on this list, he’s also a dynamic punt returner:
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) November 3, 2018
A lot of his success will depend on whether QB Jarrett Guarantano takes a big step forward, but Callaway is the top dog in the Vols’ receiving corps and should still have a productive 2019 season.