Ranking the Top 10 SEC wide receivers entering 2016 season
It may be a down year at the quarterback position in the SEC, but there are terrific receivers everywhere.
Back in July, only three signal callers made the trip to Hoover, Ala., for Media Days. One, Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight, transferred from Oklahoma. He’s yet to take a snap in the best conference in America.
On the bright side, some of the lesser-heralded passers in the league have a chance to put up good numbers immediately due to all the receiving options at their disposal. Four wideouts registered 1,000-plus yards through the air a season ago. Three are back and should be every bit as electrifying. Defensive backs are not pleased.
Knight in particular walks into a great situation with the Aggies. A convincing argument can be made that Christian Kirk, Speedy Noil, Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones all deserve to be included on this list.
Here are our Top 10 receivers in the SEC heading into 2016. They’ll deliver a healthy dose of highlights.
10. Dorian Baker/Garrett Johnson, Kentucky: The Wildcats have said goodbye to Patrick Towles and hello to Drew Barker under center. Both Baker and Johnson were productive pass catchers as sophomores last season, combining to reel in 101 balls for 1,302 yards and 5 touchdowns. Now juniors, they can help ease Barker’s transition to full-time starter.
9. Trent Sherfield, Vanderbilt: Despite being subjected to some of the worst quarterback play in the conference, he still managed to get his hands on 51 passes, accumulate 659 yards and score 3 TDs. The Commodores are also making a QB transition, as Johnny McCrary is gone and Kyle Shurmur is the new No. 1. He’ll be looking Sherfield’s way early and often.
8. ArDarius Stewart, Alabama: Calvin Ridley got most of the attention last year catching passes for the Crimson Tide, and rightfully so, but Stewart put some high-degree-of-difficulty grabs on tape. Even if Jake Coker played out of his mind down the stretch for ‘Bama, to call him an accurate passer in 2015 would be an exaggeration. Stewart’s circus act was awfully impressive.
7. Drew Morgan, Arkansas: The strength of the Razorbacks’ passing game is hitting the tight ends off play-action, which helped Hunter Henry develop into an All-American. But Morgan did plenty of damage himself, catching 63 passes for 843 yards and 10 scores. He’s the only returning receiver in the conference to record double-digit TDs last season.
6. Malachi Dupre, LSU: More potential than production at this point, Dupre would already be a household name if he played in a program with a more prolific passing attack. Instead, he spends two-thirds of his time blocking for running back Leonard Fournette and the other third waiting for quarterback Brandon Harris to look his way. His 43-698-6 stat line should spike in 2016.
5. Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M: Part of that fearsome foursome in College Station, his yards-per-catch average of 17.8 this past year was among the best in the league. Reynolds was credited with 51 receptions for 907 yards and 5 touchdowns, and that was with spotty QB play split between Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. If Knight does well, then Reynolds will do well, too.
4. Antonio Callaway, Florida: Another peak performer despite poor quarterbacking, Callaway led the SEC with 19.4 yards per reception in 2015 right out of high school. However, he only caught 31 passes all season long, as Treon Harris couldn’t deliver the football consistently after taking over for the suspended Will Grier. Callaway needs to walk the straight and narrow off the field, though.
3. Fred Ross, Mississippi State: Going into last year, most of the experts assumed that De’Runnya Wilson was MSU’s primary target in the passing game. Even if Wilson scored twice as many TDs, Ross was actually the more consistent pass catcher. However, without Dak Prescott at the controls, he’s going to have a hard time cracking 1,000 yards a second time.
2. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M: The youngest of A&M’s four leading wideouts from a year ago, he was also the most productive. Kirk put up 80 catches for 1,009 yards and 7 scores as a freshman, plus he was one of the more explosive return men in the league. Like Reynolds, if Knight can solidify the Aggies throwing the ball, then Kirk becomes even more dangerous.
1. Calvin Ridley, Alabama: If you ask corners and safeties around the SEC, many will say that Ridley was the hardest receiver in the SEC to cover in 2015. Like the aforementioned Callaway and Kirk, he was just a true freshman, too. Nobody caught more passes than his 89, and his 1,045 yards were topped only by first-round draft pick Laquon Treadwell. He’s the next Julio Jones or Amari Cooper.
MISSING THE CUT
Quincy Adeboyejo, Ole Miss: With Treadwell off to the NFL, Chad Kelly needs a new No. 1 in the passing game. Adeboyejo is likely the leading candidate.
Travin Dural, LSU: Like Dupre, Dural is more talented than his pedestrian numbers suggest. Still, his 16.2 yards-per-catch average proves that the plays he makes are big ones.
Dominique Reed, Arkansas: Another big-play artist, Reed gained 19.1 yards every time he was credited with a reception. No Brandon Allen could hurt that average, though.
Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M: On a lot of teams, he is the primary target. But in College Station, Seals-Jones tends to be the third option after Kirk and Reynolds.