The way football is played in the 21st century begins and ends with the passing game, as programs across the country look to stock up on speed, hands and the innate ability to get open. Simply put, no team in the SEC can have enough wide receivers — as the elite programs go as much as 6-deep with future NFL talent.

The 2021 SEC season will be no different, as SEC East contender Georgia and SEC West juggernaut Alabama both have loaded receivers rooms. But how do the Bulldogs, Crimson Tide and the rest of the SEC stack up against each other?

1. Georgia

The Bulldogs have a great 1-2-3 punch returning, as Kearis Jackson and George Pickens and Jermaine Burton were their 3 leading receivers last season. Jackson hauled in 36 passes for 514 yards and 3 touchdowns from the slot in 2020, while Pickens caught 36 passes for 513 yards and 6 TDs last season at X and Burton recorded 27 catches for 404 yards and 3 TDs. Slot could get awfully crowded, as Dominick Blaylock is hopeful to return from a knee injury that kept 2019’s leading receiver out all of last season.

2. Alabama

Losing a Heisman Trophy winner (DeVonta Smith) and a fellow probable 1st-round pick (Jaylen Waddle) would hurt any team. And Alabama will fall a notch without the combined 145 receptions, 2,447 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns. But John Metchie (55-916-6) is a big-play talent who steps naturally into the X role. Slade Bolden was Waddle’s reserve in the slot when the latter went down with an ankle injury. Xavier Williams is more of an unknown and could be tangled with Javon Baker all spring and fall before it is settled.

3. LSU

The Tigers could well be sneaky good at receiver, as Kayshon Boutte hauled in a team-high 45 passes for 735 yards and 5 touchdowns. Boutte’s performance over LSU’s final 3 games was outstanding, catching 27 balls for 527 yards and 4 TDs. Koy Moore and Deion Smith are LSU’s projected other starters, though Jaray Jenkins, Jontre Kirklin, Trey Palmer and Brian Thomas could all make waves as reserves.

4. Arkansas

Treylon Burks is the Razorbacks’ leading receiver (51-820-7) and likely will retain that title in 2021. Burks is one of the SEC’s best wideouts. Mike Woods is also back for more after a 32-catch, 619-yard, 5-TD season. Speedy Oklahoma transfer Jaquayln Crawford is likely the 3rd piece to the Arkansas starting WR puzzle. The Razorbacks offered him out of high school, and he likely will overtake De’Vion Warren as the 3rd receiver.

5. Ole Miss

Losing All-American Elijah Moore to the NFL will hurt, though the receivers’ room will still be solid in 2021. Braylon Sanders (15-376-4) and Dontario Drummond (25-417-7) are the projected X and Z starters, with former QB John Rhys Plumlee (6-79) in the slot. Junior college transfer Qua Davis, Jonathan Mingo, Dannis Jackson, Jadon Jackson and former all-CUSA transfer Jahcour Pearson lead a talented group of backups.

6. Florida

The Gators will definitely miss Kyle Pitts, a tight end in name only, and Kadarius Toney, who caught 70 passes for 984 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2020. But both Jacob Copeland (23-435-3), hybrid running back/receiver Malik Davis (31-377) and Justin Shorter (25-268-3) are all poised for a strong 2021 as starters. Davis, in particular, has terrific hands and is an excellent route runner — Florida will look to find ways to get him the ball.

7. Mississippi State

Mike Leach is enjoying the fact that 3 of the Bulldogs’ top 4 receivers return for 2021. Jaden Walley recorded a team-high 718 receiving yards on 52 catches and 2 touchdowns. Austin Williams was 4th with 43 catches for 372 yards and 3 TDs. And while Malik Heath (37-307-3) could face some discipline from his role in the bowl game brawl, he has star potential. JaVonta Payton (19-225-1) is the likely 4th starter.

8. Texas A&M

9. Missouri

The Tigers should be able to count on their receivers. Keke Chism led Missouri with 35 receptions for 458 yards and a touchdown in 2020. Jalen Knox added 31 receptions for 305 yards, and Tauskie Dove delivered 30 catches for 300 yards and 2 TDs. Ohio State transfer Mookie Cooper will factor in heavily, and both Barrett Banister and 4-star freshman Dominic Lovett will get plenty of action.

10. South Carolina

The Gamecocks are figuring Jalen Brooks will be good to go at X, pending getting an NCAA waiver before the season begins. They’ll need him to replace some of the production from Shi Smith, who is off to the NFL. Xavier Legette (7-113) was a role player last year but figures to be the starter at Z. OrTre Smith also is back after opting out of the 2020 season. They will be pushed, though, as Dakereon Joyner and Rico Powers are talented backups.

11. Kentucky

The Wildcats needed an upgrade, and they got it. Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson, who at one point in high school was committed to Kentucky, was the Huskers’ best offensive weapon the past 2 seasons. He joins Josh Ali, who returns for a 5th season after catching a team-high 54 passes for 473 yards and a touchdown. Isaiah Epps is likely the man at X, but he could be pushed by Allen Dailey. Keep an eye on DeMarcus Harris and Michael Drennen as well.

12. Vanderbilt

Although the receivers room is young, it is also surprisingly solid. Cam Johnson led the team with 56 catches for 545 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2020. Amir Abdur-Rahman hauled in 27 receptions for 406 yards and a touchdown last year. Devin Boddie is a prime contender in the slot. Vanderbilt also has grad transfer receivers Mac Hereford and Tyrell Alexander as solid options.

13. Tennessee

The mess Jeremy Pruitt leaves behind for new coach Josh Heupel doesn’t include the receivers room. Velus Jones Jr. transferred from Southern Cal for the 2020 season and was second on the team with 22 receptions for 280 yards and 3 touchdowns. Malachi Wideman has breakout potential. Jalin Hyatt also recorded a solid 2020, going for 20-276-2. Julian Nixon and Walker Merrill, both 4-star signees, will also provide immediate depth.

14. Auburn

Rebuilding will be the theme for 2021 in Auburn. Losing Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Eli Stove to the NFL hurts new coach Bryan Harsin and the passing game.

The Tigers need some of their younger players to emerge, quickly. Among the candidates: redshirt freshman Elijah Canion (3-80-1), Hal Presley, Ze’Vian Capers (7-77-1) and Shedrick Jackson (6-84), who will likely battle all spring and summer. Kobe Hudson (7-70) likely will replace Stove in the starting lineup.