Two weeks, people. Two weeks! We’re just two short, glorious, measly Saturdays away from the start of college football season. And as we get closer, FOXSports.com will continue to be your one-stop shop, for every piece of relevant preview content you need as we get ready for Week 1. We’ve already hit on a number of different topics, including look-backs for each conference and a preview of the 30 biggest games of the season. This week we continue our break down the best players at each major position in the country. After hitting running backs on Tuesday, pass rushers Wednesday, quarterbacks on Thursday and defensive backs Friday, it’s time to look at the best wide receivers in college football. And man, what a list it is.
Getty ImagesHarry How
10. Gehrig Dieter, Sr., Alabama
At this point, it’s simply an embarrassment of riches at Alabama. For Nick Saban, it’s no longer enough just to bring in the No. 1 ranked recruiting class every single year, and trot out squads filled two and three deep with All-Americans. Now he’s getting the guys other people recruited too, dipping into the graduate transfer market for the second straight year. That’s because after Jacob Coker and Richard Mullaney (both transfers) helped the Tide win a title last year, they got Dieter this year, who could have the biggest impact of any transfer in college football this season. He finished last year with a staggering 94 catches for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in Bowling Green’s high-octane offense, making highlight reel grab after highlight reel grab. Those numbers will certainly dip thanks to Alabama’s bevy of talent of offensively, but Dieter himself will provide a solid second option next to Calvin Ridley, who --- hint, hint --- might be found somewhere a little later on this list.
Getty ImagesAndrew Weber
9. Isaiah ‘Zay’ Jones, Sr. East Carolina
We’ve got to show a little love to the non-Power 5 schools here, as Jones (who goes by ‘Zay’) was as good as anyone in all of college football last year. He finished the season with 96 catches for just under 1,100, and his 15 touchdowns were fourth most in the country. Maybe more impressively, he did it all on a disappointing 5-7 team, which eventually fired coach Ruffin McNeal at the end of the season, so we can only imagine what kind of numbers he’d have put up under slightly different circumstances. Oh, and one more thing: If you think Jones only put up monster stats against weak competition, think again. His single best game of the season, was against arguably college football’s best defensive backfield, when he tallied 14 catches for 135 yards against Vernon Hargraeves, Jalen Tabor and the Florida Gators defense.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY SportsMike Dinovo
8. James Washington, Jr., Oklahoma State
For a conference full of powerful offenses, and usually explosive wide receivers, the Big 12 is actually pretty short on big-time playmakers this year. Thankfully, Washington will carry the torch well. He finished last year with ‘only’ 53 catches, but still topped the 1,000 yard mark, thanks a staggering 20.5 yard per catch average. He also added 10 touchdowns, and had a breakout game to remember, with a staggering five-catch, 184-yard performance against TCU last season. Washington is the definition of a ‘big play wide receiver.’
Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY SportsRob Ferguson
7. Jehu Chesson, Sr., Michigan
This is a list of the ‘best’ wide receivers in college football, and while Chesson might not quite have the stats of the other guys here, make no mistake, he’s as talented as any. Despite playing in Michigan’s balanced, run-first attack last year, Chesson still managed to make 50 catches for 764 yards and nine touchdown grabs. Again, the numbers won’t blow you off the page, but watching him on Saturday’s will. He’s projected as one of the top wide receiver picks in the next NFL Draft.
6. Isaiah Ford, Jr., Virginia Tech
Lost in another disappointing season on the field for Virginia Tech, followed by the departure of legendary coach Frank Beamer, is that the Ford had arguably the best season of any wide receiver in the history of the program. The junior-to-be set a school record with 75 catches, and became the first player in Va Tech history to go for over 1,000 yards receiving. He was also named All-ACC first team, and now the question has to be asked: If Ford put up numbers that good under Beamer, imagine what he can do in the high-octane offense of new coach Justin Fuente?
Peter Casey-USA TODAY SportsPeter Casey
5. Gabe Marks, Sr. Washington State
So I already know what you’re thinking: Having Marks this high on the list is blasphemous. After all, anyone could put up monster numbers in Mike Leach’s high-octane offense, right? Well, maybe, but not just anyone could put up the monster numbers that Marks did last season. He finished the year with a staggering 104 catches, which included 15 touchdown grabs, both of which ranked in the Top 5 for any wide receiver in the country. With another season working with Luke Falk those numbers could be even better, and should put to rest any doubt of just how valuable and talented Marks is.
Getty ImagesRich Schultz
4. Christian Kirk, Sophomore, Texas A&M
No one is questioning how talented or valuable Kirk is, after an unforgettable freshman year in College Station. Kirk broke out in a big way, with a six catch, 106 yard performance against Arizona State in his college debut (which included two touchdowns; one receiving, one in the return game) touchdown) and never really looked back from there. He finished with 80 catches on his way to being named a freshman All-American. With another year of experience, and the stability of Trevor Knight at quarterback, those numbers should be even better next year.
Getty ImagesStacy Revere
3. K.D. Cannon, Jr., Baylor
Cannon was just about the most highly-coveted recruit to ever commit to Baylor when he signed on the dotted line back in 2014, and has spent the last two years showing everyone just how on point those recruiting experts were. Over the last two years Cannon has averaged over 54 catches, and broke the 1,000 yard plateau as a true freshman. While those numbers dipped slightly as a sophomore, that was more due to the emergence of Corey Coleman as a first-team All-American than anything that Cannon did wrong. With Coleman now in the pros, look for offensive coordinator Kendall Briles to feature Cannon even more, and with a fully healthy Seth Russell, look for his numbers to go through the roof.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY SportsTim Heitman
2. Calvin Ridley, Sophomore, Alabama
Thanks to his incredible talent and Florida roots, Ridley was compared to Amari Cooper even before he arrived on campus… and proceeded to not only meet the hype, but smash it. He finished the season with an Alabama freshman record 1,045 yards receiving, to go along with 89 catches overall. Maybe even more impressive is that Ridley stepped up and played his best, when his team needed him most, tallying more than 100 yards receiving in both the SEC title game against Florida, and a college football playoff semifinal win against Michigan State. With both Dieter and O.J. Howard lined up alongside him, this could be the most explosive Alabama passing game we’ve seen in the Nick Saban era. (Assuming of course, they can get their quarterback situation figured out)
Getty ImagesHarry How
1. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jr., USC
It’s unfortunate really, that with all the Steve Sarkisian melodrama of 2015, it overshadowed an All-American type season for Smith-Schuster. The true junior had one of the best seasons of any receiver in USC history, finishing with 89 catches and 10 touchdowns, and his 1,454 yards receiving ranked 4th in the country overall. Already projected as a first round pick in the next NFL Draft, look for Smith-Schuster to have an even bigger season in 2016. The question now is whether it will be enough to carry a somewhat inexperienced team, in Clay Helton’s first full year as head coach.