Texas A&M, Ole Miss boast the SEC’s top receiving corps
The SEC is home to some of college football’s top receivers in 2015. Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell is a first-team Athlon Sports All-American and should be at full strength from a leg injury suffered against Auburn. In addition to Treadwell, the SEC features Auburn’s D’haquille Williams, Florida’s Demarcus Robinson, Mississippi State’s De’Runnya Wilson and South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper.
While having a clear No. 1 go-to target for a quarterback is ideal, the overall strength of a receiving corps is critical as well. Which teams have the best overall group in the SEC this year? Here’s a 1-14 ranking, with Texas A&M leading the way at the top.
1. Texas A&M
The Aggies are among the nation’s best at this position. Five of the top six statistical options return for quarterback Kyle Allen, including All-SEC candidates Josh Reynolds, Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones. Noil is one of the conference’s top all-purpose threats, while Reynolds ranked second among SEC receivers with 13 touchdowns. As if that trio wasn’t enough to stop for opposing defenses, true freshman Christian Kirk could make an immediate impact in 2015. Kirk was a five-star recruit in the 2015 signing class.
2. Ole Miss
All signs point to Laquon Treadwell returning at full strength from a season-ending leg injury suffered against Auburn in November. When healthy, Treadwell is among the nation’s best receivers, as he recorded 48 receptions for 632 yards and five scores last year. The talent around Treadwell continues to improve, as coach Hugh Freeze added Washington transfer Damore’ea Stringfellow and talented freshman DaMarkus Lodge to the mix. The depth extends to senior Cody Core and sophomore Markell Pack, while tight end Evan Engram (17.4 ypc) is an Athlon Sports All-American for 2015.
The Volunteers return nearly everyone from last season’s receiving corps, and this unit is only going to get better with another offseason to work with coach Butch Jones and quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Junior Marquez North suffered a shoulder injury last season and was limited to 30 catches. When healthy, North has the talent to be one of the SEC’s top receivers. Senior Pig Howard, junior Jason Croom and sophomore Josh Malone combined for 98 receptions last year and are back for 2015. True freshman Preston Williams and sophomore tight end Ethan Wolf are two names to watch in the fall.
The big-play ability of Sammie Coates will be missed, but Auburn is still in good shape at receiver. D’haquille Williams caught 45 passes for 730 yards in his debut last year, and the junior college recruit could be one of the nation’s top receivers in 2015. Ricardo Louis and sophomore Jason Smith could have breakout seasons, while Melvin Ray, Tony Stevens and Marcus Davis are back to provide depth.
There’s plenty of talent here, but LSU’s passing attack hinges on development at quarterback. Junior Travin Dural ranked third among SEC receivers last season with eight catches of 30 yards or more. He also led the team with 37 catches and averaged 20.5 yards per reception. Sophomore Malachi Dupre was a five-star recruit in 2014 and caught 14 passes for 318 yards in his debut. Sophomores Trey Quinn and John Diarse round out the top four returning options, but incoming freshman Tyron Johnson will push for snaps.
6. Mississippi State
With quarterback Dak Prescott returning for his senior year, the Bulldogs will be one of the SEC’s best on offense. And Prescott is going to have plenty of help from his receivers, as this group is loaded with talent and experience. Junior De’Runnya Wilson (6-foot-5, 215 pounds) is a nightmare matchup for opposing defensive backs. Fred Ross is another All-SEC candidate after averaging 16.3 yards per catch in 2014. Jameon Lewis and Malcolm Johnson (TE) must be replaced, but Gabe Myles (22 catches), Joe Morrow (20.2 ypc) and junior college recruit Donald Gray should easily fill the voids left behind this year.
While most of the focus in Tuscaloosa remains at the quarterback position, the receiving corps still has to find a way to replace standout Amari Cooper. The good news? Talent certainly isn’t an issue. True freshman Calvin Ridley is expected to play a prominent role in the offense this year, and Oregon State transfer Richard Mullaney was a solid pickup to add depth and talent to an unsettled group. Sophomores Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart, along with junior Chris Black will be counted on to help fill the void left behind by Cooper. Tight end O.J. Howard is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2015.
The Bulldogs have suffered a few critical injuries at this position over the last two years, and the receiving corps enters 2015 with uncertainty. Malcolm Mitchell caught 85 passes in his first two seasons with the Bulldogs but missed nearly all of 2013 with an ACL tear and caught only 31 passes in 2014. Mitchell’s health is crucial to the development of Georgia’s passing game with a new quarterback. Sophomore Isaiah McKenzie, junior Reggie Davis and freshman Terry Godwin are other names to watch, while tight end Jeb Blazevich is primed for a breakout campaign after catching 18 passes in 2014.
Considering the talent in the state of Florida, it’s a little surprising to see the Gators struggling to develop playmakers at this position. Junior Demarcus Robinson (53 catches in 2014) is the go-to guy for quarterback Will Grier. And tight end Jake McGee is back after missing nearly all of 2014 with a leg injury. But outside of McGee and Robinson, can the Gators find consistent production? Converted running back Brandon Powell is a name to watch this fall.
The Razorbacks’ run-first approach isn’t going to change under new coordinator Dan Enos, but the former Central Michigan coach should help this passing attack take a step forward. Tight end Hunter Henry is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2015, and senior Keon Hatcher is the top target for quarterback Brandon Allen at receiver. Junior Jeremy Sprinkle is primed for a breakout year opposite Henry at tight end, but the Razorbacks need a No. 2 and No. 3 option to emerge at receiver.
11. South Carolina
South Carolina’s place among SEC receiving corps is largely based on the strength of one player: Pharoh Cooper. The junior caught 69 passes for 1,136 yards and nine scores and added 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 2014. Cooper is one of the nation’s top receivers, but the Gamecocks have question marks everywhere else in this group. Can freshman Deebo Samuel and senior tight end Jerell Adams step up as an effective duo for new quarterback Connor Mitch?
This ranking might be too low for Kentucky by the end of 2015. The Wildcats have four of their top six receiving options back, including Ryan Timmons (45 catches) and sophomores Garrett Johnson, Blake Bone and Dorian Baker. Tight end C.J. Conrad is a name to watch this fall, and the offense will benefit from sophomore running back Boom Williams having a year of experience under his belt. Sophomore Jeff Badet – 22 catches in 2013 – is back after missing all of 2014 with injury.
Much like the defensive end position, Missouri has generally reloaded with ease at receiver. The Tigers will be tested here this fall, as the top four statistical options in the passing game are gone. Receivers Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White, along with running back Marcus Murphy expired their eligibility after combining to catch 175 of Missouri’s 221 passes in 2014. Sophomore Nate Brown is a breakout option to watch in 2015.
The Commodores need better production from their quarterbacks, but this unit also has to provide more help. Tight end Steven Scheu led the team with 39 catches last year and only two other receivers caught more than 20 passes. Scheu suffered a leg injury in the spring and his status for Week 1 is in question. New coordinator Andy Ludwig is counting on players like C.J. Duncan, Latevius Rayford and Caleb Scott to step up even more in 2015.
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