Spring practice is underway for nearly all 128 college football teams, and the countdown to the 2014 season has officially started. There’s still a long way to go before August and the start of next year, but it’s never too early to start thinking about which players are ready for a big jump in production.
Predicting which receivers will have a breakout season is nearly impossible. With each team having a handful of options in the passing game, catches are often spread out and can also vary from game-to-game. And defensive coverage also plays a large role in how receivers will perform each week.
While this position is tough to peg in the preseason, there are plenty of possible breakout candidates. USC’s Nelson Agholor had a solid year in 2013, but he could be poised for an All-American season with Marqise Lee off to the NFL. Baylor’s Corey Coleman is another name to watch with the departure of Tevin Reese. Rutgers needs more consistency from its quarterbacks, but Leonte Carroo is a big-play threat and a receiver on the rise.
In addition to Miami's Stacy Coley, Agholor, Coleman and Carroo, here are a few other wide receivers that could be breakout stars in 2014.
15 Wide Receivers on the Rise for 2014
Nelson Agholor, USC
Agholor earned a mention in this space last year, and he certainly impressed by catching 56 passes for 918 yards and six scores. While last season was a good year for Agholor, 2014 could be even better. With Marqise Lee gone, it’s Agholor’s turn to move into the No. 1 role in USC’s passing attack. Of course, the return of George Farmer and Steven Mitchell from injuries will factor into Agholor’s touches, but new coach Steve Sarkisian should get the Florida native involved early and often in 2014. In addition to his receiving totals, Agholor averaged 19.1 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns. With Cody Kessler settled into the starting role, USC’s passing attack could be improved in 2014.
Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
There’s a big question mark at quarterback for Rutgers, but if new coordinator Ralph Friedgen can find some stability under center, the Scarlet Knights have a promising group of receivers. And with Brandon Coleman turning pro, Carroo has opportunity to become a No. 1 receiver. He ranked as the No. 29 receiver in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in 13 games as a true freshman. In 2013, Carroo was featured more prominently in the passing game, catching 28 passes for 478 yards and nine scores. Carroo’s 17.1 yards per catch average ranked No. 3 among receivers in the American Athletic Conference last year.
Sammie Coates, Auburn
Auburn led the nation in rushing last season, but with left tackle Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason leaving for the NFL, the Tigers could use quarterback Nick Marshall’s right arm more in 2014. Marshall made a successful transition from junior college quarterback to a starter in the SEC and should be even better with another offseason under his belt. Coates was Marshall’s favorite target last year, catching 42 passes for 902 yards and seven scores. He also averaged a whopping 21.5 yards per catch and had three consecutive 100-yard games in the middle of the season. The average might dip with more receptions, but Coates is poised for a huge season.
Corey Coleman, Baylor
Antwan Goodley is clearly Baylor’s No. 1 target, but with the departure of speedster Tevin Reese, there’s an opportunity for Coleman or talented sophomore Robbie Rhodes to become an even bigger part of the passing attack in Waco. Coleman was the No. 35 ranked receiver by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class, and in his first taste of action last year, he caught 35 passes for 527 yards and two touchdowns. Baylor isn’t short on receivers, so Coleman may not make a huge jump in receptions this year. But considering his 15.1 yards per catch average, quarterback Bryce Petty could be frequently targeting the sophomore in 2014.
Stacy Coley, Miami
Coley became an instant contributor in the Miami passing attack as a true freshman in 2013. In 12 games, Coley caught 33 passes for 591 yards and seven touchdowns. Coley also averaged 17.9 yards per reception, which ranked No. 4 among ACC receivers with at least 30 catches in 2013. With Allen Hurns expiring his eligibility, the Pompano Beach native should be an even bigger factor in Miami’s passing game and should be a lock for All-ACC honors in 2014.
Quinshad Davis, North Carolina
North Carolina’s offense finished 2013 on a tear, averaging 40.6 points over the final seven games. Even though left tackle James Hurst and center Russell Bodine will be missed, the Tar Heels should have one of the ACC’s top offenses once again. Quarterback Marquise Williams will compete with Mitch Trubisky for the starting job, but Williams’ experience from 2013 should earn him the No. 1 spot. But regardless of which quarterback starts, there’s a plethora of talent available at the skill positions. After catching 61 passes as a freshman in 2012, Davis’ numbers slipped to 48 receptions in 2013. However, he was more productive in the big-play department, averaging 15.2 yards per catch and reaching paydirt 10 times.
Geno Lewis, Penn State
Replacing Allen Robinson is no easy assignment for new coach James Franklin. Robinson accounted for 97 of Penn State’s 241 receptions last year and led the team with an average of 14.8 yards per catch. The Nittany Lions have a solid collection of young talent at receiver, but there’s no clear No. 1 option. Could Lewis be the new go-to target for quarterback Christian Hackenberg? After redshirting in 2012, Lewis was an immediate factor in the receiving corps last year. He played in all 12 contests and caught 18 passes for 234 yards and three scores. Expect the Pennsylvania native to be featured even more in the passing game in 2014.
Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State
With quarterback Dak Prescott settled into the starting role, Mississippi State’s offense is set to take off in 2014. The Bulldogs have to replace standout guard Gabe Jackson, but there’s a cast of talented players at running back and at receiver. Lewis headlines the receiving corps after a standout 2013 campaign. In 13 games, he grabbed 64 receptions for 923 yards and five touchdowns. Lewis was also playing at a high level to close the year, catching at least six passes in each of his last three games, including a 220-yard performance against Rice in the Liberty Bowl. Prescott seems to have a good connection with Lewis, which should allow the senior to catch over 70 passes this season.
Jaydon Mickens, Washington
Washington’s passing game is unsettled right now, as quarterback Cyler Miles is suspended indefinitely due to an off-the-field incident. The Huskies aren’t short on talent at quarterback, however. Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams are solid options to replace Miles if he doesn’t return. Assuming the quarterback situation doesn’t become a concern for first-year coach Chris Petersen, Mickens and teammate Damore’ea Stringfellow (also suspended) will be two players to watch at receiver. Mickens caught 65 passes for 688 yards and five touchdowns last season but failed to top 36 yards over his last four games. Petersen and receivers coach Brent Pease developed plenty of talent at receiver during their years at Boise State, and Mickens – the No. 185 recruit in the 247Sports Composite in 2012 – could be poised to have his best all-around season in Seattle.
Marquez North, Tennessee
Tennessee’s offensive line is starting over with the departure of all five starters from last year, but Butch Jones has accumulated some intriguing talent at receiver. North made an instant impact as a true freshman in 2013, catching 38 passes for 496 yards and one score. The North Carolina native was a key cog in Tennessee’s upset win over South Carolina by catching three passes for 102 yards (including a nifty one-handed grab), while 16 of his receptions came against Alabama, Missouri and Auburn – arguably the top three teams in the SEC in 2013. North needs more help from his quarterbacks this season, and it’s uncertain if the Volunteers will turn to Joshua Dobbs again or if redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson takes the No. 1 spot. But regardless of which quarterback starts under center, North is poised to take a step forward in his development in 2014.
Shaq Roland, South Carolina
Roland was a huge in-state catch on the recruiting trail for Steve Spurrier, and after catching only five passes as a true freshman in 2012, he appears ready to emerge as the No. 1 receiver for the Gamecocks in 2014. In 10 appearances in 2013, Roland caught 25 passes for 455 yards and five scores. Roland also closed last season on a high note, recording six receptions for 112 yards against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. New quarterback Dylan Thompson has plenty of experience, but there may be a short transition period from Connor Shaw. However, Roland is poised to easily surpass last year’s totals and could sneak into All-SEC consideration if Thompson quickly settles into the job.
Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
With only eight returning starters, 2014 is shaping up to be a transition year for Oklahoma State. While the Cowboys are unlikely to repeat as the Big 12 champions, Mike Gundy’s team should still find a way to be prolific on offense. Quarterback J.W. Walsh has experience, and he will be pushed by incoming freshman Mason Rudolph. Gundy has accumulated some promising talent at the skill positions, led by Seales at receiver and Desmond Roland at running back. Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore have departed at receiver, so Seales is likely to become the team’s top target in the passing game. As a redshirt freshman last year, Seales caught 39 passes for 571 yards and three touchdowns. With another offseason to work under Gundy and coordinator Mike Yurcich, Seales is set for a breakout campaign.
Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M
Seals-Jones was slated to be a key cog in Texas A&M’s receiving corps last season, but an injury sidelined him for the year after the first two games. The Texas native caught three passes for 84 yards and one score in the limited playing time. Seals-Jones ranked as the No. 25 prospect in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100. The Aggies have a lot of talent in the receiving corps, and a quarterback must be found to replace Johnny Manziel. However, assuming he’s back to full strength, Seals-Jones could be the team’s No. 1 receiver by the end of 2014.
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
With Jalen Saunders departing, Shepard is slated to become the new go-to target for sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight. The Oklahoma City native ranked as the No. 100 recruit in the nation by Athlon Sports in the 2012 signing class, and he has lived up to the hype through his first two years. Shepard played in 13 games in 2012 and caught 45 passes. As a sophomore in 2013, he started 12 games and grabbed 51 receptions for 603 yards and seven scores. Shepard was playing at a high level at the end of 2013, catching seven passes in back-to-back games against Oklahoma State and Alabama. Assuming Knight picks up where he left off in the Sugar Bowl, Shepard should be among the Big 12’s leading receivers in 2014.
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
The Rebels’ top-10 recruiting class from 2013 should start to pay big dividends in 2014. Treadwell was one of the top prizes from Hugh Freeze’s haul in 2013, and the freshman receiver caught 72 passes for 608 yards and five touchdowns. Treadwell’s 72 catches led the team, but his 8.4 yards per catch left a little to be desired. However, he is expected to slide to one of the outside receiver spots this spring, which should increase his ability to make big plays downfield. Also, opposing SEC defenses won’t be able to devote too much attention in Treadwell’s direction, as a healthy Vince Sanders will help quarterback Bo Wallace stretch the field in 2014.
Other Receivers to Watch in 2014
Markeith Ambles, Houston
Ambles is a name familiar to many in the recruiting world, as he was a five-star prospect by Rivals in the 2010 signing class. After one year at USC, he transferred to Arizona Western and caught 44 passes for 757 yards in 2012. Ambles spent most of last season catching up, as he didn’t have a full set of fall practices to learn the offense. In 10 games, Ambles caught 17 passes for 252 yards and one touchdown, with six of those receptions coming in the bowl.
Victor Bolden/Malik Gilmore, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks was one of the top receivers in the nation last year, and Oregon State will have a tough time replacing his 128 receptions in 2013. Bolden and Gilmore combined for 13 receptions as freshmen last season and will be a bigger piece of the Beavers’ passing game this year.
Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
Bundrage was Iowa State’s leading receiver in 2014, catching 48 passes for 676 yards and nine scores. The Cyclones should be better on offense this year, as former Kansas coach Mark Mangino was hired to call the plays, and Grant Rohach has stabilized the quarterback spot. If Bundrage continues to develop, he could emerge as one of the top receivers in the Big 12.
Devon Cajuste, Stanford
Ty Montgomery is Stanford’s No. 1 receiver, but Cajuste is a name to watch this season. In 13 games last year, he was the Cardinal’s big-play threat, catching 28 passes for 642 yards and five scores. His 22.9 yards per reception average led the nation.
Reginald Davis, Texas Tech
Eric Ward and Jace Amaro leave big shoes to fill in the receiving corps for Kliff Kingsbury. However, the Red Raiders have the next wave of standout options ready to emerge in 2014. Jakeem Grant is back after catching 65 passes last year, and Davis is a name to watch this season. As a freshman in 2013, Davis caught 15 passes for 200 yards and three scores.
Malachi Dupre, LSU
The Tigers were hit hard by departures in the receiving corps. Travin Dural is the team’s top returning option (7 catches for 145 yards), but all eyes this fall will be on Dupre. The New Orleans native ranked as the No. 17 recruit in the 247Sports Composite and could be an immediate contributor to the Tigers’ passing attack this year.
William Dukes, FAU
FAU’s offense made steady progress late last season, averaging 6.9 yards per play over the final three contests. Helping to continue that development in 2014 will be the return of quarterback Jaquez Johnson, while Dukes is slated to pick up some of the catches left behind by departing senior Daniel McKinney (49 catches for 610 yards in 2013).
Brisly Estime, Syracuse
The Orange quietly won seven games in Scott Shafer’s first season, and with quarterback Terrel Hunt expected to take a step forward in his development, the offense should be improved in 2014. As a true freshman in 2013, Estime caught 28 passes for 257 yards and one score. However, 20 of those came in his last four appearances. The average (9.2 yards per catch) needs to improve, but Estime should be a bigger contributor to the attack.
Devin Fuller/Devin Lucien/Jordan Payton, UCLA
Shaquelle Evans has expired his eligibility, but the Bruins are still in good shape at receiver with Fuller, Lucien and Payton returning. However, there’s one big question facing this group. Which one of this trio will emerge as a true No. 1 target for quarterback Brett Hundley?
William Fuller, Notre Dame
With TJ Jones gone, and DaVaris Daniels suspended, Fuller and Corey Robinson will have a chance to stake their claim for playing time. Fuller was the No. 276 recruit in the nation by 247Sports in the 2013 signing class and caught six passes for 160 yards and one touchdown last year.
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
Higgins was a good find for coach Jim McElwain on the recruiting trail. In his freshman season with the Rams last year, Higgins grabbed 68 catches for 837 yards and six scores. With four starters gone from the line, as well as the departure of running back Kapri Bibbs, the Rams will lean on the passing attack more in 2014. Expect an even better stat line for Higgins as a sophomore.
Kam Jones, UTSA
Jones led UTSA by averaging 98.1 all-purpose yards per game and caught 34 passes for 345 yards last year. He should be the Roadrunners’ top target in the passing game once again in 2014.
Ermon Lane, Florida State
Rashad Greene should be one of the nation’s top receivers, but the Seminoles are looking to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, so there is playing time available for the incoming freshmen. Jimbo Fisher reeled in some of the nation's top receivers, including Lane (No. 24 prospect in 247Sports Composite) and Travis Rudolph (No. 43). Look for both players to see snaps in 2014.
Jordan Leslie, BYU
Leslie was an honorable mention All-Conference USA selection after catching 44 passes for 612 yards and seven scores at UTEP last season. As a graduate transfer, Leslie is eligible to play immediately and will help BYU’s offense replace standout receiver Cody Hoffman.
Chris Moore, Cincinnati
The Bearcats should be one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference in 2014. New quarterback Gunner Kiel is unproven but certainly not short on talent. Shaq Washington led the team with 78 catches last year, but Moore led all Cincinnati receivers with nine touchdown receptions. With Anthony McClung expiring his eligibility, Moore should move up in the pecking order in the receiving corps.
Ronnie Moore, Bowling Green
Bowling Green made one of the top head coach hires of the offseason by picking Dino Babers away from Eastern Illinois. Babers runs a pass-first offense, which should thrive with the return of quarterback Matt Johnson. The Falcons lose their top two targets from last year, but Moore returns after catching 28 passes for 547 yards and seven touchdowns in his freshman campaign. Assuming Moore's game continues to move forward this offseason, he should be a dynamic weapon in Bowling Green’s offense.
Breshad Perriman, UCF
The Knights have an impressive collection of receivers, but a new quarterback must be found with the departure of Blake Bortles. J.J. Worton and Rannell Hall were ahead of Perriman in receptions, but the Georgia native wasn’t far behind, catching 39 passes for 811 yards and four touchdowns. Perriman’s 20.8 average on receptions ranked fifth nationally in 2013.
Alonzo Russell, Toledo
Bernard Reedy was one of the MAC’s top receivers over the last few years, and he leaves after catching 62 passes for 840 yards and eight scores in 2013. The Rockets are in good hands at receiver, however, as Russell is poised to emerge as the No. 1 target after catching 59 passes and six touchdowns last year.
Bud Sasser, Missouri
The Tigers are set at one spot with Dorial Green-Beckman, but Marcus Lucas and L’Damian Washington depart after combining for 108 catches last year. Sasser caught 26 passes for 361 yards last season and should help fill the void left by Washington and Lucas.
Tajae Sharpe, UMass
Sharpe was one of the few bright spots for UMass in 2013. He caught 61 passes for 680 yards and four scores in 11 contests. With an upgrade at quarterback in Marshall transfer Blake Frohnapfel, Sharpe could emerge as one of the top receivers in the MAC.
Joshua Stanford, Virginia Tech
Stanford provided big-play ability for Virginia Tech’s offense last season, catching 40 passes for 640 yards and one touchdown (16 ypc). The Hokies need to find a replacement for quarterback Logan Thomas, but Stanford is an emerging star in the ACC.
Kevin White/Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia
West Virginia’s quarterback situation is unsettled, but the Mountaineers have a promising group of receivers. Daikiel Shorts caught 45 passes as a true freshman, and White was a big-play threat (14.5 ypc) in his first year on campus.
Mike Williams, Clemson
Clemson’s receiving corps has talent, but there is plenty of uncertainty about which players will end up in starting roles. Germone Hopper will miss the rest of spring practice due to academics, and Charone Peake – returning from a torn ACL – was limited early in spring workouts. Williams caught 20 passes for 316 yards as a true freshman and should be an even bigger piece of Clemson’s passing attack in 2014. However, can he hold off a talented group of incoming freshmen for playing time this offseason?