USC is limited on scholarships due to NCAA sanctions, but coach Lane Kiffin didn’t take any shortcuts on his receiving corps. The Trojans have the nation’s No. 1 receiver in junior Marqise Lee, while sophomore Nelson Agholor is due for a breakout year. But Alabama isn't too far behind USC, especially with the emergence of Amari Cooper last season.
Ranking the receiving corps in college football is no easy task. Having a clear No. 1 certainly helps to rank high on this list, but overall depth could be more important.
How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2013 all factored into the rankings for the backfield. While some teams may have experienced a down year last season, having a different quarterback or a change of scheme can make a huge difference.
They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.
Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.
Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.
It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 13th annual Athlon Awards.
Ranking the Top 25 Wide Receiver/Tight End Units for 2013
Whether it’s Max Wittek or Cody Kessler, USC’s new starting quarterback has plenty of weapons. Junior Marqise Lee ranked second nationally in receptions per game (9.1) and receiving yards per game (132.4) last season, winning the Biletnikoff Award as college football’s top receiver. Sophomore Nelson Agholor averaged 17.9 yards per catch in 2012 and is due for a breakout year. Victor Blackwell and Darreus Rogers were touted recruits and are ready to step into prominent roles. Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer could form the nation’s top tight end duo.
The Tigers will miss DeAndre Hopkins, but there’s not much reason to panic at Clemson. Sammy Watkins had a disappointing year after a standout freshman season, but all signs point to a bounce-back campaign in 2013. Watkins should be the ACC’s top wide receiver and a candidate to earn All-American honors. Replacing Hopkins’ production will likely fall on the shoulders of Charone Peake and Adam Humphries. Peake has shown flashes of promise, while Humphries has 56 receptions in his first two years on campus. Freshmen Germone Hopper and Mike Williams, along with junior Martavis Bryant will be expected to contribute as well. Tight end is a concern, as Sam Cooper suffered a torn ACL in the spring game.
The Sooners won’t throw as much as they have in recent years due to the departure of quarterback Landry Jones, but there’s plenty of capable targets for new passer Blake Bell. Kenny Stills and Justin Brown are gone after leading Oklahoma in receptions last year. However, Jalen Saunders caught 26 passes over the final three games and is set to emerge as the No. 1 option. Sophomores Trey Metoyer and Sterling Shepard are due for breakout years, while Derrick Woods, Durron Neal and Jaz Reynolds round out the depth chart.
Can the Huskies’ offense get back on track this year? Even though Washington has offensive line question marks, quarterback Keith Price returns, and the Huskies have a deep group of receivers. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is the nation’s top tight end, but he may miss some time early in the season due to a fractured pinkie. Kasen Williams is the team’s top receiver after catching 77 passes for 878 yards and six scores last year. Sophomore Jaydon Mickens, junior DiAndre Campbell and incoming freshmen Damore’ea Stringfellow and John Ross will round out the receiving corps.
After finishing 64th nationally in scoring offense last season, coach Bronco Mendenhall decided to overhaul his offensive staff, with Robert Anae returning to Provo to call the plays. Sophomore Taysom Hill is a promising quarterback, and he will be throwing to a deep group of receivers in 2013. Senior Cody Hoffman is in the mix for All-American honors after catching 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Junior Ross Apo and seniors Skyler Ridley and JD Falslev will round out the key contributors at receiver. Tight end Kaneakua Friel was a steady option last year, catching 30 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns.
The Commodores aren’t particularly flush with depth at receiver, but it’s hard to find a better one-two combination in the SEC. Jordan Matthews turned down a chance to enter the NFL for one more year at Vanderbilt. The senior enters 2013 with 150 career receptions, 2,282 yards and 17 touchdowns. Matthews led all SEC receivers with 94 catches in 2012. Chris Boyd is back after catching 50 passes for 774 yards and five scores last year. And Jonathan Krause is slated to fill the No. 3 role after recording nine receptions in 2012. Freshmen Jordan Cunningham and Carlos Burse will provide depth. The Commodores have question marks at tight end.
With quarterback Zach Mettenberger under center, and Cam Cameron calling the plays, LSU coach Les Miles expects improvement from his offense. There's no shortage of skill players, as the Tigers return four receivers with at least 18 catches last year. Jarvis Landry led the team with 56 receptions in 2012, but Odell Beckham was the unit’s top playmaker, averaging 16.6 yards per catch. Seniors Kadron Boone and James Wright combined for 44 catches in 2012 and will anchor the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the receiving corps. However, redshirt freshman Travin Dural and junior college recruit Quantavius Leslie will push for snaps. LSU could feature the tight end more under Cameron, and junior college recruit Logan Stokes could step into the starting role over sophomore Dillon Gordon.
18. Texas Tech
Darrin Moore is gone, but the Red Raiders return Eric Ward (82 receptions in 2012) and tight end Jace Amaro (25 catches in seven games). Ward could be even more dangerous under the watchful eye of coach Kliff Kingsbury, while Amaro is clearly the league’s best tight end. Sophomore Jakeem Grant is only 5-foot-6, but the sophomore has outstanding speed. Junior Bradley Marquez is back after missing most of last season with an injury.
The Cornhuskers return their top three wide receivers from last year, including second-team All-Big Ten selection Kenny Bell. He caught 50 passes for 863 yards and eight scores, while averaging 17.3 yards per reception. Quincy Enunwa is a physical 6-foot-2 option for quarterback Taylor Martinez, and junior Jamal Turner is always a threat to score with the ball in his hands. There’s not much in the way of proven depth at receiver behind Bell, Enunwa and Turner, so there’s a lot of pressure on freshmen Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore to step up this fall. The Cornhuskers are starting over at tight end with the departure of Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton.
Terrance Williams is gone, but Baylor still has plenty of weapons for new quarterback Bryce Petty. Speedster Tevin Reese is the team’s top returning receiver (53 receptions) and averaged 18.1 yards per catch last season. Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood are proven options, and youngsters Jay Lee, Robbie Rhodes and Corey Coleman will be a factor. Tight end Jordan Najvar is a steady option over the middle for Petty.
24. Ohio State
The Buckeyes need a few more playmakers to emerge, but the receiving corps has made considerable progress over the last two years. Senior Corey Brown led the team with 60 catches for 669 yards and three scores last year. Junior Devin Smith was the unit’s top playmaker, averaging 20.6 yards per catch and turning six of his 30 receptions into scores. Junior Evan Spencer and sophomore Michael Thomas began fall practice with an edge for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the receiving corps, but freshmen Dontre Wilson - a potentially dangerous all-purpose threat - and Jalin Marshall will push for time. Jordan Hall played in only seven contests last year due to injury, but he is expected to play in a similar role to that of Percy Harvin under Urban Meyer at Florida and could see time at running back with Carlos Hyde suspended for the first three games.
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The Crimson Tide receivers may not have huge stats, but it’s hard to find a group that’s deeper than the one in Tuscaloosa. Amari Cooper is the top target for AJ McCarron after catching 59 passes as a true freshman. Kevin Norwood (29 catches in 2012), Christion Jones and Kenny Bell are back as key contributors. But the name to watch this fall is redshirt freshman Chris Black, who missed 2012 due to a shoulder injury. Freshman O.J. Howard could be Alabama’s answer at tight end.
With Malcolm Mitchell moving back to receiver on a full-time basis, along with the return of Michael Bennett from a knee injury, quarterback Aaron Murray will have one of the nation’s top receiving corps at his disposal. Chris Conley averaged 17.1 yards per catch last year, and his big-play ability will help ease the loss of Tavarres King. Tight end Arthur Lynch is a rising star after grabbing 24 receptions for 431 yards and three touchdowns in 2012. Jay Rome caught 11 passes as a true freshman and should secure the No. 2 tight end spot.
4. Oklahoma State
The emergence of Josh Stewart, along with a healthy Tracy Moore (45 receptions in 2011) should propel Oklahoma State’s receiving corps into a spot among the top five nationally. Stewart averaged only 12 yards per catch but had 101 receptions last year. Charlie Moore is back after averaging 15.5 yards per reception in 2012, and hybrid receiver/tight end Blake Jackson could be featured more after catching 30 passes last year. Touted true freshmen Marcell Ateman and Ra’Shaad Samples add to Oklahoma State’s depth in the receiving corps.
5. Florida State
The Seminoles have three receivers with at least 25 receptions or more returning in 2013, and tight end Nick O’Leary is back after a solid sophomore campaign (21 receptions). Rashad Greene was the go-to target for Florida State last year, catching 57 passes for 741 yards. Kelvin Benjamin caught 30 passes as a redshirt freshman, and at 6'5", has the potential to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Freshmen Levonte Whitfield, Isaiah Jones and Bobo Wilson won’t start but are too talented to redshirt this year.
Helping quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s Heisman campaign is the American Athletic Conference’s best receiving corps. DeVante Parker averaged 18.6 yards per catch last season and has 16 touchdown catches over the last two years. Senior Damian Copeland led the Cardinals with 50 receptions in 2012, while Eli Rogers returns after grabbing 46 catches. This group will be even deeper in 2013, as Louisville is gaining the services of a couple of transfers – tight end Gerald Christian and receiver Robert Clark. Freshman James Quick is expected to play some snaps at receiver and will help on returns.
9. Fresno State
The Bulldogs averaged 325.6 passing yards per game last year and could be even tougher to stop in 2013. Davante Adams had a monster freshman season in 2012, recording 102 receptions for 1,312 yards and 14 scores. He is an Athlon Sports third-team All-American for 2013. Adams is joined by senior Isaiah Burse (57 catches), converted quarterback Greg Watson (nine receptions) and dependable tight end Marcel Jensen (20 catches). Josh Harper missed most of last season due to an injury and but is due for a huge season with quarterback Derek Carr leading the way.
With eight returning starters, the Longhorns are expected to show progress on offense this year. Of course, that all depends on how quarterback David Ash develops this offseason. Senior Mike Davis and junior Jaxon Shipley headline the receiving corps, with both players expected to be in the mix for all-conference honors. Sophomores Kendall Sanders and Daje Johnson are suited for the No. 3 and No. 4 roles, with M.J. McFarland expected to start at tight end.
Thanks to the emergence of quarterback Stephen Morris and a solid offensive line, the Hurricanes averaged 35.4 points a game in ACC play last season. Miami should be strong on offense once again in 2013, as eight starters are back and the receiving corps is stocked with weapons for Morris. Junior Phillip Dorsett should be the No. 1 target after catching 58 passes last year. Senior Allen Hurns and junior Rashawn Scott combined for 63 receptions in 2012, while sophomore Herb Waters averaged 22.7 yards per catch last year. True freshman Stacy Coley will also factor into the rotation. Tight end should be set with Clive Walford and Beau Sandland battling for time.
The Ducks have an underrated group of receivers, and with running back Kenjon Barner out of eligibility, new coach Mark Helfrich is expected to lean more on the pass in 2013. Josh Huff caught 32 passes for 493 yards and seven scores last season and is expected to remain the go-to target for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Tight end Colt Lyerla is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, while junior Keanon Lowe, senior Daryle Hawkins and sophomore B.J. Kelley provide depth. Sophomore Bralon Addison is due for a breakout year.
17. Ole Miss
Feed Moncrief became the mantra for the Ole Miss offense last season, which showed marked improvement from the 2011 squad. Sophomore Donte Moncrief emerged as one of the SEC’s top receivers last year, nabbing 66 receptions for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns. Junior Vince Sanders and senior Ja-Mes Logan combined for 82 receptions last season and will flank Moncrief as the No. 2 and No. 3 options. Sanders will be slowed early in the year due to a collarbone injury suffered in fall practice. The receiving corps got deeper over the offseason, as freshman Laquon Treadwell could earn some playing time this fall too. Treadwell ranked as the No. 1 receiver in the nation by Rivals.com in the 2013 signing class.
After leading the Big Ten in passing offense in 2012, the pieces are in place for the Hoosiers to be even better in 2013. Quarterback Tre Roberson is back from injury, and the receiving corps returns two potential All-Big Ten selections in Shane Wynn and Cody Latimer. Latimer averaged 15.8 yards per reception last year, and Wynn led the team with 68 catches. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson are also back after each caught more than 20 passes in 2012. Tight end Ted Bolser is an Athlon Sports third-team All-Big Ten selection for 2013.
21. Texas A&M
Mike Evans headlines Texas A&M’s receiving corps after grabbing 82 receptions for 1,105 yards and five scores in 2012. Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu are gone, but juniors LeKendrick Williams and Malcome Kennedy, along with senior Derel Walker are experienced and capable targets. Talented freshmen Ricky Seals-Jones, Sebastian Larue and LaQuvionte Gonzalez will factor into the rotation early in the year and could push for a starting job by September.
With Casey Pachall back at quarterback, TCU should be able to stretch the field more in 2013. Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson are gone at receiver, but Brandon Carter is a potential All-Big 12 player after averaging 16.4 yards per reception on 36 catches last season. LaDarius Brown and Cam White combined for 48 receptions and return for an even bigger role in the offense 2013. Transfers Ja’Juan Story (Florida) and Josh Doctson (Wyoming) are names to watch this year.
25. Penn State
The Nittany Lions were thin on proven receivers going into last year, but this unit emerged as a strength under the watchful eye of head coach Bill O’Brien and receivers coach Stan Hixon. Allen Robinson was the only Big Ten receiver to record over 1,000 receiving yards, and he led the conference with 77 receptions through 12 games. Senior Brandon Moseby-Felder, junior Alex Kenney and redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis are expected to flank Robinson as key targets at receiver for Penn State’s quarterback. The Nittany Lions have a deep group of tight ends at their disposal, including returning first-team All-Big Ten selection Kyle Carter, along with true freshman Adam Breneman — the No. 44 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100. Carter is the headliner, but sophomore Jesse James (15 receptions) and senior Matt Lehman (24 catches) shouldn’t be overlooked.