Predicting which WRs will have a breakout season
The wide receiver position has plenty of standouts returning for the 2019 college football season, but there's always room for new stars or breakout players to emerge. Alabama's Jerry Jeudy, Clemson's Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross and Oklahoma State's Tylan Wallace are just a few of the All-America candidates returning to campus this fall. Auburn's Seth Williams, Oregon's Juwan Johnson and Georgia's George Pickens are some of the names to watch for breakout 2019 seasons.
With fall practice underway, Athlon Sports is taking a look at some of the breakout candidates for 2019. The third installment in the offseason breakout player series focuses on wide receivers. Of course, determining what player fits the breakout tag isn’t easy. Each person has a different take on what a “breakout player” is, and college football is always home to several new faces throughout the season. While it’s difficult to label breakout players, the new stars of any season can have a huge impact on conference championship or national title races.
Who are the next breakout stars at wide receiver for 2019? Athlon has compiled 30 names to watch:
College Football's Top 30 Breakout Wide Receivers for 2019
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
N’Keal Harry leaves big shoes to fill at receiver, but Aiyuk’s performance in his first year out of the JUCO ranks last fall should ease concerns about the pass catchers for coach Herm Edwards. The California native finished second on the team with 474 receiving yards over 33 catches in 2018. Aiyuk and Kyle Williams should battle to claim the go-to spot for new quarterback Jayden Daniels.
Jaylen Dixon/Bryan Thompson, Utah
Britain Covey – Utah’s No. 1 receiver from 2018 – is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Pac-12 Championship Game. While Covey is on track to return early in the year, quarterback Tyler Huntley has some promising secondary options to utilize. Dixon averaged 18.4 yards per catch on 32 receptions for 589 yards last fall. Thompson played in only four games due to injury in 2018 but is poised to take on a key role in the passing game after a strong performance in the spring.
Romeo Doubs, Nevada
McLane Mannix transferred to Texas Tech, which leaves Kaleb Fossum and Doubs as the likely top targets for Nevada’s offense in 2019. Doubs had a strong freshman season (43 catches for 562 yards and two touchdowns) and should build off those totals under quarterbacks Carson Strong and Malik Henry.
Emeka Emezie, NC State
NC State lost two 1,000-yard receivers, but coach Dave Doeren’s group is still in good shape. Emezie should emerge as the Wolfpack’s No. 1 receiver after catching 53 passes for 616 yards and five scores last fall.
Derrion Grim, Fresno State
KeeSean Johnson leaves big shoes to fill, but new quarterback Jorge Reyna has one of the top Group of 5 tight ends (Jared Rice) at his disposal, along with a player poised for a bigger role in the offense (Grim) after a promising stint in 2018. Grim caught 20 passes for 212 yards last fall and will move up the pecking order after the departure of Johnson and Jamire Jordan at receiver.
Jaylen Hall, Western Michigan
Western Michigan’s receiving corps was hit hard by attrition this offseason. Jayden Reed transferred to Michigan State, Keishawn Watson left for Appalachian State, and D’Wayne Eskridge is expected to flip to cornerback for his senior campaign. Hall seems poised to emerge as a key receiver for quarterback Jon Wassink after grabbing 11 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown last season.
Taj Harris/Trishton Jackson, Syracuse
Syracuse returns one of the ACC’s top receiving corps, and this unit could be even better if Harris and Jackson develop as expected in 2019. Jackson sat out nearly all of the 2018 season due to transfer rules but caught a touchdown in the Camping World Bowl win over West Virginia. Harris caught 40 passes for 565 yards as a freshman last year and is only going to get better in 2019 and beyond.
Warren Jackson, Colorado State
The Rams will be looking for a new go-to receiver with Preston Williams departing Fort Collins for the NFL. Jackson caught 32 passes for 405 yards and four scores as a sophomore last fall and should slide into the No. 1 role for coach Mike Bobo.
Juwan Johnson, Oregon
With Dillon Mitchell departing Eugene for the NFL, the Ducks need to identify a new go-to target for quarterback Justin Herbert. Johnson could be the answer on the outside. He transferred to Oregon after spending four years at Penn State and generated plenty of buzz for his play in the spring. Johnson caught 81 passes for 1,123 yards and two scores during his three years of playing time.
Trey Knox, Arkansas
A top-25 recruiting class should help Arkansas get back on track in coach Chad Morris’ second year. Knox – a four-star recruit from that class – enrolled early and participated in spring ball. The Tennessee native has generated a lot of buzz for his play this offseason and could emerge as the No. 1 receiver for the Razorbacks.
Eric Kumah, Old Dominion
Kumah didn’t have to go too far after transferring from Virginia Tech this offseason. The Virginia native chose to transfer to Old Dominion and should be one of the top playmakers for coach Bobby Wilder. Kumah caught 42 passes for 559 yards and seven scores with the Hokies in 2018.
Frank Ladson/Joseph Ngata, Clemson
Clemson is already loaded at receiver with Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, and the pass catchers for quarterback Trevor Lawrence will only get deeper once Amari Rodgers is back from injury. While those three playmakers will get a bulk of the catches, keep a close eye on Ladson and Ngata this year. Both Ngata and Ladson (as true freshmen) are poised to make a big-time impact in 2019.
Taysir Mack, Pitt
Pitt leaned heavily on its ground game to win the Coastal Division title last season, but with two 1,000-yard rushers and four starters gone up front, the focal point of the offense should shift to quarterback Kenny Pickett under new play-caller Mark Whipple. Mack should benefit from Whipple’s arrival, as he flashed big-play potential (22.3 ypc on 25 catches) last season.
Austin Maloney, FIU
Maloney should become the No. 1 option for quarterback James Morgan after catching 30 passes for 610 yards and five scores last fall. With CJ Worton out of eligibility, Morgan will be looking to Maloney, Maurice Alexander, Bryce Singleton and tight end Sterling Palmer to pick up some of the production in the passing game. Judging by Maloney’s performance (20.3 ypc) last year, he’s certainly up to the task.
Jalen McCleskey, Tulane
Tulane already has one of the AAC’s top receivers (Darnell Mooney) on one side of the offense for quarterback Justin McMillan. And with McCleskey eligible after sitting out a year as a transfer from Oklahoma State, the Green Wave have one of the best receiving duos in the AAC for 2019. McCleskey caught 152 passes in three years with the Cowboys and should be an impact addition this fall.
Cornelius McCoy, Georgia State
With quarterback Dan Ellington returning, along with the emergence of McCoy last year, there’s optimism for Georgia State’s passing game to take a step forward in 2019. McCoy was an impact freshman for coach Shawn Elliott last fall, finishing behind Penny Hart in receptions (49 to 35) and receiving yards (669 to 495). With Hart off to the NFL, McCoy is poised to take over the go-to role in Atlanta. A push for All-Sun Belt honors is within reach in 2019.
Danzel McKinley-Lewis/Desmond Phillips, Toledo
With Diontae Johnson, Jon’Vea Johnson and Cody Thompson departing, someone is going to catch a lot of passes in Toledo’s offense. McKinley-Lewis and Phillips seem like good bets to emerge as key pass catchers this fall.
Jalen Nailor, Michigan State
A healthy year out of quarterback Brian Lewerke, along with a change in play-callers (Brad Salem), should help Michigan State’s offense improve after averaging only 18.7 points a game last fall. Getting the ball to Nailor has to be a priority for Salem after he flashed big-play potential as a freshman in 2018. The Nevada native ran for 128 yards on just nine carries and added eight receptions for 138 yards and two scores.
Cameron Odom, Ohio
The Bobcats have to identify a new No. 1 target for quarterback Nathan Rourke after Papi White (62 catches) and Andrew Meyer (36) expired their eligibility. Odom is a good bet to pick up some of that production after grabbing 30 passes for 418 yards and two scores last season.
Chris Olave/Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
Ohio State must replace Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon from last year’s receiving corps. However, there’s not much concern in Columbus about the targets for quarterback Justin Fields. Olave flashed potential (12 catches for 197 yards and three scores) as a freshman last fall, while Wilson ranked as the No. 20 overall prospect in the 2019 signing class.
George Pickens, Georgia
Georgia lost its top five statistical receivers and tight ends from last season. Who will step up to emerge as quarterback Jake Fromm’s No. 1 target? It could be Pickens. The true freshman has already generated buzz thanks to his one-handed catch in a fall scrimmage.
Wan’Dale Robinson, Nebraska
Robinson’s versatility and all-around ability to make plays will only add to an improving (and potentially very prolific) Nebraska offense in 2019. The Kentucky native accumulated 118 offensive touchdowns in his high school career and should make an instant impact for coach Scott Frost.
Khalil Shakir, Boise State
The winner of the quarterback battle between Chase Cord and Hank Bachmeier will have no shortage of talent at receiver. Shakir is just one of the options poised to contend for All-Mountain West honors for coach Bryan Harsin. The California native flashed potential by working on returns and catching 16 passes for 170 yards and a score last season.
Osiris St. Brown/Connor Wedington/Michael Wilson, Stanford
The Cardinal have to replace their top three targets from last season, with Wilson, Wedington and St. Brown slated to step into prominent roles for quarterback K.J. Costello. Someone out of this trio is likely to emerge as an all-conference contender.
Keylon Stokes, Tulsa
Baylor transfer Zach Smith could provide a needed spark at quarterback for Tulsa’s passing game in 2019. Assuming that’s the case, look for Stokes to benefit from his arrival. As a sophomore last fall, he caught 41 passes for 575 yards and two scores. Those numbers will easily rise with more consistency at quarterback.
Sage Surratt, Wake Forest
Greg Dortch will be missed, but Wake Forest still has a talented receiving corps for quarterbacks Sam Hartman and Jamie Newman to utilize. Surratt ranked second on the team in catches (41), yards (581) and tied for third in touchdown grabs (four) last fall. Look for Surratt to become the No. 1 option in the Demon Deacons’ passing game.
Jeff Thomas, Miami
Thomas was poised to transfer to Illinois before Miami hired Manny Diaz in late December. The decision by Thomas to return to Coral Gables was a big win for the new staff, as the Illinois native was the team’s best receiver (35 catches for 563 yards) last fall. Thomas should benefit from the arrival of play-caller Dan Enos, as he looks to take the next step in his development.
Kadarius Toney, Florida
Toney is one of the SEC’s top all-purpose players and should see more opportunities as a junior in 2019. The Alabama native recorded 240 rushing yards over 21 carries and caught 25 passes for 260 yards and a touchdown last fall.
Tre Turner, Virginia Tech
After a strong finish to the 2018 season, Turner is poised for a bigger role in Virginia Tech’s offense this fall. Turner capped his freshman season by catching at least three passes in four out of the last five games and finished 2018 with 26 receptions for 535 yards and four scores. Turner ranked fourth among ACC receivers by averaging 20.6 yards per catch last season.
Seth Williams, Auburn
Williams delivered plenty of big plays as a true freshman last fall. The Alabama native caught 26 passes for 534 yards and five scores, averaging 20.5 yards per catch. Of Williams’ 26 receptions last season, four went for 40 yards or more.