The Pac-12 and Big 12 are two of college football's top conferences for offense, so it's no surprise that eight of the top 10 receivers hail from those two leagues. USC's Robert Woods is coming off a stellar sophomore season and can only get better in 2012, especially if he is 100 percent recovered from an ankle injury. Clemson's Sammy Watkins will miss the first two games of the year but will be one of college football's top receivers by the end of 2012.
When compiling the rankings, Athlon considered how each player will perform in 2012, some past performance, personnel losses around the quarterback, conference difficulty and pro potential.
College Football's Top 30 Wide Receivers for 2012
1.Robert Woods, USC
One half of USC’s impressive receiver duo, Woods was one of eight players in the country to catch more than 100 passes -- and he was the only one to do so in 12 games thanks to USC’s bowl ban. Woods will get his chance to play in the postseason after accounting for 176 catches for 2,084 yards and 21 touchdowns (15 last season) in his first two years at USC.
2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Despite his two-game suspension to start 2012, Watkins checks in as Athlon’s No. 1 player in the ACC. High expectations surrounded Watkins from the moment he arrived on campus, and he quickly emerged as Clemson’s top target, catching 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 scores. The Florida native was also a dangerous weapon on special teams, averaging 25 yards per kickoff return and taking one back for a touchdown in the win over Maryland. Although Watkins could have trouble matching last season’s totals, expect the sophomore to finish as a first-team All-American.
3. Keenan Allen, California
Few players in the nation have as much raw physical talent and skill as Allen possesses. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound stud from Greensboro, N.C., flashed first-round NFL talent as only a sophomore last year by catching 82 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns. He is the half-brother of quarterback Zach Maynard and clearly has an unspoken rapport with Cal signal caller. Look for this to be Allen’s final year in a Golden Bear uniform.
4. Tavon Austin, West Virginia
At 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, Austin isn’t your prototypical wide receiver. Don’t be fooled though, the Baltimore native is one of college football’s top playmakers and will give Big 12 defenses plenty of headaches in 2012. He led the team with 101 receptions, ranked second with 1,186 yards, while catching eight touchdowns and taking two returns for a score on special teams. Austin closed out 2011 on a high note, catching 12 passes for 123 yards and four touchdowns in the Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. The senior is one of college football’s top all-purpose threats and should top 100 receptions once again in 2012.
5.Marquess Wilson, Washington State
Most Pac-12 fans are familiar with Wilson but expect to see him become a household name nationally after 2012. With Mike Leach’s pass-first attack coming to Pullman, the Cougars should be one of the top offenses in the nation. Wilson has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and caught 18 touchdown passes over the last two years. His best performance came against San Diego State in 2011, grabbing six passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. With Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Keenan Allen returning, it will be a battle to get first-team all-conference honors. However, there’s no question Wilson will have the stats to get in the mix for first-team All-Pac-12 and All-American honors.
6. Marqise Lee, USC
With Robert Woods posting a record-setting season on the other side, it was easy to overlook Lee’s performance in 2011. As a true freshman, he finished with 73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Lee came on strong over the second half of the season, catching at least seven passes in each of the final five games. Woods is still USC’s No. 1 receiver, but Lee will see plenty of passes in his direction. Expect the sophomore to surpass last season’s totals, while pushing for All-American honors.
7. Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
Bailey was a high school teammate of quarterback Geno Smith, and the chemistry showed. Bailey caught 72 passes, including 12 touchdowns. His 1,279 receiving yards set a school record and his eight 100-yard receiving game tied one. He’s the other half of the Big 12’s best receiving tandem along with Tavon Austin.
8. Justin Hunter, Tennessee
The talented receiver caught seven touchdown passes as a freshman in 2010 while averaging a staggering 25.9 yards on 16 receptions. The expectations for Hunter were sky-high last season before he suffered a torn ACL in the third game of the year at Florida. Hunter did total 302 yards and two scores in the first two games before his injury. If he returns to his former elite athlete level, Hunter will be one of the most explosive weapons in the SEC.
9. Terrance Williams, Baylor
Robert Griffin and Kendall Wright are gone, but the Baylor passing attack shouldn’t suffer too big of a drop in 2012. Williams will take over as the team’s No. 1 receiver after catching 59 passes for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, the senior has the size and speed combination that will be very attractive for NFL teams next April.
10. Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
Bob Stoops said Landry Jones’ late-season swoon wasn’t all on the shoulders of the quarterback. Certainly, that means Stills needs to improve his consistency. He was more productive last season as a No. 2 receiver to Ryan Broyles, but failed to catch a touchdown or produce a 100-yard game after the calendar turned to November. He has great potential, so now it’s time to put it all together.
11. Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee
Update: Rogers has been suspended indefinitely and may not play at Tennessee in 2012.
Few players are a bigger anomaly than Mr. Rogers. He has NFL size, speed, explosiveness and upside. He is a nightmare match-up for any NCAA defensive back and will make huge plays after the catch. But the knucklehead factor is strong with the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Calhoun, Ga., native. He has had multiple issues off the field and his dedication/commitment to his team and craft remain a large question mark. He also has a tendency to drop the easy pass. Should things fall right and Rogers stays focused, he could be the best WR in the SEC. If not, he might be the third-best WR on his own team.
12. Josh Boyce, TCU
Boyce is TCU’s top big-play threat at receiver, with nearly twice as many yards last season than the Horned Frogs’ No. 2 wideout. Boyce finished last season with 61 catches for 998 yards for an average of 14.9 yards per catch. Three of his nine touchdowns came in the upset of Boise State, including two touchdowns that torched the Broncos secondary for 74 and 69 yards.
13. Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas
The 6-foot-3 wide receiver should be quarterback Tyler Wilson’s favorite target this season. Hamilton had 34 catches for 542 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, averaging 15.9 yards per reception. He has the size and speed combination to be one of the top wideouts in the SEC and a star for the Razorbacks in 2012.
14. Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
Swope was one of the Big 12’s top receivers last season, catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 scores. His six 100-yard games and 89 catches were a school record. Matching those numbers could be difficult in 2012, especially with Texas A&M breaking in a new quarterback and offensive scheme. New coach Kevin Sumlin’s spread offense should allow for Swope to have plenty of looks in the open field, but he needs the new quarterback to quickly settle into the starting role. Even if Swope’s numbers drop a bit, expect the senior to challenge for first-team All-SEC honors.
15. Nick Harwell, Miami (Ohio)
Harwell looks to be the next receiver in the list of standout receivers from the MAC. As a freshman in 2010, he caught 64 passes for 871 yards and six scores. Harwell was even better as a sophomore last year, grabbing 97 receptions for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns. The Texas native had five games of at least 10 receptions, including 15 in the 24-21 loss to Temple. Harwell has been named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list for 2012.
16. Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Patton was one of 2011's top impact junior college transfers, recording 74 catches for 1,135 yards and 10 scores. He was a first-team All-WAC selection and is on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award for 2012. Patton had one 200-yard game (Central Arkansas) last year and should be Louisiana Tech's No. 1 target once again this season.
17. Markus Wheaton, Oregon State
In a league stacked with future NFL stars at wide receiver, it is easy for Wheaton to get overlooked. With a freshman quarterback throwing the ball, the dynamic athlete caught 73 passes for 986 yards to go with 190 yards rushing. It would not be going out on a limb to suggest Wheaton reaches paydirt more than the one touchdown he scored last fall.
18. Darrin Moore, Texas Tech
A suspension for a DWI arrest has clouded Moore’s status with the team for 2012. Before a leg injury against Nevada last year, Moore was one of college football’s leading receivers with 21 receptions through the first two games. If he avoids a lengthy suspension, the senior should contend for first-team All-Big 12 honors. There's certainly some risk by ranking Moore this high, but there's also a lot of potential based on what we saw last year.
19. Odell Beckham, LSU
Beckham had an impressive debut as a true freshman in 2011, catching 41 passes for 475 yards and two scores. The New Orleans native is primed for a breakout year, especially with Rueben Randle moving onto the NFL. New quarterback Zach Mettenberger should be able to stretch the field more than Jordan Jefferson or Jarrett Lee did, which should allow Beckham to use his speed and athleticism even more in 2012.
20. Tracy Moore, Oklahoma State
Justin Blackmon is gone, and so is Josh Cooper and their 193 catches between them. Moore is the Cowboys’ top returning receiver with 45 receptions for 692 yards and four touchdowns. The early returns on his move from inside receiver to outside have been positive.
21. Tevin Reese, Baylor
With Kendall Wright catching passes in the NFL, Reese and teammate Terrance Williams will be a bigger part of the offense in 2012. Reese has been a big-play threat for Baylor over the last two years, averaging 17.2 yards per catch last season, including a 69-yard touchdown against Oklahoma. Reese should post career-highs in catches, yards and touchdowns in 2012.
22. Conner Vernon, Duke
Vernon has racked up 2,675 receiving yards and 13 touchdown passes on 198 catches in three seasons for the Blue Devils, leading the team in receiving the last two seasons. He could threaten school and ACC records by the end of the season.
23. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
Hopkins is a clear No. 2 receiver on a team with Sammy Watkins, but he’s poised to make a statement of his own in 2012. The junior caught 72 passes last season (fourth-most in Clemson history) for 978 yards with five touchdowns. He also had three 100-yard receiving games in the final seven.
24.Rashad Greene, Florida State
Thanks to Sammy Watkins’ emergence last season, it was easy to overlook Greene’s freshman totals in the ACC. He caught 38 passes for 596 yards and seven scores but was slowed by an injury that forced him to miss four games midway through the year. With a full offseason to heal back to 100 percent, Greene should be one of the ACC’s top receivers and the No. 1 target for quarterback EJ Manuel.
25. Emory Blake, Auburn
Injuries and quarterback play limited Blake's numbers last season, but he has potential to be one of the top receivers in the SEC. In 11 games last season, Blake caught 36 passes for 613 yards and five scores. He also averaged an impressive 17 yards per catch, while posting three 100-yard efforts last season.
26. Cody Hoffman, BYU
Hoffman came on strong at the end of 2010 and picked up where he left off early in 2011. The California native caught eight passes for 138 yards against BYU in the third week of the season and closed out 2011 by recording three 100-yard performances. Hoffman is the No. 1 target for quarterback Riley Nelson and has a chance to improve on his numbers in 2012.
27. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
A former high school quarterback, Abbrederis gives the Badgers a big-play threat in the passing game. Last season, he caught 55 passes for a team-high 933 yards and eight touchdowns, and his 17.0 yards-per-catch average ranked second in the Big Ten behind Michigan’s Junior Hemingway.
28. Keenan Davis, Iowa
The Hawkeyes’ record-breaking receiver Marvin McNutt drew most of the attention last season, but Davis had the breakout season. Davis finished with 50 catches last year, after catching 15 total passes his first two seasons on campus. His 713 receiving yards and 14.3 yards per catch were respectable stats for a No. 2 receiver. Now, Iowa will learn how he takes to being No. 1.
29. Kasen Williams, Washington
With Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar expiring their eligibility at the end of 2011, the Huskies are looking for a new go-to target. Williams should be Keith Price’s preferred receiver in 2012, especially after catching 36 passes for 427 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman last year.
30. Trey Metoyer, Oklahoma
Finding weapons for quarterback Landry Jones is the biggest fall priority for the Sooners’ offense. Kenny Stills is one of the Big 12’s top receivers, but after that is where the question marks begin. Metoyer did not qualify last season and attended Hargrave Academy in preparation for 2012. He was one of the top receivers in the 2011 recruiting class and did not disappoint in spring practice, catching six passes for 72 yards in the Red-White game. Although Ryan Broyles will be missed, Metoyer’s emergence should ease concerns about the Oklahoma receiving corps.
The Next 12
Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest
DeVonte Christopher, Utah
Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
Noel Grigsby, San Jose State
Darius Johnson, SMU
Alec Lemon, Syracuse
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia
T.J. Moe, Missouri
Jaxon Shipley, Texas
Devin Street, Pittsburgh
Eric Ward, Texas Tech
20 Freshmen to Watch (True and Redshirt)
Nelson Agholor, USC
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Joel Caleb, Virginia Tech
Amari Cooper, Alabama
Quinshad Davis, North Carolina
Stefon Diggs, Maryland
Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
Deontay Greenberry, Houston
Cayleb Jones, Texas
Gabe Marks, Washington State
Trey Metoyer, Oklahoma
Andre McDonald, Minnesota
Davonte' Neal, Notre Dame
Durron Neal, Oklahoma
Jordan Payton, UCLA
Shaq Roland, South Carolina
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Jordan Thompson, West Virginia
Bryce Treggs, California
10 Transfers to Watch
DeAnthony Arnett, Michigan State (from Tennessee)
Brice Butler, San Diego State (from USC)
Chris Dunkley, South Florida (from Florida)
Bryce McNeal, Louisville (from Clemson)
Javares McRoy, Texas Tech (from Florida)
Shakim Phillips, Connecticut (from Boston College)
Kyle Prater, Northwestern (from USC)
Je'Ron Stokes, Bowling Green (Michigan)
Darryl Stonum, Baylor (Michigan)
Tyson Williams, Texas Tech (from West Texas A&M)
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