While offensive and defensive lines are arguably more important to the success of any college football team, it’s the skill talent – running backs or receivers – and quarterbacks that generate most of the preseason attention. And with the balance of power in football shifting to the offense, big-play threats and speedy receivers are more valuable than ever.
Compiling the top 35 receiver groups for 2015 clearly showed there's a wealth of talented corps this season. Baylor takes the top spot in Athlon's top 35 receiver groups, with Texas A&M and Clemson rounding out the top three.
Note: This ranking also takes into account tight ends.
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 2015 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. These rankings reflect projection for 2015, not solely what teams have accomplished in 2014.
College Football's Top 35 WR/TE Groups for 2015
Recruiting and developing playmakers at receiver is becoming an annual strength for Baylor under Art Briles. Antwan Goodley departs after a standout career with the Bears, but there’s no concern about the returning group. Junior Corey Coleman led all Big 12 receivers with 10 touchdown catches in league games, while KD Cannon led the team with 17.8 yards per catch. Jay Lee is a reliable third option, and the Bears expect big contributions from sophomore Davion Hall and redshirt freshman Ishmael Zamora in 2015. The cupboard isn’t bare at tight end for Briles with 410-pound converted lineman LaQuan McGowan on board.
2. Texas A&M
Kevin Sumlin’s team is loaded once again with playmakers in the receiving corps. Josh Reynolds led the team with 842 receiving yards and 13 touchdown catches in his first year after arriving from the junior college ranks. Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones combined for 95 catches and nine touchdown receptions as freshmen last season. Edward Pope, Frank Iheanacho and Sabian Holmes are back as other key targets, but true freshman Christian Kirk could be one of quarterback Kyle Allen’s favorite weapons by the end of the year.
Athletic and speedy playmakers are in abundance at Clemson for new co-coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott. Mike Williams is back after leading the team with 1,030 receiving yards last season, but the offseason buzz with the Tigers revolved around the development of Artavis Scott. As a freshman in 2014, Scott caught 76 passes for 965 yards. Williams and Scott will catch a majority of quarterback Deshaun Watson’s passes, but Germone Hopper, freshmen Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud, Charone Peake and tight end Jordan Leggett will be involved.
4. Ole Miss
The talent and depth of the receiving corps have improved significantly under coach Hugh Freeze, and whichever quarterback starts for the Rebels will have plenty of options. Laquon Treadwell’s 2014 season was cut short by a nasty leg injury against Auburn, but all signs point to the junior returning at full strength by the opener. In nine games last year, Treadwell caught 48 passes for 632 yards. Evan Engram is listed at tight end, but the Georgia native can stretch the field like a receiver. Cody Core (41 catches in 2014), Quincy Adeboyejo, Washington transfer Damore’ea Stringfellow and Markell Pack join Engram and Treadwell as proven and viable candidates. Talented true freshmen Van Jefferson and DaMarkus Lodge are also in the mix for playing time.
The Ducks could be a spot or two higher on this list, but this unit also has a few question marks to sort through. How soon will Devon Allen return at full strength from a knee injury suffered in the Rose Bowl win over Florida State? And how many games will Darren Carrington miss due to a suspension? Even if Allen and Carrington are sidelined for a significant period, Oregon has plenty of options for quarterbacks Jeff Lockie and Vernon Adams. Byron Marshall (74 catches) is the top target, with Dwayne Stanford (43 receptions) and redshirt freshman Jalen Brown also in the mix. The coaching staff was toying with the idea of placing dynamic sophomore Charles Nelson on defense. However, all signs point to Nelson spending most of the 2015 season on offense. Unless Pharaoh Brown returns at full strength from a serious leg injury suffered against Utah, Evan Baylis and Johnny Mundt are expected to share the bulk of the snaps at tight end.
California’s offense averaged 38.3 points a game last season, and the Bear Raid attack could add a few digits to that total in 2015. Coach Sonny Dykes has a loaded offense, starting with quarterback Jared Goff and running back Daniel Lasco. And despite the departure of Chris Harper to the NFL, this is one of the deepest groups in the Pac-12. Kenny Lawler (54 catches), Stephen Anderson (46) and Bryce Treggs are all candidates to earn All-Pac-12 honors this year. Trevor Davis, Darius Powe and Maurice Harris are three other names to watch in this group.
The Horned Frogs return four of their top five statistical receivers from last season. Josh Doctson is quarterback Trevone Boykin’s favorite target, and the Wyoming transfer became the first TCU receiver since 2003 to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. Doctson also led the team with 11 touchdown catches last year. Kolby Listenbee averaged 18.4 yards per catch and caught seven passes of 40 yards or more. Deante’ Gray, Ty Slanina, Emanuel Porter and Ja’Juan Story round out an athletic and fast-improving receiving corps.
8. Notre Dame
New quarterback Malik Zaire inherits a strong supporting cast. The Fighting Irish return their top four receivers in 2015, including All-America candidate William Fuller (76 catches for 1,094 yards and 15 scores). Fuller is the top option, but he will have plenty of support from Chris Brown (39 receptions), Corey Robinson (40), Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter Jr. C.J. Prosise caught 29 passes for 516 yards last year and is expected to see more snaps at running back after Greg Bryant was ruled ineligible for 2015. True freshman Alize Jones is expected to push Durham Smythe and Tyler Luatua for the starting tight end spot.
9. Ohio State
This group was already stocked with speed, talent and options for quarterbacks Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, but the addition of converted signal-caller Braxton Miller has added another weapon for coach Urban Meyer. Junior Michael Thomas led the team with 54 catches last season and is expected to be the go-to target for Jones and Barrett. There’s no shortage of big-play threats around Thomas, including Jalin Marshall (six touchdown catches in 2014), Dontre Wilson and Miller. Curtis Samuel and converted quarterback Torrance Gibson are other names to watch, especially in the opener with Marshall, Wilson and Smith suspended.
Nelson Agholor is catching passes with the Eagles on Sundays, but the Trojans are stocked with talent on the outside once again. Sophomore JuJu Smith is poised for a monster year after catching 54 passes for 724 yards and five touchdowns last season. Smith should be the No. 1 option for quarterback Cody Kessler, while dangerous all-purpose threat Adoree’ Jackson is expected to see limited snaps on offense. Darreus Rogers, Steven Mitchell and junior college recruits Isaac Whitney and De’Quan Hampton round out the top weapons for Kessler. The tight end position is a concern for coach Steve Sarkisian after Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and Bryce Dixon did not return to the team this fall.
12. Penn State
16. Florida State
18. Mississippi State
21. Oklahoma State
22. North Carolina
23. Bowling Green
25. Colorado State
26. Washington State
27. Virginia Tech
28. Boise State
29. Texas Tech
30. Iowa State
35. Western Michigan