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.
It's not a great year for individual talent at receiver, but there are plenty of solid groups of playmakers returning. Clemson leads the way in Athlon's best receiving corps, followed by three teams from the SEC - Alabama, Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
Note: This ranking also takes into account tight ends.
Related: Ranking All 128 Teams for 2016
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 2016 all factored into the rankings for the receiving corps. 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 2016, not solely what teams have accomplished in 2015.
College Football's Top 40 WR Groups for 2016
Deshaun Watson’s deep collection of receivers from last year’s dynamic offense returns nearly intact. Five of Clemson’s top seven pass catchers are back, and there’s a good mix of speed, size and versatility, starting with All-America candidates in tight end Jordan Leggett and all-around playmaker Artavis Scott. Deon Cain, sure-handed Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud are back as key contributors after each player caught at least 29 passes in 2015. This group will get even deeper with the return of Mike Williams — an All-ACC receiver in 2014 who sustained a season-ending neck injury in the 2015 opener.
Podcast: Official 2016 ACC Preview
Whichever quarterback emerges as the starter in Tuscaloosa will inherit a bevy of playmakers. Calvin Ridley turned in a strong freshman campaign in 2015, catching 89 passes for 1,045 yards and seven scores. ArDarius Stewart emerged as a steady No. 2 target last year with 63 receptions, and tight end O.J. Howard is due for a bigger role after a strong performance in the national title win over Clemson. Cam Sims and Robert Foster have potential for breakout years but have struggled with injuries. Graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter should be an impact newcomer.
3. Texas A&M
The Aggies are in transition with a new coordinator (Noel Mazzone) and quarterback (Trevor Knight), but there’s no question the receiving corps is the strength of the offense. Christian Kirk emerged as one of the SEC’s top receivers after catching 80 passes for 1,009 yards and seven scores in a dynamic freshman season. Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones combined for 96 receptions and nine scores last year and provide big targets in the red zone. Speedy Noil, Damion Ratley and Edward Pope round out the other top targets for Knight. Virginia Tech graduate transfer Kalvin Cline is expected to start at tight end.
4. Ole Miss
Laquon Treadwell left for the NFL, but Ole Miss isn’t hurting for talent at receiver. Quincy Adeboyejo (38 catches) and Damore’ea Stringfellow (36) were solid as secondary targets last year and are both ready to move into the spotlight as a No. 1. Tight end Evan Engram could be quarterback Chad Kelly’s favorite target in 2016 after grabbing 38 passes for 464 yards in 2015. Markell Pack, Van Jefferson and Damarkus Lodge were four-star recruits coming out of high school. All three should see an increased role this fall. Additionally, there's help on the way from incoming freshmen A.J. Brown, DeKaylin Metcalf and Tre Nixon.
Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson form one of the nation’s best one-two combinations at receiver after combining for 108 catches and 13 touchdowns last year. Chesson suffered a torn PCL in the bowl victory over Florida but is expected to be at full strength by the opener. Eddie McDoom, Nate Johnson, Kekoa Crawford and Ahmir Mitchell are four promising freshmen inked by coach Jim Harbaugh in the 2016 signing class. Tight end Jake Butt caught 51 passes for 654 yards in 2015 was a finalist for the Mackey Award. This group also features promising options in Grant Perry and Drake Harris, as well as redshirt freshman tight end Tyrone Wheatley Jr.
Podcast: Official 2016 Pac-12 Preview