The wide receiver position experienced a significant amount of turnover following the 2017 college football season. Big-time playmakers like James Washington, Anthony Miller and Calvin Ridley departed for the NFL, leaving a host of names to step up into the spotlight for 2018. Ole Miss takes the top spot in Athlon's wide receiver unit rankings for 2018, followed by West Virginia and Oklahoma. The Rebels are ineligible for postseason play, but coach Matt Luke's offense should have no trouble putting up points behind receiver A.J. Brown and quarterback Jordan Ta'amu. South Carolina and Alabama join Ole Miss from the SEC in the top five of the projected unit rankings at receiver for 2018.
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 2018 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 2018, not solely what teams have accomplished in 2017. Note: This ranking also takes into account tight ends.
College Football's Top 40 WR Groups for 2018
1. Ole Miss
Ole Miss is banned from postseason play again, but the Rebels won’t lack for entertainment value in 2018. The Rebels averaged 35.8 points with quarterback Jordan Ta’amu at the controls over the final five games of last season and will carry that wide-open philosophy into this year. A.J. Brown is arguably college football’s best receiver after catching 75 passes for 1,252 yards and 11 scores in 2017. He’s joined by DaMarkus Lodge (41 catches for 698 yards) and D.K. Metcalf (39 catches for 646 yards) on the outside. Tight end Dawson Knox is due for more opportunities after catching 24 passes last year.
2. West Virginia
The Mountaineers lose one 1,000-yard receiver (Ka’Raun White), but WVU doesn’t lack options. David Sills led all Power 5 receivers with 18 TD catches last year and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-American for 2018. Fellow senior Gary Jennings is back after catching 97 passes for 1,096 yards, while Marcus Simms is set to deliver more big plays after averaging 18.9 yards per catch in 2017. Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons is another weapon, with Miami (Fla.) transfer Jovani Haskins providing a breakout option at tight end.
Easing the Sooners’ transition at quarterback is a deep set of playmakers on the outside. Marquise Brown adapted quickly from the junior college level, catching 57 passes for 1,095 yards and seven scores. CeeDee Lamb recorded 46 catches as a freshman last fall and will be even more involved in 2018. Mykel Jones also impressed (19.4 yards a catch) in limited time, while freshmen Charleston Rambo and Jaquayln Crawford are set to join the mix at receiver. Grant Calcaterra is a capable replacement for Mark Andrews at tight end.
4. South Carolina
Will Muschamp is hoping more tempo and responsibility in the hands of QB Jake Bentley will spark an offense that averaged only 24.2 points per game last season. The return of receiver Deebo Samuel will also help. An injury limited Samuel to just three games last year, but he caught 59 passes for 783 yards as a sophomore in 2016. Bryan Edwards returns after catching 64 passes in 2017, with Shi Smith (29) and OrTre Smith (30) rounding out the top four options. A replacement must be found for tight end Hayden Hurst.
Calvin Ridley, Cam Sims and Robert Foster are gone, but as usual in Tuscaloosa, the next wave of stars is ready to emerge. Sophomores DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy each flashed potential as secondary targets last season, combining for 33 catches for 649 yards and 11 touchdowns. Freshmen Tyrell Shavers, Chadarius Townsend, Xavier Williams and Jaylen Waddle will contribute at receiver, with Irv Smith, Hale Hentges and Miller Forristall headlining a deep group of tight ends.
6. NC State
Senior quarterback Ryan Finley returns three out of his favorite targets from last season, including Athlon Sports’ 2018 All-American Kelvin Harmon (69 catches for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns in ’17). Joining Harmon as key weapons on the outside once again will be Jakobi Meyers (63 receptions) and Stephen Louis (15.8 ypc). Tight end/all-purpose threat Jaylen Samuels will be missed. USC transfer Cary Angeline will miss the first three games of 2018 but should help fill the void at tight end.
The Tigers have to replace Deon Cain (58 catches) and Ray-Ray McCloud (49), but this unit isn’t going to miss a beat in 2018. Hunter Renfrow is back after leading the team with 60 catches last season, while sophomore Tee Higgins is poised for a breakout 2018 campaign after averaging 20.3 yards per catch on 17 receptions last fall. Sophomore Amari Rodgers (19 catches for 123) is another potential breakout option for coach Dabo Swinney, while there’s plenty of depth supplied by Trevion Thompson, Justyn Ross, Derion Kendrick and Diondre Overton. Senior Milan Richard is back as the main target at tight end after catching 18 passes for 210 yards and a score last year.
A deep group of receivers will certainly ease the transition period for Toledo’s new starting quarterback this year. Diontae Johnson led the high-powered Rockets’ offense with 74 catches for 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, with Jon’Vea Johnson (42 catches for 689 yards) filling in as the No. 2 target. Cody Thompson was poised to earn his second 1,000-yard season in a row but suffered a season-ending leg injury in the fifth game of 2017. Thompson is slated to return to the lineup, adding another All-MAC receiver to coach Jason Candle’s offense. Danzel McKinley-Lewis (23 catches) is another player to watch at this position, with Reggie Gilliam and Drew Rosi battling for the starting job at tight end.
9. Ohio State
New Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins should be a better and more consistent passer than former starter J.T. Barrett. With that in mind, the Buckeyes’ receiving corps could take off with Haskins at the controls. Parris Campbell – one of the fastest players in college football – returns after leading the team with 584 receiving yards in 2017. There’s no shortage of potential options after Campbell, as K.J. Hill (56), Terry McLaurin (29), Johnnie Dixon (18), Austin Mack (24) and Binjimen Victor (23) will all have a role in the offense. Freshman Jeremy Ruckert could push for snaps right away at tight end.
Even though Lamar Jackson is off to the NFL, don’t expect Louisville’s offense to suffer too much on the stat sheet. New starter Jawon Pass is a breakout candidate, and he’s got the big-time arm needed to thrive in coach Bobby Petrino’s offense. The Cardinals are also surrounding Pass with a good supporting cast at receiver. Jaylen Smith is one of the ACC’s top returning receivers after catching 60 passes for 980 yards and seven touchdowns last fall. Dez Fitzpatrick (45 catches for 699 yards and nine scores) and Seth Dawkins (42 catches for 642 yards) round out a strong trio of options. Senior Micky Crum, junior Jordan Davis and sophomore Kemari Averett will compete for the starting job at tight end.
16. Arizona State
20. Oklahoma State
23. Michigan State
24. Penn State
26. Fresno State
30. Texas A&M
31. North Texas
32. Arkansas State
33. Florida State
36. Washington State
Just Missed: Arkansas, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Wake Forest, USF, Louisiana Tech, Notre Dame, BYU, ULM, Georgia State, LSU, Buffalo, Ohio, Arizona, Washington, Colorado, Nevada, Boise State, Liberty, Iowa