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Recruiting Analysis: What was the Best Wide Receiver Class Since 2002?

A.J. Green

A.J. Green

Nearly six years to the day since the receiver class of 2008 signed letters of intent to play college football, the class continued to dazzle.

In Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse fell onto his back, bobbled the football and eventually came up with the 33-yard catch that put Seattle onto the New England 5. The miracle catch won’t sear in people’s memories thanks to the interception two plays later, but Kearse’s catch is why the wide receiver recruiting class of 2008 is the best in recent history.

Kearse was merely the No. 72 receiver in that class, according to, but cracking the top 10 now that all have finished their college careers is achievement unto itself. Kearse was recruited alongside Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Floyd, Justin Blackmon and a host of other great collegians and future pros.

Athlon Sports has also broken down the top quarterback classes and top running back classes in the modern recruiting era. These are the top receiving classes during that same time period since 2002.

1. Class of 2008

The Stars: Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Floyd, Jermaine Kearse, Justin Blackmon, Kendall Wright, Terrence Williams, Randall Cobb

Best of the Rest: Jonathan Baldwin, DeVier Posey, DeAndre Brown, Jeff Fuller, Juron Criner, Roy Roundtree, Greg Childs, T.J. Moe, Markus Wheaton, Ryan Swope, Cordarrelle Patterson, A.J. Jenkins

The wide receiver class of 2008 may be the best group of recruits at any position during the last 10 seasons. Almost every top prospect delivered on his five-star promise to one degree or another. Julio Jones and A.J. Green were Nos. 1-2 in this class and have since combined for six Pro Bowl selections. The class also had plenty of gems outside of the top prospects. Two-time Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State was ranked No. 91, and consensus All-America selection Terrance Williams of Baylor was a two-star.

2. Class of 2011

The Stars: Sammy Watkins, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks, Marqise Lee, Tyler Lockett, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans

Best of the Rest: Jaxon Shipley, Donte Moncrief, Rashad Greene, Ty Montgomery, Devin Smith, Sammie Coates, DeVante Parker, Davante Adams, Cody Latimer, Kevin White, Phillip Dorsett, Jamison Crowder

The receiver class of 2011 could surpass the star-studded class of 2008. The 2011 receivers arguably topped the 2008 class in terms of college achievements. The class produced two Biletnikoff winners (Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks and USC’s Marqise Lee), three consensus All-Americans (Lee, Cooks and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans) and the NFL rookie of the year (LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr.). The best pro of the bunch, though, will probably be Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. Moreover, West Virginia’s Kevin White, Louisville’s DeVante Parker and Auburn’s Sammie Coates may all end up as first-round NFL draft picks.

3. Class of 2006

The Stars: Michael Crabtree, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, T.Y. Hilton

Best of the Rest: Kenny Britt, Damian Williams, Hakeem Nicks, Riley Cooper, Greg Salas, Dexter McCluster, Antonio Brown

The No. 1 overall prospect in the class, Percy Harvin, has had a fine career, including two national championships at Florida and Super Bowl win with the Seahawks. Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree was a four-star athlete before twice winning the Biletnikoff and going on to a productive pro career. The rest of the top recruits struggled to live up to top billing, but plenty of lower-ranked prospects and unknowns became superstars. Antonio Brown (Central Michigan) and T.Y. Hilton (FIU) are NFL stars.

4. Class of 2004

The Stars: Calvin Johnson, Jordan Shipley, Sidney Rice, Dwayne Jarrett, Ted Ginn

Best of the Rest: Eddie Royal, Greg Carr, D.J. Hall, Danny Amendola, Marcus Monk, Austin Collie, James Hardy, Early Doucet

A Biletnikoff winner and three-time All-Pro, Johnson was every bit the star on the college level as he is in the NFL. He was one of three consensus All-Americans in the class along with USC’s Dwayne Jarrett and Texas’ Jordan Shipley. Do-everything receiver Ted Ginn was the No. 2 prospect in the class, but he was listed as a cornerback.

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5. Class of 2007

The Stars: Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, Torrey Smith, Greg Little

Best of the Rest: Arrelious Benn, Ronald Johnson, Nick Toon, Leonard Hankerson, Austin Pettis

Dez Bryant was a consensus All-American as a sophomore in 2008 and was on the way to a similar season before an NCAA suspension ended his college career. Golden Tate set the Notre Dame record for single-season receiving yards and tied the touchdown record on the way to the first Biletnikoff in school history. Though listed as a corner, Ryan Broyles set the NCAA career catch record (later broken by East Carolina’s Justin Hardy). Maryland’s Torrey Smith arguably has been a bigger impact player at the NFL level than at the college level.

6. Class of 2003

The Stars: Andre Caldwell, Robert Meachem, Adarius Bowman, Steve Smith, Jordy Nelson, Dwayne Bowe, Jeff Samardzija,

Best of the Rest: Limas Sweed, Todd Blythe, Donnie Avery, Devin Thomas, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez, Chad Jackson

This class has produced a number of productive pros (Robert Meachem, Jordy Nelson, Dwayne Bowe) and not just in football (Jeff Samardzija). Tennessee’s Meachem and Florida’s Andre Caldwell are among the top receivers in their respective schools’ histories, no easy task in either Knoxville or Gainesville. Adarius Bowman played two 1,000-yard seasons at Oklahoma State, but his career was overshadowed by those who came later. Same could be said of USC’s Steve Smith, who was the running mate to Dwayne Jarrett.

7. Class of 2010

The Stars: Robert Woods, Justin Hunter, Jordan Matthews, Justin Hardy, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen

Best of the Rest: Kenny Shaw, Kenny Stills, Paul Richardson, Ace Sanders, Austin Hill, Kaelin Clay, Bud Sasser, Mike Davis, Kenny Bell, Josh Huff, Antwan Goodley

The top recruits in this receiver class struggled to find their way as Kyle Prater, Da’Rick Rogers and Markeith Ambles all transferred for one reason or another. What the class lacked in star power, it made up for in consistent production on the college level. East Carolina’s Justin Hardy caught more career passes than anyone else in college football. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews caught more passes than anyone in SEC history. Robert Woods and Kenny Bell caught more passes than anyone in USC or Nebraska history, respectively.

8. Class of 2005

The Stars: DeSean Jackson, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Brandon LaFell, Mardy Gilyard, Eric Decker, Victor Cruz

Best of the Rest: Mario Manningham, Mohamed Massaquoi, Louis Murphy, Brian Robiskie, Malcolm Kelly, Earl Bennett, Derrick Williams

Penn State’s Derrick Williams was the No. 1 prospect in this class, and although he had a fine a career, he was eclipsed by another prep star (DeSean Jackson) and guys from Minnesota, Cincinnati and UMass.

9. Class of 2009

The Stars: Alshon Jeffery, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin

Best of the Rest: Rueben Randle, Josh Gordon, Stephen Hill, Eric Ward, Jeremy Gallon, Cobi Hamilton, Aaron Dobson, Mohamed Sanu

The class was kind to West Virginia, sending both Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to the Mountaineers. The star in the class, though, South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery, who has two 1,000-yard seasons with the Bears.

10. Class of 2012

The Stars: Amari Cooper

Best of the Rest: Dorial Green-Beckham, Stefon Diggs, Nelson Agholor, Deontay Greenberry, Gabe Marks, Bryce Treggs, Jordan Payton, Bralon Addison, Leonte Carroo, Jordan Westerkamp, Jaelen Strong, Devin Funchess (TE)

The class produced arguably the best receiver in SEC history and a bit of a mixed bag everywhere else. Dorial Green-Beckham was the can’t-miss recruit in this class, but he’s been away from football for a year after his dismissal at Missouri.