The most decorated wide receiver in the FCS history has caught on in the NFL, but the depth behind Eastern Washington legend Cooper Kupp continues to be outstanding.
There were 19 1,000-yard receivers in the subdivision last season – up five from in 2015 – and 10 of them are returning this year. With many of the elite quarterbacks returning as well, it will be a high-flying season.
Seven of last year’s 1,000-yard receivers are part of our countdown of the top 10 returnees in the FCS:
10. Reggie White Jr., Monmouth, WR (R-Jr., 6-3, 210)
His father wasn’t that Reggie White, but pops played in the NFL, a nose tackle out of North Carolina A&T who appeared in Super Bowl XXIX with the San Diego Chargers and also was a member of the New England Patriots. The younger White has good size and athleticism and came on strong in 2016, leading the Big South in receptions (69) and receiving yards (934) with seven touchdowns.
9. Kelvin McKnight, Samford, WR (Jr. 5-8, 185)
It was McKnight, not All-America quarterback and fellow junior Devlin Hodges, who won the Southern Conference’s 2015 freshman of the year award. Although Samford is replacing two of its three leading receivers, it’s in good hands – literally – with McKnight, who has caught 127 passes for 1,512 yards and 11 touchdowns through two seasons. He also returns punts.
8. Patrick Smith, Tennessee State, WR (R-Sr., 6-0, 190)
Mr. Smith goes to the end zone. The home-run threat has caught 23 touchdowns while averaging more than 17 yards on his 115 receptions in 21 games the last two seasons. The All-Ohio Valley Conference first-teamer will challenge for All-America honors in 2017.
7. Kamron Lewis, Saint Francis, WR (Jr., 6-4, 195)
Lewis personifies Saint Francis’ Red Flash nickname. While they won the Northeast Conference title and secured an FCS playoff bid for the first time last year, their conference’s offensive player of the year caught 75 passes for 1,478 yards – an average of 19.7 yards per reception – and 11 touchdowns.
6. Yedidiah Louis, Sam Houston State, WR (R-Sr., 5-8, 187)
Over his career, Louis has moved from steady to spectacular. He’s caught at least 71 passes in each of his three seasons and pushed his numbers up each time, highlighted by last year’s career highs in receptions (76), receiving yards (1,152) and touchdown catches (14). The 2016 Southland Conference offensive player of the year is 51 receiving yards shy of 3,000 in his career.
5. Troy Pelletier, Lehigh, WR (Sr., 6-3, 205)
Like Louis at Sam Houston State, Pelletier has been a consistent threat throughout his career, and he became dominant as a junior, when he caught 96 passes (third most in the FCS) for 1,278 yards and 12 touchdowns. In his career, the possession receiver has 223 receptions for 2,924 yards and 27 touchdowns.
4. Justin Watson, Penn, WR (Sr., 6-3, 210)
For two straight seasons, Watson has led the Ivy League in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches, including a 74-1,082-9 line last year. Watson’s statistics are impacted by Ivy teams playing only 10 games per season, but his career average of 6.83 receptions per game tops all active FCS players.
3. Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State, TE (R-Sr., 6-5, 250)
Goedert is the chief reason this top 10 list involves receivers and not just wide receivers. He has wide receiver skills in a tight end’s body. As a junior, he was unstoppable as he hauled in a South Dakota State-record 92 receptions, with 1,293 receiving yards and 11 touchdown catches. He is one of the leading 2018 NFL Draft prospects in the FCS.
2. Emmanuel Butler, Northern Arizona, WR (Sr., 6-3, 210)
Even a season-ending injury to star quarterback Case Cookus last year didn’t stop Butler from becoming Northern Arizona’s first two-time 1,000-yard receiver. A former basketball player, Butler has excellent leaping ability. He put it to good use in 2015, catching 64 passes for a school single-season record 1,208 yards (18.9 yards per catch) and 15 touchdowns, which tied the mark.
1. Jake Wieneke, South Dakota State, WR (Sr., 6-4, 215)
Like his teammate Goedert, Wieneke is on the radar of NFL teams. The physically gifted receiver is a three-time FCS All-American, and he has the best career statistics among all active FCS receivers with 223 receptions, 4,192 receiving yards and 43 touchdown receptions. He’s played at the same time as Kupp, but with the four-time Eastern Washington All-American now with the Los Angeles Rams, Wieneke is out of his shadow.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Jake Wieneke photo by South Dakota State Athletics; Kamron Lewis by Saint Francis Athletics)