Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.
Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.
Ranking the SEC's Receiving Corps for 2012
The SEC pass-catchers discussion has to begin with the Big Orange. Da’Rick Rogers has had off-the-field issues, but his powerful 6-3, 210-pound frame is dripping with ability. When focused (less often than not), Rogers has All-American talent. Yet, he isn’t the best receiver on his own team. That distinction goes to Justin Hunter, who returns to the field fully healthy after missing all but two games due to a torn ACL in 2011. When at full speed, there may not be a better wideout in the entire nation. Adding to this deep group is dependable tight end Mychal Rivera and senior Zach Rogers, giving Tyler Bray plenty to work with. And depth won’t be an issue as newcomers Cordarrelle Patterson - who appears to be ready to live up to his lofty No. 1 JUCO recruiting status - Drae Bowles, Alton Howard and Jason Croom give the Vols the SEC’s best collection of pass-catchers.
The Dawgs have to replace two veteran tight ends in Orson Charles and Aaron White, but stud athletes Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome should be more than capable of filling the void at the position. Senior Tavarres King finally delivered on his immense talent with 705 yards and 8 TD last fall and leads the way for a deep corps of receivers. Marlon Brown, Michael Bennett and Chris Conley all have shown flashes of ability, but the upside of this group lies in the dynamic arms of Malcolm Mitchell. He was shifted to defense to account for suspensions and injuries this spring, but Mark Richt insists he will play wideout. But for how many plays per game? His electric, explosive play-making skill is unmatched by any other Bulldog and makes this group as dangerous as any in the SEC.
3. Texas A&M
The Aggies enter SEC play with a new quarterback and offensive scheme but return plenty of weapons on the outside. Senior Ryan Swope led the team with 89 receptions for 1,207 yards and 11 scores last year. He will be expected to provide leadership, as well as remain one of the offense’s top playmakers in 2012. Uzoma Nwachukwu has 126 receptions in his career and ranked third on the team with 639 receiving yards last season. Swope and Nwachukwu are entrenched as starters, with the third spot likely going to Kenric McNeal. Senior Brandal Jackson will also be in the mix, while sophomore Malcome Kennedy or freshman Mike Evans are potential breakout candidates.
It’s never easy replacing two first-team All-SEC receivers (Joe Adams and Jarius Wright), but Arkansas still has plenty of weapons for quarterback Tyler Wilson. Senior Cobi Hamilton averaged 15.9 yards per catch on 34 receptions last season and should be the new No. 1 option for Wilson. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon are expected to grab the other two starting spots and have a combined 23 career catches. Both players have potential to be difference makers in 2012. With Adams and Wright departing, tight end Chris Gragg should exceed his 41 catches from last season. Depth is a concern at receiver, as sophomore Marquel Wade and junior Maudrecus Humphrey are facing felony burglary charges and may not return in 2012.
With Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks departing, Alabama’s top returning wide receiver is Kenny Bell, who caught 17 passes for 255 yards last year. While the losses of Maze and Hanks are a concern, it’s possible the Crimson Tide will have more depth, speed and athleticism at receiver in 2012. Bell and Kevin Norwood took the early lead for playing time, but sophomores Christion Jones and DeAndrew White will be in the mix. Freshmen Marvin Shinn, Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams were all highly-touted recruits and will have a shot to crack the depth chart in the fall. Michael Williams is expected to start at tight end and should see his catches increase after nabbing 16 receptions last year. While this group has some youth, there’s also more potential than last season.
It took a few seasons but Rueben Randle finally developed into the elite talent many expected to see from the former five-star recruit. Replacing him won’t be easy, but LSU has plenty of options in 2012. In only one year, Odell Beckham Jr. proved to be one of the league’s top receivers and is a superstar in the making. He catches everything, can take the top off of any defense and plays a physical brand of football. Speedy counterpart Jarvis Landry played in every game as a freshman and will line-up opposite of Beckham. If Russell Shepard could consistently deliver on his big-play potential, Zach Mettenberger will have no trouble finding open Tigers. Chase Clement and Travis Dickson offer some upside at tight end and newcomer Avery Johnson, the younger brother of Patrick Peterson, is ready to contribute right away.
Gone is Michael Egnew, Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson, but 14 different Tigers return after catching a pass last fall. T.J. Moe is the team’s top target after catching 146 passes for 1,694 yards over the last two seasons. Marcus Lucas started three games and tied for the team lead with five scores and has loads of upside. L’Damian Washington can contribute big plays as well after averaging 18.0 yards per catch in 2011. Eric Waters, who dealt with a knee issue all spring, will attempt to continue the long line of tight end success at Mizzou. The real kicker will be the addition of impact freshman Dorial Green-Beckham come the fall. Affectionately known as DGB, the newcomer comes to college as the most prolific and talented American prep receiver in history. His 6-6, 220-pound frame might be the most talented in the SEC the second he steps on campus in Columbia.
Going into last season, the Commodores ranked near the bottom of the SEC in receiver rankings. This group turned out to be a surprise, as two players caught over 31 passes and helped the offense produce more big plays. Jordan Matthews led the way with 41 catches for 778 yards. He also averaged 19 yards per catch in 2011 and could contend for All-SEC honors this year. Chris Boyd was impressive as a redshirt freshman, averaging 15.3 yards per catch and recording eight touchdown receptions on 31 catches. Jonathan Krause and Josh Grady are expected to make significant contributions in 2012, while Austin Monahan and Dillon van der Wal will battle to replace tight end Brandon Barden.
With a switch to a pro-style attack and a quarterback question mark, the Tigers could rank near the bottom of the SEC in passing offense once again. There’s some talent returning in the receiving corps, but depth is a concern. Emory Blake led the team with 36 catches for 613 yards and will be the go-to option for quarterback Kiehl Frazier. Senior Travante Stallworth and sophomore Trovon Reed will likely be the No. 2 and No. 3 receivers, with Reed catching 21 receptions as a freshman last year. Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen only caught 24 passes in 2011, but made the most of those opportunities, as he took seven receptions for scores.
10. South Carolina
Alshon Jeffery is gone, but he failed to build on his huge sophomore season and was consistently out of shape last year. While no one is as talented as Jeffery, this group should be more balanced than last year. Ace Sanders is a versatile, speedy slot man who gets involved in a variety of ways. DeAngelo Smith will attempt to fill Jeffery’s shoes, with Damiere Byrd and Lamar Scruggs fighting for reps as well. The tight ends are in great shape as starters Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson, as well as upside freshman Jerell Adams, give the Gamecocks one of the best tight end groups in the SEC.
It just feels weird to write, but the Gators desperately need play-makers to develop and step forward in this department. Andre Debose, Frankie Hammond and Quinton Dunbar must deliver on their immense talent that led to lofty recruiting status for all three. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring but has yet to log an actual snap in game action. Solomon Patton and Ja’Juan Story will also get plenty of chances as new coordinator Brent Pease tries to find the right rotation. There are a lot of former four- and five-star prospects playing wideout for Florida, so someone has to emerge quickly if the offense is expected to improve. Tight end Jordan Reed is a stellar talent who needs to continue his growth and development.
12. Mississippi State
In order for the Bulldogs to finish higher than ninth in the SEC in scoring offense, the passing attack has to get better. New quarterback Tyler Russell is a better passer than the player he is replacing (Chris Relf), but the receivers also need to step up. Chad Bumphis has been solid, but has yet to become the difference maker most expected when he committed to Mississippi State. Seniors Arceto Clark and Chris Smith are expected to start, while redshirt freshman Joe Morrow is coming off a strong spring, and the coaching stuff thinks he can contribute significant snaps in 2012.
Finding personnel who can make big plays is a must for the Wildcats in 2012, considering they finished last in the nation in plays of 20 yards or more a year ago. Senior La’Rod King will be the top target and the most dependable one after a 40-598-7 line last fall. But names like sophomore Demarco Robinson and freshman Daryl Collins need to step into bigger roles if Joker Phillips’ offense is going to improve. Phillips also wants and expects to see more from his tight ends as Ronnie Shields and Anthony Kendrick provide some athleticism. Tyler Robinson will play plenty as well, but is closer to an offensive lineman than pass-catcher.
14. Ole Miss
The Rebels’ offense is littered with question marks, but there’s some upside with this unit. Donte Moncrief led the team in receptions (31), receiving yards (454) and touchdowns (4) as a freshman last year. Moncrief will be the No. 1 option once again, but the depth took a hit with Nickolas Brassell’s decision to transfer after spring practice. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year and should fill the No. 2 role. Converted quarterback Randall Mackey will be in the mix for significant playing time in 2012 as the No. 3 receiver. Jamal Mosley and Ferbia Allen combined for 18 receptions last year, but tight ends were not featured prominently in Hugh Freeze’s offense at Arkansas State last year.
Related SEC Content
2012 SEC Predictions
Athlon's 2012 All-SEC Team
SEC Heisman Contenders for 2012
College Football Realignment Winners and Losers
Introducing Texas A&M to the SEC
Introducing Missouri to the SEC
How Many Wins Does Derek Dooley Need to Return in 2013?