Usually, I have a team stat to look at, but not this week. No, we delve into the receiving corps and I only care about two things: production and talent, and in that order. I want guys who caught a lot of balls for a lot yards.
And the good news for the SEC is that a ton of talent returns this year. Every team returns at least one starter, and nine teams return a receiver with at least 500 yards receiving. Six teams return two such players, and two teams return three 500-yard receivers. Of the top ten last year in receptions in the SEC, six return to campus this year. That’s a ton.
1. Alabama: Last year, this unit was a big question mark, as the Tide had to rebuild from scratch. Consider it rebuilt. Bama returns three 500-yard receivers, including the SEC’s returning yardage leader in Calvin Ridley. OJ Howard is a monster at the tight end slot, and ArDarius Stewart merely had a 67-700-4 season. F’n loaded.
2. Texas A&M: Bama’s not the only team to return three 500-yard guys. Heck, Ricky Seals-Jones had the fewest receptions and yards of the trio, and he’s preseason third team All-SEC. Christian Kirk is the “other” returning 1000-yard receiver, and Josh Reynolds was knocking on the door at 907 yards. A dynamic, lethal unit.
3. Arkansas: Drew Morgan is a bad man, and was top ten last year ion both receptions and yards. The Hogs have depth and returning talent almost everywhere, and Jeremy Sprinkle finally gets his chance to shine as the starting tight end. The Hogs have a philosophy of physicality, and they execute it.
4. Ole Miss: Treadwell is gone, as is Cody Core. So what? Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore’ea Stringfellow each topped 500 yards, and Evan Engram was just 36 yard shy of the mark from the tight end slot. They no longer have that one stud, but this is still an extremely deep, talented unit. They will throw the ball around a ton, and put up big numbers.
5. LSU: Malachi Dupre is getting preseason plaudits, and he was tenth in receptions last season, but fans have expected more from him than just flashes of brilliance. Travin Dural is a decent deep threat, and he also gives LSU a 500-yard receiver. There’s not a whole lot of established depth behind them, but it does say a lot about the lauded freshmen that several receivers fled the program this offseason. Poor one out for Trey Quinn.
6. Mississippi St.: Fred Ross is a bad ass. 88-1007-5 is a line that speaks for itself. I’ve got nothing bad to say about Ross, so here’s the rub: Wilson has graduated and the depth is a bit concerning. One man does not make a great receiving corps, even when it’s Ross. LSU gets the slight edge because of their recruiting edge for their unestablished talent.
7. Kentucky: They return two receivers who cleared 600 yards last year (Baker and Johnson), and a third (Badet) only about 200 yards behind them. There’s not The Guy, but plenty of good, reliable options who have produced before.
8. Florida: Antonio Callaway flashed a lot of skill as a freshman, but he is currently suspended and a question to even play this year. If he doesn’t, the Gators have almost nothing in the cupboard, and will be relying on freshmen. But he’s back on campus and able to attend classes, so I’m rolling the dice that he’ll play.
9. Vanderbilt: Trent Sherfield had a pretty good 51-659-3 line. Only one other returning receiver had 200 yards. It could be a long year. Again.
10. Tennessee: They return a bunch of starters, all of whom who were wholly unproductive last season. Malone and Smith bump up the charts to WR1 and WR2, and throw in Ethan Wolf as returning starter at TE. Those three, combined, had less catches (77 to 89) and fewer yards (1,013 to 1,045) and even less touchdowns (6 to 7) than Calvin Ridley. Yes, Bama’s top receiver outperformed the Vols’ top trio all by himself.
11. Georgia: The Dawgs are going through a near total rebuild of their receiving corps. Outside of Terry Godwin, Sony Michel is by far the team’s most productive returning receiver, and he’s a running back.
12. Missouri: Pretty much the same situation as Tennessee, only with less impressive talent.
13. Auburn: What the hell is going on the Plains? Jason Smith is the leading returnee with a line of 13-200-2. This team needs a huge talent infusion at receiver, which seems odd to say about an Auburn team.
14. South Carolina: Pharoh Cooper is gone, and Jerell Adams adds to damage by vacating the tight end position. What’s left is Deebo Samuel, who caught 12 balls for 161 yards. That is what a truly bare cupboard looks like.
There’s a ton of talent here, especially in the top half, which is probably why quarterback won’t be the disaster in the league that it appears to be right now.
1. Alabama: So much back, and they replaced a reliable slot guy in Richard Mulaney with Gehrig Dieter, who only caught 94 passes for over 1,000 yards last season at Bowling Green. One consistent theme with Lane Kiffin offenses is they tend to really focus on one playmaker and funnel things through them. That was Derrick Henry last year, but it’s been receivers in the past like Amari Cooper or Marqis Lee at USC. Calvin Ridley could be in for that type of role this season.
2. Texas A&M: Christian Kirk may be the most versatile returning receiver in the league and he’s joined by an experienced group that have proven they can produce.
3. Ole Miss: Losing Laquon Treadwell may hurt, because he was so good, and so safe, down the field. Kelly could just heave it knowing Treadwell would come down with it. There isn’t an obvious replacement, although Evan Engram could be one heck of a matchup problem from the tight end spot – for as much as Ole Miss uses him there. Adeboyejo and Stringfellow are veteran players that should be fine, and hey there’s a five-star somewhere around there in DaMarkus Lodge.
4. Arkansas: I may be underrating this group, because you have Morgan, Sprinkle, Reed and Cornelius all back, plus Keon Hatcher coming off injury. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if, even with a new QB, Arkansas remains a very good passing team. Maybe better than they are at running the ball.
5. LSU: The #narrative when it comes to LSU is always about wasted talent here, but this is a group that hasn’t held up their end of the bargain at times. But that started to change towards the end of the season, and we saw that progress continue through the spring. I expect a nice step forward.
6. Mississippi St.: Fred Ross was really good last year, but he’s kind of it without De’Runya Wilson around. That’s still more than the teams below them return, however.
7. Florida: Why has it been so long since a Florida receiving corps scared us? Antonio Callaway is a heckuva multi-purpose threat, and DeAndre Goolsby has some talent at tight end. The rest? They have something to prove.
8. Tennessee: The returning production isn’t overly prolific, but this is another group that could take a step forward with an improving QB.
9. Kentucky: There’s some experience here, but nobody that’s particularly scary, and that’s not good in a spread offense.
10. Vanderbilt: They at least return their No. 1 guy in Trent Sherfield.
11. Georgia: Starting from scratch. Good thing Georgia has a veteran quarterba…oh yeah…they’re going to start Jacob Eason.
12. Missouri: This offense is in desperate need of some playmakers.
13. Auburn: Wasn’t that impressive of a group last year without Duke Williams, and well…they’re all gone.
14. South Carolina: Well, we know Will Muschamp can recruit, and he’s going to have a lot of playing time to offer. But that won’t help them this season.
1. Alabama: They have the best wide receiver in the conference in Calvin Ridley, which makes sense seeing as he's 21 years old. Their next two leading receivers in terms if yards last year, Ardarius Stewart and OJ Howard, both return. They're awesome
2. Texas A&M: They return their top 3 WR's from last year and their top two - Christian Kirk and Josh Reynolds - combined for nearly 2,000 yards. This is one of the few areas the Aggies are great at, but they're damn good at it.
3. Arkansas: Drew Morgan was spectacular in first real year getting big playing time and so was Dominique Reed. Losing Hunter Henry hurts and we'll see how they adapt without him, but they've got other solid guys here.
4. LSU: Homer pick? A bit. But LSU brings back their top two receivers and top three in yards from last year, something a lot of the teams I'll rank behind them can't say. And there's just so much talent here, perhaps the most in the SEC. I think it's breaking through.
5. Mississippi St.: Fred Ross almost puts them here by himself, because he is a monster. 88/1007/5 is terrific. De'Runnya Wilson is gone, but Fred Brown and Donald Gray were both solid as 3rd and 4th options. But it's Ross that puts them in the top 5.
6. Ole Miss: Rebs fans are gonna give me shtick for this, but think of this way. Their two best receivers are gone, including probably the best in the country. Their top 3 returning receivers in yards and catches? 112 catches, 1,571 yards. State's? 136 catches, 1,805 yards. This is a solid unit, but when you lose your top two, you take a hit.
7. Kentucky: Very solid unit. Not super talented, but Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker were both very reliable and put up good #'s. If someone can get them the ball, they'll do very well
8. Florida: Antonio Callaway and Demarcus Robinson are both very solid and after that there's nothing. Where's the talent? That's the big thing here. This is Florida, recruiting from a state with explosive athletes in droves ...and I just don't see the talent.
9. Vanderbilt: Like pretty much everything Vandy, it ranges from fine to dear god what happened here.
10. Tennessee: I think the Vols could break into a Top 3 in the SEC with Bama and LSU, but they're gonna need a lot more from their wide receivers. It's funny how Tennessee has basically the same questions as LSU on offense and you don't really hear much about them. But yeah, the most catches by a WR were 38, most yards 409. Yikes.
11. Georgia: Malcolm Mitchell has finally left after a decade in school and there's pretty much no one left. Only reason they're higher than anyone below them is they have more talented.
12. South Carolina: Spurrier really left them with absolutely nothing
13. Auburn: The GusBus will keep rolling and rolling....probably downhill
14. Missouri: It's Mizzou on offense. It sucks.
1. Texas A&M: Christin Kirk was quietly the best freshman WR in the conference last season, despite all the Calvin Ridley hype. Here's why I give A&M the nod... not only do they return all that production, they return production despite having booty QB play and no running game. To me, this notches the group up over...
2. Bama: You can't really ding them much. Ridley/OJ Howard should be the best 1/2 punch in the conference, if Lane Kiffin could ever figure out how to feature a TE in his offense.
3. Arkansas: Everyone thinks Arkansas is a big, physical, smash mouth running team, but they return about 2,000 receiving yards this season. Wouldn't surprise me at all to see them go pass heavy. Their personnel says they should. I'm also a big fan of Jeremy Sprinkle.
4. Ole Miss: A pass heavy team that lost their main target. I could see the passing offense regressing, but I'm too much of a believer in Damarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson for that to come to fruition. Throw in Evan Engram, Adeboyejo, and a veteran QB and this should be one of the top passing offenses in the conference this season.
5. Kentucky: Ahh the all underrated unit. In a spread it out attack, I'm okay with a dispersal of stats across a group of guys. Kentucky is where the Air Raid started for all intents and purposes, so why not return to the roots? No, the talent level is not there, but the production is.
6. LSU: Honestly tempted to put them lower to send a "message." I know nothing I say matters, though, so here we are. Dupre is a star that hasn't become one... yet. Dural is a one note player, so I'm not particularly keen on him. But really this is all just talent. Tyron Johnson. Derrick Dillon. Stephen Sullivan. Dee Anderson. Jamal Pettigrew. Jacory Washington. Somethings got to give if they can't make it work this year.
7. Mississippi St.: Almost put them ahead of LSU. Fred Ross is one of the best players in the conference. The rest are more unknown, as is whether or not Ross can get it done without De'Runnya, but I think it's easy to put them ahead of the rest.
8. Georgia: This is where I go straight talent rankings. Terry Godwin is the type of player that can make a bad QB look decent and UGA is gonna need a lot of that this year.
9. Tennessee: Let's put it this way, LSU's top two receivers both performed vastly better than Tennessee's top WR from 2015. Mind you, the media are super keen on Tennessee making the jump to national relevance largely because of Josh Dobbs. But yeah, Brandon Harris is a problem for LSU. /eyeroll Josh Malone is fine.
10. Florida: That moment when you look up at Florida's depth chart and realize you haven't been competing against them for recruits and that's exactly why Jim McElwain is closer to being fired than he is to returning UF to greatness, no matter how excited they got about drunk stumbling into the SEC Championship last year.
11. Vanderbilt: They aren't completely horrendous!
12. Auburn: Dear God even I can't buy into this unit, Gus.
13. Missouri: The good thing is, they can probably win the SEC East without scoring an offensive touchdown.
14. South Carolina: See, people are so down on this unit, but when South Carolina hired Muschamp, he brought along notable offensive guru Kurt Roper. They did amazing things with the Florida offense, so I suspect this to go no differently.
Honestly, there’s not a whole lot of disagreement here. No one cast a single vote for a team that was more than two ordinals off from the final rank, and even that was fairly rare. I’m with Paul on wanting to ding LSU further down the rankings, but I couldn’t bring myself to vote for State’s one-man unit or Kentucky’s depth without a high end over LSU. But those three were pretty interchangeable in the rankings.
Despite our near total agreement, we never actually fully agreed on a single ranking. Never did a team sweep one of the ranks, as there was always one holdout. But again, those differences were off by one ordinal most of the time. My only complaint is that we put Tennessee ahead of Vanderbilt in a narrow vote, and I was pulling for the Dores. Oh well.
Agreement, but lots of stratification. The tiers are fairly clearly defined. No one cracks the top two, then the next two, then LSU’s upper middle class tier. We shrugged our shoulders on Florida, and then had two different groupings of three to round out the conference. Georgia seems the prime contender for promotion.
2. Texas A&M
4. Ole Miss
6. Mississippi St.
14. South Carolina