We turn this week, a bit delayed as this should have been last week, to the receiving corps. A lot of talent is leaving the conference this offseason, so we could have a real shakeup at this position. We don’t much agree on how to deal with it.
No need to get fancy here, as I look at who caught a bunch of balls for a lot yards. The only advanced stat I’ll use is Catch Rate of the team’s top returning receivers. Of the top 25 receivers in the SEC by yards/game, just over half return. So it’s a solid group, though not quite superlative.
1. South Carolina
Deebo Samuel is second among returning SEC receivers in yards/game, and he boasts an outstanding 71.1% catch rate. The Gamecocks also return two other players in the top 25 in receiving last season. They return depth and high end production.
J’Mon Moore was the SEC’s leading receiver last season, and he returns alongside his partner, Dimetrios Mason. Probably the best tandem in the SEC right now, though there’s not much around them.
3. Ole Miss
They return nearly all of their wideouts, but will miss the security blanket of TE Evan Engram. Damore’ea Stringfellow is one of the SEC’s top returnees at the position, and he’ll have trouble holding off Van Jefferson.
They lose ArDarius Stewart and OJ Howard, but won’t likely miss a beat. Calvin Ridley can carry the load until they figure out which five star recruit can step up to be the #2 receiver.
5. Texas A&M
No longer have quite the embarrassment of riches at the position now that Reynolds and Seals-Jones are gone, but Christian Kirk is still a monster.
Antonio Callaway and not much else that really impresses me. Still, that’s a pretty good one thing to have.
Not much production last year and Isaiah McKenzie is gone, but they return nearly the entire depth chart other than that. A unit ready to explode and rocket up the rankings.
The Wildcats also return nearly the entire depth chart at both receiver and tight end, save Jeff Badet, who saw Garrett Johnson move past him in the pecking order anyway.
Jauan Jennings was a productive No. 2 last season, just cracking the top 25 in yards/game. He needs to shoulder a bigger load this year, along with returning TE Ethan Wolf.
Tons of young talent that has done precisely nothing at this level. There’s some excitement about DJ Chark, but he had less than 500 receiving yards last season. He needs to double his production to be a true No. 1.
11. Mississippi St.
Donald Gray had a nice 41-709-5 line last year, but he’s got a below average catch rate and little help on the roster.
They also have a lot of talent that has not translated into any production, which is even less forgivable in a wide open offense like Auburn’s. A big bucket of unknown.
A productive passing offense with a solid receiving corps that was absolutely gutted by graduation. Starting almost from scratch.
Though it ranks last, this is a pretty good unit. There’s not much of a top end, but Vandy returns three seniors who all gained between 450-500 yards last year. They combined for one touchdown, which has to improve.
1. Ole Miss
Yes, still. I think that much of AJ Brown and Van Jefferson. The Rebels have spent well and really loaded up at talent here. DK Metcalf already has a spot on Bruce Feldman's freaks list, and there's a spare five-star hanging around in DaMarkus Lodge.
Calvin Ridley should be in his third NFL season, basically. Yes, they're replacing two big pieces, but at this point they have no excuse for not having the next group ready to step in.
3 Missouri. Probably the big breakout group in the league. J'Mon Moore is already pretty good, and the next two guys are solid contributors whose numbers should rise as Drew Lock improves.
4. Texas A&M
Christian Kirk is the best receiver in the conference, and that covers for a lot. The other receivers will at least put up numbers, even if the A&M offense makes them a bit hollow at times.
5. South Carolina
Another unit that returns a bunch of guys that were more productive than you think on an offense that didn't do much last season.
I've seen Florida get a lot of pub for this spot, and I found it a little odd at first given how pedestrian the Gator offense has been. But when you look closer, there are a lot of solid, if unspectacular players here like Brandon Powell and tight ends DeAndre Goolsby and C'yontai Lewis. And of course, one of the top big-play weapons in the league in Antonio Callaway.
Okay, bit of a homer pick here, and I understand how much this unit has to prove, but there's too much talent here to think a few quality targets won't emerge. DJ Chark will get heavy use in both the pass and running game, and the tight ends should have a new lease on life with Foster Moreau in the lead.
Okay, sooner or later these recruits have to show up. Right? Isaac Nauta will be one of the best receiving tight ends in the league.
A few returnees that have been around the block. Nobody that wows you.
10. Mississippi St.
Fred Ross got heavy use last season. Any time State really needed a play, they ran a concept designed to get him the ball. Without him, can Donald Gray step up?
There's nobody here that really scares you, and it's the one hole in the Jarrett Stidham hype.
Lost some big-time producers. There's JUCO talent stepping in, which should function well for Austin Allen.
There are players back, just none that are all that impressive.
Somebody has to catch passes and Vandy has all of those guys back.
Here is where I tap dance. The conference returns a bunch of guys and a couple of studs limited by their QBs or offenses. So I'm gonna lean right on in to my talent eval system and snooze a bit on stats, especially when it comes to one high volume passing offense in particular...
1. Texas A&M
Don't let Kirk's high catch volume deceive you into thinking his 11 something YPC is indicative of his ability. Trevor Knight didn't really have the tools to take advantage of Kirk and I'm not sure Hubenak does either. He's explosive as all get out and should be an All-American. But what solidifies this group for me is Jhamon Ausbon lining up across from him. I was keen on Ausbon being an early contributor at LSU and now playing in an offense that has a feature target playing opposite of him should allow him to chew up yards in the middle of the field and use his big body. Freshman All-American season could be coming.
Oh for god's sake I went full homer. Never go full homer. Look, screw off with all your production crap. Auburn is the only team that threw the ball fewer times than LSU last season as we watched the ruins of Cam Cameron's offense have some after life under Steve Ensminger. No, I don't have that much faith in Etling, but Chark is stud. Matt Canada should be able to get production out of Drake Davis, Dee Anderson and Stephen Sullivan, along with an experienced guy like Foster Moreau and John David Moore who should be more of an HBack this season. All I'm saying is LSU has all the pieces of a competent passing game.
Hard for me to get too excited here, but I do still like Godwin, Riley Ridley is solid and Nauta should have a huge season. Then you've got guys like Chigbu and Holloman to fill out your depth chart. Eason taking steps forward should bring this group up if Georgia can block.
4. Ole Miss
They lose three of their best four but there's still enough here to make you go hmmmm. Van Jefferson is the talent I thought DaMarkus Lodge would be. Brown is a solid No. 2. This team is gonna chuck it all over the field, which means they will probably have stats.
I sort of can't believe I'm doing this, but here we are. Calloway is a really good player. Brandon Powell is at least competent as a number 2, but I really like Tyrie Cleveland. Deandre Goolsby gives them a versatile TE threat that should help young/bad QBs. But yeah... not sure anyone can get these guys the ball.
This unit would be higher if Ardarius Stewart didn't foolishly declare. I do think Calvin Ridley has been exposed a bit as a solid short area receiver without downfield skills. But maybe he's limited by Hurts’ lack of downfield passing ability too. After Ridley, you are looking at some no name TEs, a former 5-star who has never done much and a guy LSU only recruited to try and get his best buddy LT. This is the biggest, perhaps only, failure of the Alabama recruiting machine.
7. South Carolina
I like Bentley enough and I think Deebo Samuel is pretty good. This is a solid, middle of the pack group.
I guess I can't penalize volume too highly in this porous group. Moore's stats look great on paper, but he had 1 catch for 16 yards vs. LSU and 1 catch for 15 yards vs. UF. He butters his numbers by piling on to lesser opponents in a high volume passing offense. Meh worthy.
Stidham takes this group up several tiers. Kyle Davis will have a breakout season. He's a former top 100 recruit. Sure he only had 12 catches last year, but 9 of them were for 20+ yards. Quality QB and good system will drive this group up. Nate Craig-Myers should be a bigger factor.
Their best WR graduated and transferred to Oklahoma. This is Kentucky football.
11. Mississippi State
Major steps back without Fred Ross. Though they always seem to have a new guy no one has ever heard of showing up and producing. All hail Dan Mullen, the league's 2nd best coach.
Devwah Whaley is about to swallow 400 miserable carries.
Jauan Jennings is legitimately good. Naturally, Tennessee will do nothing with him.
Not known for their aerospatial capabilities.
1. Ole Miss
The Rebels have outdone themselves in loading up on solid football players at this position. Brown, Metcalf and Jefferson should all have standout seasons. And if one of them fails to rise to the occasion, there's more talent behind them with just as much upside.
Paul isn't the only homer here. We've got a ridiculous amount of potential with this unit — and if you've kept up with my analysis on a regular basis - you know I'm one to buy into raw potential. I firmly believe this will be D.J. Chark's breakout year, and our younger guys will have some really bright spots as well. If all goes as planned, there's a major passing game in the works here.
A lot of players due for big seasons here. If they all come up with just that, this team's passing game is going to be on fire. J'Mon Moore will be at the top of this list.
This unit was not the most productive last year, plus they lost McKenzie. Expect Nauta to show up for the Dawgs in a big way, though. Ridley and Godwin should help get things going as well. Given that Eason is able to live up to the hype that surrounded him, Georgia has the ability to do well in the passing game.
5. Texas A&M
The Aggies have the best receiver in the SEC with Christian Kirk. Ausbon should do big things for the offense this year as well. There's a lot to be excited about in College Station, but also some question marks beyond these two guys.
The Tide will be without some of their vital pieces this season, but we all know Bama has no issue with replacing lost talent. Calvin Ridley is beyond good enough to carry the weight until some others are able to step it up to the next level.
7. South Carolina
This a reliable Gamecocks group, but no one really jumps out at you. If there's going to be anyone who manages to have a phenomenal season, it'll be Samuel.
The Gators have some good athletes to work with here, but it remains a question as to just how much they'll get the ball. Antonio Calloway will undoubtedly be their biggest weapon, and could provide a true offensive threat.
The Vols have a few solid players here, with Jauan Jennings being particularly notable. Depending on how much he's utilized will determine just how much of a force he's allowed to be.
The Wildcats lost their standout WR, and their returners don't exactly turn any heads.
The superior talent of Jared Stidham alone takes this group to a new level. So good quarterback play will help them a lot here. That will be crucial, considering no one receiver or tight end in particular has truly stood out.
The Razorbacks will enter this season with none of their major playmakers at these positions. They practically are forced to start over, so we'll have to wait and see just how things shake out with the new guys on the block.
13. Mississippi St.
Fred Ross saw a lot of action last year, and was a key part of this offense. But besides him, who else do the Bulldogs really have to rely on?
I hate to put Vandy at the bottom of the list for practically everything, but there's just nothing impressive here. It looks like some of the team's more experienced players made a little progress last year, but they're a far cry from being anything even remotely close to a threat.
See, NOW we’re getting somewhere (or nowhere). My more stats-based approach collided with Paul’s talent evaluation, and we ended up with near total chaos. I did like that Billy thought he was going homer on LSU, only to see both Paul and Crissy one-up on that front. So, I guess I’m the only skeptic on LSU’s unproven wide receivers.
About the only thing we agreed on near the top of the rankings was that Ole Miss is near the top and to a lesser extent, so is Texas A&M. We start have our first major dissension in the ranks once we got to Missouri, and no one agrees with me about South Carolina.
A lot of this is a function of the fact not much separates the units. OK, order is restored once we get to the bottom of the rankings (and a clean sweep for Vandy!), but there aren’t any standout units towering over the conference. There’s a whole lot of pretty good here, and not a whole lot of great.
1. Ole Miss
2. Texas A&M
5. South Carolina
12. Mississippi State