College Football 2012: Ranking the Top 5 Wide Receiver Units in the Nation
As the 2012 college football season nears, it's time to rank the five teams with the best receiving corps in the nation.
Everyone knows about top individual wideout prospects such as USC's Robert Woods, Cal's Keenan Allen and Washington State's Marquess Wilson. But unless you have a dominant rushing attack, just one good receiver won't cut it in this day and age.
Here is a breakdown of several of the nation's top corps of wide receivers heading into 2012. Find out which teams have the best depth, production and potential.
Teams to Watch
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Florida State: Rashad Greene and Rodney Smith could put up big numbers in 2012, while Kenny Shaw could be a factor if he gets fully healthy.
Washington State: Marquess Wilson alone—along with Jeff Tuel at quarterback—makes this a group to watch.
California: The Bears have a top-flight receiver in Keenan Allen but will need an unknown to step up and complement him.
Georgia: The Dawgs have a potentially dangerous duo in Tavarres King and Michael Bennett. King had a monster game against Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.
Texas Tech: Eric Ward leads this year's version of the Red Raiders' always competitive receiving corps.
Missouri: With proven producers in T.J. Moe, Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington and the nation's top incoming recruit in Dorial Green-Beckham, the Tigers can't be overlooked.
Texas: Perhaps this will be the year that Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley and Marquise Goodwin come into their own as college receivers.
Nebraska: With Kenny Bell, Jamal Turner, Quincy Enunwa, Taariq Allen and record-setting newcomer Jordan Westerkamp in the fold, this group is low on experience and production but high on potential.
Wisconsin: Jared Abbrederis returns as the team's leading receiver. Someone must step up next to him.
Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is a potential stud, but who will step up opposite him for star quarterback Tyler Wilson?
Just Missed the Cut
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I'm guessing I'll get an earful for leaving the Sooners out of the top five, but the situation with Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks held me back.
Kenny Stills is an uber-talented wideout who notched 849 yards and eight touchdowns despite playing behind Ryan Broyles, but he is largely alone in the production department if Reynolds and Franks aren't reinstated after being kicked off the team.
This group still has a ton of talent, but with Reynolds and Franks still absent from the team roster, this group is too unproven to land a spot in the top five.
2. Texas A&M
The Aggies have a legitimate early-round draft prospect in Ryan Swope, who piled up 89 catches for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns, and a solid No. 2 guy in Uzoma Nwachukwu.
However, there are no other proven names on the roster, and I'm not sure the passing game will be consistent enough to give these guys a chance to stand out without Ryan Tannehill at quarterback.
5. West Virginia
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West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is a prolific passer who has gotten a lot of buzz this offseason, but a big part of his success last year is credited to receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
Bailey and Austin combined for a whopping 173 catches that totaled over 2,400 yards and 20 touchdowns.
The Mountaineers have the luxury of getting both back this season, so they will again be deadly through the air and, along with the relatively unknown Ivan McCartney and other contributors, will be one of the nation's top receiving corps.
The only knock on Bailey and Austin in particular is their diminutive sizes. Both stand well short of six feet and tip the scales at no more than 190 pounds. Still, that shouldn't be a concern until the NFL comes calling; their speed more than makes up for it anyway.
In short, Big 12 secondaries should be afraid of these newcomers.
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What's amazing is that Baylor could be in consideration for this list at all; what's even more incredible is that the Bears would make this list after losing their star quarterback and top receiver, both first-round NFL draft picks.
Nevertheless, the trio of Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese and Lanear Sampson should help quarterback Nick Florence make this one of the most formidable passing games in the country.
Williams (59 catches, 957 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Reese (51, 877, 7) were highly productive last season despite being overshadowed by Kendall Wright, and Sampson chipped in with a respectable 42 grabs for 572 yards and three touchdowns as the fourth option.
After watching Florence play as a freshman, I'm convinced he can do some damage as Robert Griffin III's replacement—especially with this kind of talent at receiver.
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The first thing that came to my mind when I stepped back and reviewed my preparation for this piece was, "How did Tennessee fall all the way to No. 3?"
Analysts can't seem to agree on which Volunteer receiver, Da'Rick Rogers or Justin Hunter, is the better NFL prospect, but the one thing they can agree on is that both belong comfortably within the first two rounds of the draft.
Rogers took over as the team's top receiver when Hunter went down with an injury after Week 2, but up to that point both players were ultra-productive.
Rogers completed a full season with 67 receptions for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns, while Hunter had an incredible 16 receptions for 302 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games before going down with a torn ACL against Florida.
Both Rogers (6'3", 215 pounds) and Hunter (6'4", 200) have outstanding size for wideouts and together form one of the top receiver tandems in all of football. These two, along with rising quarterback Tyler Bray, will carry this group a long way.
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The Clemson Tigers were one of last season's surprise teams, and a big portion of the credit has to go to wideouts Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins.
It would be good for depth if a third receiver stepped up and provided some significant complementary production, but as long as Watkins and Hopkins remain healthy, this will be an elite unit regardless.
Watkins was one of the breakout stars of the year in 2011, burning secondaries up and down the field to the tune of 82 catches, 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. Hopkins simply went along for the ride, taking advantage of the attention Watkins drew and snatching 72 passes of his own for 978 yards and five touchdowns.
Based on what he has to work with at receiver in 2012, you have to think quarterback Tajh Boyd is chomping at the bit in anticipation of the upcoming season.
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At last, a look at why the elite tandems produced by Tennessee and Clemson came in just third and second, respectively.
To be frank, the USC Trojans return an embarrassing amount of talent, much of which can be found in the receiving corps.
Robert Woods is arguably the top returning wide receiver prospect in the nation, and with good reason. The 6'1", 180-pounder caught an eye-popping 111 receptions from fellow top prospect Matt Barkley, which went for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Despite that amazing production, there was hardly a drop-off in talent on the other side, where Marqise Lee caught 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Trojans have little proven talent beyond those two (as if they needed any more), but they are stacked with unproven talent. If anyone separates himself from the pack and emerges as a reliable third target, this receiving corps will be the most fearsome college football has to offer.