Breaking Down the SEC's Best WR Position Battles This Spring
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Last week, we broke down the top quarterback and running back battles this spring in the SEC. Today, it's time to look outside and take a look at some of the best wide receiver battles around the South this spring.
Teams like Alabama and Georgia are relatively set at the position, with several key pieces battling for position. Meanwhile, Texas A&M will wait for a laundry list of wide receivers to arrive on campus this summer before the real battle begins with incumbent star Mike Evans.
Several teams have lost a ton of star power at the wide receiver spot and are hoping the depth chart sorts itself out this spring.
What are the top wide receiver battles? Our top six are in this slideshow.
6. South Carolina Gamecocks
South Carolina WR Shaq Roland
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
Ace Sanders' departure from Columbia left a gaping hole for head coach Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina offense.
Replacing Sanders' production will be tough, but the return of leading receiver Bruce Ellington will go a long way towards solidifying that wide receiver position. Ellington caught 40 passes for 600 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago, providing a reliable target for quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson.
Damiere Byrd is another guy who could become more of a factor in the offense in 2013. Byrd caught 14 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. Like Sanders, the 5'9", 168-pounder can make an impact in a variety of ways, and he has already proven that he can be a deep threat.
The wild card could be 6'1", 173-pound rising sophomore Shaq Roland. The former "Mr. Football" in the state of South Carolina came to Columbia with a ton of hype, but didn't see the field as much as expected during his freshman campaign. He has the talent to be a star in the SEC, but needs to earn the chance first.
Keep an eye on K.J. Brent, Shamier Jeffery, Kwinton Smith and Jody Fuller to make some noise as well.
Post-Spring Prediction: Ellington is a little busy playing basketball at the moment, so expect to hear a lot from Roland.
5. Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas WR Mekale McKay
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Arkansas only lost one of its top five wide receivers from a year ago, but it's a big one: superstar Cobi Hamilton. Hamilton had 90 catches last season, and that production will be hard to replace.
The good thing for Arkansas is that it's replacing it with somewhat familiar names.
Seniors Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton return, along with Arkansas' second-leading receiver from last season, rising sophomore Mekale McKay.
McKay caught 21 passes for 317 yards a year ago, showing flashes of brilliance in the process. Horton and Herndon are both veterans who have also proven to be very reliable targets during their respective careers.
Behind them, Keon Hatcher and Keante Minor will push for playing time.
The holes first-year head coach Bret Bielema needs to fill won't be as intriguing as watching how the three front-runners sort themselves out will be.
Post-Spring Prediction: McKay, Herndon and Horton will solidify their places atop the depth chart.
4. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi State WR Robert Johnson
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
While Tennessee gets most of the attention for losing so much at wide receiver, Mississippi State finds itself in a very similar position.
The Bulldogs are losing their top three receivers from a year ago: Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith and Arceto Clark. The trio accounted for 142 receptions a year ago, which was 57 percent of Mississippi State's receptions for the season.
That depth chart needs to sort itself out this spring, and juniors Robert Johnson and Jameon Lewis will be a big part of that puzzle.
The 6'2", 220-pound Johnson caught 17 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns a year ago. He needs to take on more of a leadership role this season. Lewis, meanwhile, is a 5'9", 185-pounder with electric moves, which should play well in head coach Dan Mullen's system.
Joe Morrow, a 6'4", 205-pound rising sophomore has the size to be a star, but will need to step up this spring.
The Bulldogs signed six wide receivers in the class of 2013, but only one of those players (Jeremey Chappelle) will go through spring practice.
Post-Spring Prediction: Very much a work in progress.
3. Auburn Tigers
Auburn WR Trovon Reed
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Auburn didn't exactly have the most prolific passing attack in 2012. And in addition to changing schemes, the Tigers also lost the ultra-reliable Emory Blake.
But while Auburn may be searching for answers in the passing game, it will be doing so with a talented group that, for the most part, was recruited for first-year head coach Gus Malzahn's system.
Leading that charge will be rising junior Trovon Reed. The 6'0", 190-pound rising junior came to the Plains with boatloads of recruiting buzz. But injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from living up to the hype. With that said, Reed can be a deep threat or a weapon in space, which makes him a valuable asset in Malzahn's system.
Quan Bray is a lot like Reed, which will give Malzahn options. At 5'10", 185, Bray is quick and has the speed to be a major weapon in space.
Behind Reed, Sammie Coates needs to step up and become a star in the offense. The 6'2", 200-pounder can get up over opposing defensive backs and has good speed to go along with it. Ricardo Louis and Jaylon Denson could also get in the mix.
Post-Spring Prediction: Work in progress, but Reed needs to show that he can be the guy.
2. Florida Gators
Florida WR Andre Debose
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Remember when Andre Debose set foot on campus in Gainesville with the designation of being "the next Percy Harvin?" Yeah, that hasn't happened yet—and time is running out.
Florida has been desperately searching for an impact player at the wide receiver position for quite some time, which is a big reason why the passing game was so inept in 2012.
Now a senior, Debose will be one of four healthy scholarship wide receivers to go through spring practice, along with Quinton Dunbar, Latroy Pittman and early enrollee Demarcus Robinson, according to 247Sports.com. Cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy will likely join the competition as well, but whether that's on a full-time basis or not remains to be seen.
Dunbar had the most productive 2012 campaign, catching 36 passes for 383 yards and four touchdowns. But the inexperience at wide receiver behind him is mind-boggling. You could count do-everything player Trey Burton into the mix, but his role varies so much that he's in a class all by himself.
Someone needs to step up at wide receiver if Florida is to take that next step and win the SEC East.
Post-Spring Prediction: Dunbar will have a slight edge to be the No. 1, but the real battle will start this summer.
1. Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee WR Alton "Pig" Howard
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Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter both left Tennessee early to take their shots at the NFL, and both performed well at the NFL Scouting Combine over the weekend. Throw former Vol Da'Rick Rogers into the mix, and Vol fans are left wondering what might have been had the three been able to play through their senior seasons on Rocky Top.
But what's done is done, and while the future may be bright now that first-year head coach Butch Jones has taken over, the wide receiver position is very much a question mark.
Junior Vincent Dallas, sophomore Alton "Pig" Howard, junior Jacob Carter and freshman Paul Harris will all have the chance to make an impression on the new coaching staff this spring.
Of the group, Dallas is the most experienced. The 5'11", 187-pounder caught nine passes for 149 yards and one touchdown last season. He can be either a deep threat or a dynamic playmaker in space.
At 5'8", 185, Howard is a perfect fit to be a slot receiver in an offense that loves to spread the ball around. He was banged up a bit last season, but can be a star when healthy.
Harris could be the sleeper. The 6'4", 195-pounder signed in 2013 and enrolled early, which will be incredibly beneficial as he looks to secure a spot in the lineup.
Post-Spring Prediction: Dallas and Howard will be the front-runners, but MarQuez North will have something for each of them this summer.