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12 College WRs Who Are Impossible to Cover

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2013

12 College WRs Who Are Impossible to Cover

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    Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

    Passing numbers are up throughout college football, and for that, credit has logically been showered on the guys throwing the football.

    But what about the players they're throwing it to?

    Even the best quarterbacks are nothing without a great group of wide receivers, something that's become increasingly evident over the years. A guy who can beat coverage consistently is the best home-run threat and safety valve a passer can enjoy.

    This year—a season dominated by offense—college football is littered with an embarrassment of blue-chip receivers of all shapes and sizes.

    No one is actually impossible to cover. But these guys come pretty darn close.

Honorable Mentions

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    DeVante Parker (Louisville) is the favorite option of Teddy Bridgewater, and he already has a few highlight-reel catches this season. Even when he's covered like glue, the combination of Bridgewater's accuracy and Parker's in-air ball adjustments make him a threat to come down with the ball.

     

    Jaelen Strong (Arizona State) has an NFL body, standing 6'4'', and might adjust to the ball better than any other player in America. He's opened scouts eyes with his strong play this season.

     

    Stefon Diggs (Maryland) struggled along with the rest of his team on Saturday against Florida State, but that shouldn't devalue his explosive ability to get open. As a true freshman last year, despite playing half the season with a backup linebacker at QB, he finished with 848 receiving yards.

     

    Allen Robinson (Penn State) gets lost in the shuffle since Penn State is struggling and his quarterback is a true freshman. But anyone who's watched him shred through secondaries knows that he belongs on (or at least near) this list.

     

    Devin Street and Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh) are the best mentor-mentee duo in the country. Street, a senior, has helped teach the ropes to Boyd, a talented freshman. They rank 16th and 17th nationally in receiving yards per game, respectively.

Mike Evans, Texas A&M

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Mike Evans is the closest thing we've seen to Calvin Johnson since Megatron himself was starring for Georgia Tech.

    Standing 6'5'', Evans can go up and pluck jump balls out of mid-air with relative ease. That downfield prowess has helped him average 24.7 yards per catch this season, more than any other receiver with 25-plus receptions. 

    He doesn't have the same, top-end speed (Johnson ran a 4.35 40 at his combine), but Evans has more than enough to be a home-run threat. Did you see the 95-yard touchdown against Alabama?

    Johnny Manziel has gotten better—much better—at standing in the pocket and fitting the ball in tight windows. But when a guy has Evans' catch radius, those improvements hardly even matter. 

Brandin Cooks, Oregon State

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Brandin Cooks leads the nation with 52 receptions, 807 yards and nine touchdown catches. He's on pace to finish with a stat-line of 125-1,937-25, respectively.

    That's hard to ignore.

    Those numbers are inflated, slightly, because Oregon State's defense is so bad. The Beavers have had to pass for 60 minutes in almost ever game, giving Cooks extra opportunity to rack up numbers.

    But his production has still been impossible to ignore. After playing second fiddle to Markus Wheaton last year—and playing it quite well—he has embraced the role of WR1 and turned into a future All-American.

    His combination of quickness and route-running is deadly. 

Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    Zach Mettenberger's breakout season has been attributed, first and foremost, to mechanical improvement, at which point most people mention offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and his pro-style, vertical scheme.

    But anyone with eyes can see the real reason for Mettenberger's stats: He's playing with two of the 15 best receivers in America.

    Beckham leads the nation in all-purpose yards (thanks to his prowess in the return game), but also leads the nation with 23 receptions of 15-plus yards.

    Landry, meanwhile, places fourth with 18 receptions of 15-plus yards and also ranks top-10 in catches, yards and touchdowns. He's the possession receiver to Beckham's big-play threat, but both are capable of assuming the other's role.

    Double-teaming one of them is hard enough. When both share the field in unison, drawing coverage and attention from the other, it's damn near impossible to guard them.

Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, Baylor

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    America knows about Baylor—the Bears' early start has definitely perked up some ears—but few have actually taken time to watch it play.

    The first thing that jumps out watching its tape is how wide (and consistently) open its receivers are downfield. And more often than not, those receivers are Reese and/or Goodley.

    The duo isn't thunder and lightning like LSU's Landry and Beckham. They're lightning and lighting like clouds above the Atlantic during a hurricane.

    No team has two faster weapons on the outside, and with defenses unable to roll coverage toward one without leaving the other exposed, it's almost impossible to slow them down.

Paul Richardson, Colorado

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    A knee injury cost Richardson all of the 2012 season, one of the very many things that went wrong in Boulder during a woeful 1-11 campaign.

    There were fears that he would lack explosion upon his return, but au contraire, Richardson has come back bigger, stronger and faster than ever in his junior year.

    He's second in the nation with 155.3 yards per game, and even though his Buffaloes faded away vs. Oregon last week, he still showed well against one of the country's best secondaries.

    Finally, for the first time in years, there's a reason to watch Colorado football.

Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Here's what's so awesome about Jared Abbrederis: Everybody knows what's coming.

    Wisconsin has no pretense of other passing options. It's either running inside, running outside, running some sort of hybrid or throwing the ball Abbrederis' way.

    And yet, no cornerback in the country seems able to shut him down. That list includes Ohio Stare cornerback Bradley Roby, a projected first-round pick whom Abbrederis torched for 10 catches and 207 yards in Columbus two weeks ago.

    Color me impressed.

Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

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    Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

    Not unlike Abbrederis, Matthews constantly faces defenses who know that he's the first, second and third option on most passing plays.

    Much unlike Abbrederis, he has to do that against SEC defenses.

    And yet, just like Abbrederis, he has managed to stay productive throughout his Vanderbilt career, emerging as an All-Conference talent in America's best league.

    He currently sits third in the nation and second among BCS players with 709 receiving yards, and if 2012 was any indication, those numbers won't peter out during SEC play.

Sammy Watkins, Clemson

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Watkins makes football—by all accounts a difficult game—look exceedingly easy.

    He runs with effortless strides, but still manages to beat defenders deep. He sucks catches into his frame like a vacuum. Nobody in college football feels like he's trying less to be great than Watkins, but very few can match his greatness.

    He may never replicate the numbers of his true freshman year, when he burst onto the scene and became a first-team All-American. But that doesn't mean Watkins has regressed.

    He's still a nightmare to match up with.

Josh Huff, Oregon

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Of all the pass catchers in college football, Huff is the one whose wide-openness surprises me the least. Uncovered just seems to be his natural state.

    At the end of the day, that's what this list is about—right? Players who are impossible to cover. How could Huff possibly be left off?

    Cynics might say he's a product of Oregon's system. They might chide him and claim that another, lesser talent could take his spot and put up the same numbers.

    Maybe so, but for now, I'll take the guy with 445 yards on 21 catches in abridged action. And I'll feel very good about my choice.

Marqise Lee, USC

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    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Ignore the numbers and believe the hype.

    Everything has gone wrong for Lee this year, from nagging injuries to coaching dysfunction to shoddy play under center. It's a circumstance that almost no one could thrive in.

    But don't let that fool you into thinking he's regressed. There's a reason Lee ruled college football last year, finishing with 118 catches and 1,721 yards en route to All-American honors.

    When healthy, he's still just as difficult to cover. It's getting the ball to him that's proved kind of tricky.

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