The Pac-12 loses Marqise Lee (USC), Brandin Cooks (Oregon State) and Paul Richardson (Colorado) from its wide receiver ranks, yet the conference boasts the deepest and all-around best unit in the nation.
Ironic, sure, but the conference has plenty more returning from last season. With reinforcements on the way, both from newcomers and some key players injured in 2013, there's no reason to anticipate a drop-off in Pac-12 receivers' production.
On the contrary; with as many as 10 starting quarterbacks back in the fold and plenty of proven producers and high-potential talents ready to step up, 2014 should be a banner season for Pac-12 receivers.
Receiving corps at Arizona, Stanford and Washington are some of the most collectively experienced and productive in college football. Coincidentally, Arizona and Washington are the two programs replacing their quarterbacks, but the bevy of talent on the roster should make for a smooth transition for their new starters.
The Wildcats had two freshmen break out in their debut season, Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant. Phillips led Arizona with 696 yards and seven touchdowns, becoming the top target in the passing game and a Freshman All-American with 2012 leader Austin Hill unavailable.
I’m actually kind of grateful this happened because it opened my eyes … to how anything can be taken away from you at any given moment, any given play. To just work even harder than I ever have before, that’s what I’m doing every day in rehab, and that’s what I’m going to do next season.
I want to break records. I want to push myself past the point where I feel I can push myself. I want to be remembered here.
Getting a leader back from injury also promises to bolster Washington's wide receiving group. Kasen Williams, the Huskies' top dog in 2011 and 2012, missed the homestretch of 2013 with a broken leg and displaced ligaments in his foot.
Williams' road back required surgery and he will continue to rehabilitate in the coming months, but the focus opposing defenses paid Williams before his injury made others like Jaydon Mickens emerge as leaders. It instilled a next-man-up kind of perspective, as Mickens expressed the week following Williams' injury, via GoHuskies.com.
It’s football. Just like Kasen last week, somebody can go down and we need those young guys to step up. And them getting some playing time really shows that we have some young guys who can contribute when we need them to.
The fate of talented Huskies wideout Damore'ea Stringfellow is up in the air—he is suspended indefinitely pending an investigation into an alleged altercation earlier this month. Washington State is addressing a similar situation with its top receiver in 2013, Gabe Marks.
Marks was arrested last weekend for misdemeanor assault in a Pullman, Wash., bar per the Spokesman-Review. With Marks in the lineup, Washington State has another especially deep corps of receivers, with Dom Williams, Vince Mayle, River Cracraft, Isiah Myers and Rickey Galvin all scoring at least three touchdowns.
Of course, Washington State head coach Mike Leach's offense is predicated on a pass-intensive philosophy and a variety of receivers are necessary for it to function. Similarly, Cal head coach Sonny Dykes will operate his bear-raid offense with Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler catching plenty of passes per game—51.7 an outing based on 2013 statistics—from quarterback Jared Goff.
Conversely, Stanford staked its offensive reputation to the ground game in the past two seasons. But with a third-year quarterback behind center and one of the most diverse and talented group of receivers in the conference, a philosophical shift could be on its way down on The Farm.
Ty Montgomery was as dangerous a scoring threat as the conference had at wide receiver through the first two months, and getting Devon Cajuste back healthy at season's end gave quarterback Kevin Hogan a big target in the middle of the field.
USC boasts a recent tradition of top-notch pass-catchers, and junior-to-be Nelson Agholor is prime to be next. Agholor's 5-star potential began to truly shine through in the second half of the Trojans' slate with Lee battling injury. Though USC has holes to patch in its receiving corps, Agholor might be the conference's top individual wideout.
He'll certainly have competition, however. Arizona State's Jaelen Strong was the primary target in the Sun Devils passing attack in his debut campaign, his size and athleticism complementing the peripheral plays offensive coordinator Mike Norvell dialed up with running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster.
Another wideout stepping into a departing star's vacated role like Agholor could emerge as the conference's top pass-catcher—someone like Oregon State's Richard Mullaney.
Mullaney is the most productive returner in a unit that has a massive hole to fill, left by Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks. However, Cooks emerged as an All-American and potential first-round NFL draft pick in the void Markus Wheaton left upon his departure from Corvallis, Ore.
"Obviously, [Wheaton] was a great player, but we had other good players ready to step up," Cooks told me in October about the mindset behind replacing him. A similar outlook, combined with Pac-12 single-season passing record holder Sean Mannion, could see another Beaver be the conference's receiving leader.
Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon's Bralon Addison boasts speed and elusiveness to create plays in space as well as beat cornerbacks deep for the home-run ball.
|Pac-12 Wide Receivers to Watch|
|Player||School||2013 Receptions/Yards (* denotes 2012 statistics)||TD|
|Richard Mullaney||Oregon State||52/788||3|
|Jaelen Strong||Arizona State||75/1,122||7|
Addison could have a new running-mate in recruit Jalen Brown. The 4-star prospect and early enrollee gets a jump on integrating into the Oregon offense during spring practice.
Brown is just one 2014 signee capable of making an immediate splash in the Pac-12, along with 4-star Cal recruit Erik Brown, Washington State's top-rated prospect Barry Ware and Arizona State junior college transfer Eric Lauderdale headlining a trio of 4-star receiver prospects joining the Sun Devils.
Throughout the Pac-12, it's a wealth of riches at wide receiver. Collectively it's a group that cannot be matched anywhere else in college football.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Recruiting rankings culled from 247Sports.com.
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