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LSU Football: Power Ranking the 10 Best Wide Receivers in the Les Miles Era

Carter BryantContributor IMarch 12, 2014

LSU Football: Power Ranking the 10 Best Wide Receivers in the Les Miles Era

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    Les Miles shares an intense moment with former LSU receiver Dwayne Bowe before Miles' first game in Tiger Stadium against Tennessee in 2005.
    Les Miles shares an intense moment with former LSU receiver Dwayne Bowe before Miles' first game in Tiger Stadium against Tennessee in 2005.PAUL RUTHERFORD/Associated Press

    The legend of Les Miles would not exist without his wide receivers.

    Miles has been undoubtedly lucky. "The Mad Hatter" has won more than a handful of games miraculously in the fourth quarter. Miles' mythology and celebrity has grown because of it.

    For every one of Miles' close victories and defeats, he has had elite talents make catches of high difficulty in the fourth quarter. The volume of superb pass-catchers during his tenure is astonishing considering the inconsistency of LSU's aerial attack. Before 2013, the LSU passing attack has been ninth or worse in the SEC in passing yards per game since 2009.

    Miles has raked in at least two 4-star or better receiver prospects in every recruiting class except in 2006, 2009 and 2012, according to Rivals. And even during those "down" years, he still brought in talents such as Brandon LaFell and Rueben Randle. The talent has certainly reaped its benefits.

    Because LSU has run a multi-faceted offense under Miles, he has had to make his receivers buy into a system that asks them to be unselfish and block well in the running game. 

    To determine who has been the best receiver since Miles has been in charge is an arduous task. For the sake of this list, a set of guidelines must be put into place.   

    • This does not account for special teams play. 
    • Stats can be deceiving. Judging a receiver's worth based on numbers alone would be unfair. Quarterback play, offensive coordinator and other factors went into the rankings.

    Miles must look to the future for his next great Tiger receiver as Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry head to the pros. Avery Peterson and Malachi Dupre could break out next season as freshmen or Travin Dural as a sophomore. But for now, let's attempt to determine the greatest Miles has ever had thus far.  

10. Kadron Boone

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Career Statistics: 44 catches, 611 yards, 13.8 yards per catch and eight touchdowns over three seasons

    Biggest Games/Clutch Moments: Two catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia in 2013, four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown against Texas A&M in 2012

    Analysis: Kadron Boone finished his LSU career as an above-average receiver. Boone was a forgotten commodity in 2013 as a senior, only catching seven passes. His best season was as a junior, raking in 26 catches for 348 yards and four touchdowns. 

    Boone's career was not nearly as successful as the receivers ahead of him on this list. Nevertheless, he does deserve recognition for his contributions.  

9. Demetrius Byrd

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    Career Statistics: 72 catches, 1,134 yards, 15.6 yards per catch and 11 touchdowns over two seasons

    Biggest Games/Clutch Moments: Three catches for 89 yards and game-winning touchdown against Auburn in 2007, six catches for 144 yards and 61-yard touchdown against Alabama, three combined touchdown catches against Arkansas and Tennessee 

    Analysis: Demetrius Byrd was a big-game receiver.

    Byrd will be remembered by fans for his 22-yard touchdown snag against Auburn with seconds remaining. But his career should be remembered for being an overall clutch receiver. Nine of Byrd's 11 career touchdowns came in SEC play. 

    In the Tigers' next game after Auburn, quarterback Matt Flynn hit Byrd for a deep score when LSU was down by 10 to Alabama. Byrd also caught two touchdowns, albeit in a losing effort, against Arkansas in the last regular-season game of 2007. He would finish spectacularly in the SEC Championship Game against Tennessee with a touchdown grab from backup Ryan Perrilloux.  

    Byrd would have a mediocre 2008 season, largely in part to the toxic quarterback situation. He would get drafted by the San Diego Chargers despite being in a car accident the week before the draft. In spite of an arduous effort to get back to the NFL, he never could get to his "Byrd Man" form. 

8. Craig "Buster" Davis

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    PAUL RUTHERFORD/Associated Press

    Career Statistics: 141 catches, 2,107 yards, 14.9 yards per catch and seven touchdowns over four seasons. 

    Biggest Game/Clutch Moments: Eight receptions for 85 yards against Florida in 2006, led team in receiving in victory against Arizona State 

    Analysis: Craig "Buster" Davis was a sure-handed receiver who was superb at making difficult grabs in traffic. Davis gave defenders headaches with his ability to get open on critical downs. 

    Davis was the No. 1 receiver prospect in Louisiana in the 2012 class, according to LSU Sports Information. He never was amongst the nation's best in college, but his career is certainly respectable. His numbers are not eye-popping because he shared catches with Early Doucet and Dwayne Bowe

    Davis was immensely talented. Despite only having one game in his LSU career with over 100 yards, the San Diego Chargers took a chance on him in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft. Unfortunately, Buster was a bust. 

    Nevertheless, Buster busted through defensive backs for big gains during his career in Baton Rouge. 

7. Terrence Toliver

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    Career Statistics: 126 catches, 1,820 yards, 14.4 yards per catch, 12 touchdowns in four seasons 

    Biggest Games/Clutch Moments: Five catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns in 2011 Cotton Bowl victory against Texas A&M, six catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns (one game-winner) against Florida in 2010, four catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns against Washington  

    Analysis: Terrence Toliver's somewhat mediocre career statistics deceive his impact at LSU. 

    Toliver played sparingly as a true freshman in the 2007 national championship run, but was effective in the few snaps he was given. Then in 2008, he, along with Demetrius Byrd and Brandon LaFell, had to play with a young Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson. Lee and Jefferson never became reliable quarterbacks until their senior season in 2011, a year too late for Toliver. 

    Toliver should have been a more productive player. Yet it is unquestionable that he should have had more passes thrown his way. He was dangerous in the open field and was always able to run away from safeties. He also had the uncanny ability of fighting for the extra yard and catching the jump ball in the red zone. An argument could be made he was the best receiver under Miles at making defenders miss and generating massive yards after catch. The misuse of Toliver was a big reason why offensive coordinator Gary Crowton resigned

    Toliver was nothing short of spectacular in The Swamp against Florida in 2010. He carried future NFL cornerback Janoris Jenkins into the end zone and capped off the evening with a game-winning touchdown reception on a fade pattern from Jarrett Lee.

    But what is never mentioned is Toliver's heroics against Tennessee. LSU's victory against the Volunteers in 2010 will always be remembered for the nefarious coaching blunders of Les Miles and Derek Dooley. But on the Tigers' game-winning drive, the senior receiver converted a 3rd-and-13 and 4th-and-14 in heavy traffic to keep the game alive.

    No receiver on this list had worse quarterback fortune than Toliver. His career is viewed by some as a disappointment, but a closer look would say it was quite the opposite.  

6. Early Doucet

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    Early Doucet scored in LSU's triumph over Ohio State in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game.
    Early Doucet scored in LSU's triumph over Ohio State in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game.Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Career Statistics: 160 catches, 1,943 yards, 12.1 yards per catch and 20 touchdowns over four seasons

    Biggest Games/Clutch Moments: Five catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama in 2007, seven catches for 101 yards and a touchdown against Alabama in 2006, game-winning touchdown catch against Arizona State in 2005

    Analysis: Early Doucet was a solid receiver at LSU. Doucet's numbers do not jump off the page, as he never raked in over 800 yards in a season. But he made his catches count for LSU. 

    Demetrius Byrd stole all of the headlines from when LSU defeated Auburn and Alabama en route to its only national championship under Miles in 2007. But Doucet was massive in those games as well, combining for 12 catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns. His fourth-down, 32-yard touchdown reception against Crimson Tide to tie the game late in the fourth quarter was masterful.  

    Doucet finished a solid 2006 with a touchdown in each of his last four SEC games. 

    Doucet's most impressive catch in his career came in 2005, also on fourth down in the fourth quarter. The Tigers were trailing Arizona State when JaMarcus Russell found him in heavy traffic for the game-winning touchdown pass in Miles' first game as coach of the Tigers.

    Doucet will be remembered as one of the best slot receivers ever at LSU, yet he could make plays anywhere on the field. His talent helped him be a productive pro with the Arizona Cardinals for a few seasons, though he is now a free agent.

5. Brandon LaFell

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    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    Career Statistics: 175 catches, 2,517 yards, 14.4 yards per catch and 25 touchdowns in four seasons 

    Biggest Games/Clutch Moments: 12 catches for 126 yards and one touchdown in a comeback against Troy in 2008, three catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia in 2008, four catches for 92 yards and game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter against Auburn, six catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns against Mississippi State in 2009  

    Analysis: Brandon LaFell was another player who had the prime of his career handcuffed by a toxic quarterback situation. His junior and senior season featured below-average quarterback play from Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee. But he still raked in over 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns, ranking in the SEC's top 10 in yards and touchdowns in both seasons.  

    LaFell did have his problems with dropped passes early in his career, but he eventually became a sure-handed receiver. He decided to come back for his senior season after much deliberation, and it paid off. He found himself a great situation in Carolina after a spectacular senior season in Baton Rouge. 

    LaFell was also never afraid to deliver a bone-crushing blow

4. Dwayne Bowe

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    Dwayne Bowe celebrates his game-tying touchdown reception against Ole Miss. The Tigers would go on to win the game 23-20 in overtime.
    Dwayne Bowe celebrates his game-tying touchdown reception against Ole Miss. The Tigers would go on to win the game 23-20 in overtime.ALEX BRANDON/Associated Press

    Career Statistics: 154 catches, 2,403 yards, 15.6 yards per catch, 26 touchdowns over four seasons

    Biggest Games/Clutch Moments: Seven catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in overtime victory over Alabama in 2005, three catches for 82 yards and a touchdown against Florida in 2005, seven catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns against Ole Miss

    Analysis: Dwayne Bowe is the perfect model of consistency. In Bowe's senior season, he had at least four catches and 50 yards receiving in every conference game. He caught a touchdown pass in 17 of his 25 games played in his final two seasons at LSU.  

    Bowe is the best red-zone wide receiver Miles has ever had. His precise route running mixed with his 6'2" frame makes him a near-impossible guard for defensive backs. The best play of his career came against Ole Miss in his final home game, catching a game-tying fourth-down touchdown reception with only seconds remaining.

    Bowe was the complete package. He was a phenomenal blocker and had a knack for making big catches in the fourth quarter. 

    The Kansas City Chiefs struck gold with Bowe when he was drafted in the first round in 2007. He has had a productive NFL career. His numbers dipped last season, but he never bickered as his team had its best finish in his eight seasons in Kansas City. 

3. Jarvis Landry

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    The Big Lead

    Career Statistics: 137 catches, 1,809 yards, 13.2 yards per receptions, 15 touchdowns in three seasons 

    Biggest Games/Clutch Moments: Eight catches for 75 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas in 2012, eight catches for 109 yards and a touchdown against TCU in 2013, 10 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown against Georgia in 2013, eight catches for 113 yards against Arkansas in 2013

    Analysis: Jarvis Landry's 2013 was the greatest single-season receiving performance in the Les Miles era. 

    Landry was not a burner. But he eviscerated defenses with precise route running and physicality. His flare for the spectacular is unparalleled, as he captured the imagination of college football fans nationwide with his one-handed grabs. 

    The Lutcher, La., native started 2013 with a 100-yard game and a touchdown against TCU, including a difficult grab for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. He would go on to have three more 100-yard games, all against SEC opposition.

    Landry, much like Bowe, had the best game of his LSU career in his Death Valley swan song. Teammate Odell Beckham Jr. went down early with an injury against Arkansas, leaving "Juice" to carry the team through the air. He dominated, making numerous difficult grabs to help move the chains. He called the play for the game-winning touchdown pass that backup quarterback Anthony Jennings completed to Travin Dural, one in which he was a decoy to help draw the coverage his way. In LSU's best offensive season under Les Miles, Landry's performance was the best of them all.

    In 2012, Landry posted a respectable 56 catches for 573 yards and five touchdowns. In 2011, Landry mainly contributed on special teams as a true freshman in LSU's national championship run.

    Landry could be the best route-runner and third-down converter Miles has ever had. He always did the little things to help his team win. 

2. Odell Beckham Jr.

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    Career Statistics: 141 catches, 2,340 yards, 16.3 yards per catch, 12 touchdowns over three seasons 

    Biggest Games/Clutch Moments: Five catches for 118 yards against TCU in 2013, six catches for 118 yards against Georgia in 2013, nine catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns against Mississippi State in 2013, four catches for 112 yards against Arkansas in 2012, two catches for 82 yards and a touchdown against West Virginia in 2011

    Analysis: Odell Beckham Jr. was the best all-around offensive playmaker Miles has ever had. Like Landry, he was a pure hands catcher who could make spectacular grabs all over the field. He was the better deep threat of the two, always keeping safeties on their heels. The New Orleans native was also effective as a blocker and on reverses.

    Beckham Jr.'s stats are a bit inflated, as five of eight touchdowns and more than a third of his yards in 2013 came in LSU's three games against non-BCS opponents. He was a tad bit disappointing in 2012 with his only two touchdowns came against Towson. As a true freshman in 2011, he made a handful of plays on the Tigers' SEC championship run.  

    Beckham Jr. missed a golden opportunity to make an, albeit difficult, touchdown catch as a freshman against Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. He fumbled a deep reception against Florida in 2012 that would have put the Tigers in scoring position. 

    But that does not mean he did not make big plays in clutch situations. 

    The biggest catch of Beckham Jr.'s career came against Alabama in 2012. Late in the fourth quarter with a three-point lead, LSU called a one-man corner route. He rose over Alabama corner Deion Belue and made a spectacular catch on the sideline from quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Beckham Jr. would later in the season make a critical 47-yard grab against Arkansas to set up a Tigers score. Because special teams are not factored into the equation, his legendary punt-return touchdown against Ole Miss in 2012 and fourth-quarter kickoff return against TCU did not help him on this list. 

    Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry were amazing together. They will be remembered as a pair, which is how it should be.  

    Beckham Jr. and Landry became only the third duo in the history of the SEC to each have over 1,000 yards receiving. The pair both declared for the NFL draft despite having eligibility remaining, which was the right decision, as they are ready to play on Sundays.  

1. Rueben Randle

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    Career Statistics: 97 catches, 1,634 yards, 16.8 yards per catch, 13 touchdowns over three seasons 

    Biggest Games/Clutch Moments: Four catches for 127 yards and a touchdown against Florida in 2011, nine catches for 134 yards against Arkansas in 2011, five catches for 106 yards against Auburn in 2011, three catches for 125 yards and a touchdown against Alabama in 2010

    Analysis: Rueben Randle was the most valuable offensive player in LSU's dominant 2011 season. Randle caught 53 passes for 917 yards and eight touchdowns, leading the Tigers to one of their better offensive seasons under Les Miles. His numbers could have been better had the Tigers played closer games. 

    Randle was not used enough as freshman in 2009. His best game was a two-touchdown performance against Ole Miss. In 2010, his numbers were average. But he did play his best against the best in Alabama and eventual champion Auburn, combining for nine catches, 198 yards and two touchdowns.

    Randle is the best deep threat Miles has ever had. Despite having coverage shifted his way, he had at least one reception over 30 yards in 13 of his his last 25 games.  

    There was plenty left to be desired for Randle as a blocker and return specialist. But as a pure pass-catcher, no receiver has ever had as diverse of a skill set as Randle. He was as great making tough catches over the middle in traffic as he was blazing past deep coverages. 

Conclusion

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The entire list was full of tough calls. 

    There was a pretty wide gap between Kadron Boone and the rest of the list. After Boone, the order could have shuffled in a wide variety of ways. 

    The biggest debate will be at the top. A strong case could have been made for Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Dwayne Bowe and Brandon LaFell. The margins between them are slim.

    Randle's statistics were not as impressive as the others. But he had to play with Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson for his entire career. Having a limited playbook and infrequent snaps hurt him. It was not until Lee and Jefferson were seniors in 2011 that they developed into above-average quarterbacks. 

    LSU blew out all of its opponents in 2011 outside of Alabama, which limited his catches. This explains why Randle had 347 more yards in the first half of games compared to the second.

    Beckham Jr. and Landry had the best quarterback-offensive coordinator combo Miles has ever had in Zach Mettenberger and Cam Cameron. LSU also never had a legitimate third option come to fruition, which inflated their statistics even more. 

    When Randle left early for the NFL draft in 2012, LSU's passing attack struggled mightily with Mettenberger, Beckham Jr. and Landry. The trio transformed in 2013 after a year of working with each other under a former NFL play-caller.  

    What set Randle apart was his ability to separate from defensive backs. He changed coverages by just standing between the white lines more so than other receivers on the list. His catch radius on tight, intermediate routes was as astonishing as his ability to rise up over defensive backs to make plays downfield.    

    Randle was not the most complete receiver. That title belongs to Bowe or LaFell. Yet the Bastrop, La., native was the best Miles has ever had.  

Fun Facts

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    A few extra tidbits from the list:

    • Five of the 10 players on the list played their high school football in Louisiana. Three are from Florida (Bowe, Boone and Byrd) and two from Texas (Toliver, LaFell)
    • The jersey No. 80 has the most appearances with three (Bowe, Toliver, Landry). There are no current Tigers with that number. Jersey No. 2 (Byrd, Randle) and No. 3 (Davis, Beckham Jr.) tied for second with two.
    • Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry were the only receivers with over 1,000 yards in one season, both happening in 2013.
    • Dwayne Bowe is the only receiver with a NFL Pro Bowl appearance.
    • According to Rivals, Brandon LaFell was the only 3-star receiver. Landry, Randle and Terrence Toliver were 5-star while the rest were 4-star prospects. 
    • Demetrius Byrd was the only JUCO transfer. 

Your Thoughts?

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    Demetrius Byrd's game-winning touchdown catch against Auburn in 2007 may be LSU's most iconic play under Les Miles.
    Demetrius Byrd's game-winning touchdown catch against Auburn in 2007 may be LSU's most iconic play under Les Miles.Associated Press

    As previously stated, making lists such as these are tough. I decided to reach out to a few of my peers in the Baton Rouge media that also cover LSU football on a daily basis for their thoughts. 

     

    Matt Moscona, host of After Further Review on ESPN 104.5 FM 

    1. Odell Beckham Jr.
    2. Jarvis Landry
    3. Dwayne Bowe
    4. Rueben Randle
    5. Craig "Buster" Davis
    6. Early Doucet
    7. Brandon LaFell
    8. Terrence Toliver
    9. Demetrius Byrd
    10. Kadron Boone

     

    Chris Hagan, sports anchor/reporter for WAFB Channel 9 

    1. Rueben Randle
    2. Dwayne Bowe
    3. Brandon LaFell
    4. Jarvis Landry
    5. Early Doucet
    6. Odell Beckham Jr. 
    7. Terrence Toliver
    8. Demetrius Byrd 
    9. Craig "Buster" Davis 
    10. Kadron Boone

     

    Billy Gomila, editor/writer at "And The Valley Shook" 

    1. Jarvis Landry
    2. Dwayne Bowe 
    3. Odell Beckham Jr. 
    4. Early Doucet 
    5. Brandon LaFell 
    6. Rueben Randle  
    7. Craig "Buster" Davis 
    8. Demetrius Byrd 
    9. Terrence Toliver 
    10. Russell Shepard 

     

    Ryan Brumley, Fox Sports 1 production assistant and former Tiger TV station manager

    1. Jarvis Landry
    2. Dwayne Bowe 
    3. Rueben Randle 
    4. Early Doucet 
    5. Brandon LaFell 
    6. Odell Beckham Jr. 
    7. Craig "Buster" Davis 
    8. Terrence Toliver
    9. Demetrius Byrd
    10. Kadron Boone 

     

    Please feel free to contact me on Twitter @CarterthePower or leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

    *Stats provided by LSU Sports Information, cfbstats.com and ESPN

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