College Football Recruiting WR Rankings 2015: Top 10 After The Opening
The wide receiver position is trending upward—from the NFL, where teams selected nine receivers before a running back came off the board in the 2014 draft, to the youth level, where more talented athletes are gravitating toward the position.
The game has rapidly evolved, shifting away from grind-it-out styles of offense that lean heavily on a methodical rushing attack and a powerful offensive line. Instead, teams are airing it out more than ever, posting prolific passing statistics and repeatedly shattering records.
College programs attempting to stockpile premier pass-catchers are in luck during the 2015 recruiting cycle, which features a variety of game-changing receivers with unique size, speed and style.
These playmakers put their skills on display earlier this month at The Opening, an annual football showcase that draws the most coveted high school prospects to Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
We watched all the action, from one-on-one drills to seven-on-seven showdowns. Several fresh recruiting ratings were released shortly after the event, resulting in newly ordered 247Sports composite rankings.
Based on what we've seen in person and our notes from game-film assessment, here's a breakdown of the top 10 receivers in this recruiting cycle.
This article is part of Bleacher Report's CFB 200 Recruiting Rankings Series. The overall rankings are based on the 247Sports Composite, which takes into account every recruiting service's rankings. The positional rankings also correspond with those composite scores. Stay tuned over the next two weeks as we take an in-depth look at college football's stars of tomorrow.
10. Ray-Ray McCloud, Sickles High School (Tampa, Florida)
Committed to: Clemson
Ray-Ray McCloud doesn't care what you label him, as long as you recognize his talents.
The 5'9", 175-pound speedster is one of the most accomplished running backs in America, coming off a junior season that features 2,316 rushing yards and 27 total touchdowns. While he may spend many snaps in the offensive backfield as a college athlete, McCloud's emergence as a national recruit is due in large part to his versatility.
"I always thought I was one of the best running backs in the country, it was just a matter of making people notice," he said three weeks before The Opening. "But now I'm realizing that different coaches like me in different spots. Some teams think I do big things as a wide receiver."
That may sound like overly lofty praise for a prospect who caught just 11 passes last fall, but as you assess his skill set, it quickly becomes evident that he can make a difference in the passing game.
McCloud is agile enough to provide breakaway possibilities on every play. His size raises questions about durability in the backfield but makes him a tough cover out of the slot.
He slips into space with elite shiftiness and prolongs plays by wiggling past defenders. McCloud is a special weapon for any passing attack because he can quickly turn a seven-yard slant into a 40-yard sprint that ignites his squad.
His performance in Oregon didn't raise any concerns about a possible future at receiver. McCloud made acrobatic catches, burst off the line and cut away from defenders with speed that verifies his 40-yard dash time of 4.43 seconds.
He uses the vision and anticipation of an elite running back while exploiting seams in the defense during his routes. Quarterbacks value the kind of receiver who can disengage from traffic and find a pocket in the defense to present a target.
McCloud still must prove he can consistently get downfield when defenders attempt to jam him at the line. Defensive backs continue to get bigger, and most will hold a height and power advantage.
The challenge doesn't faze him.
"The doubters have always motivated me," he said. "All I have to say is 'just watch me.' I’ll keep proving them wrong, wherever I end up on the field."
9. Da'Vante Phillips, Miami Central High School (Miami, Florida)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Florida State (100 percent)
This time last year, Da'Vante Phillips was a prized member of the Florida Gators' 2015 recruiting class. Now, a month shy of his senior season, the 6'2", 204-pounder is among the most coveted uncommitted offensive recruits.
"I've made some visits and I'm checking out different schools to see what the right fit is," Phillips said at The Opening.
Since decommitting from Florida in December, he's had plenty to consider. Auburn, Tennessee, Clemson and Alabama are included on an expansive list of options, though his recruitment is more likely to come down to a battle between Florida State and Miami.
These programs are competing for a formidable downfield target who fights for extra yardage and uses his strength to fend off defensive backs. His large frame shields defenders, and Phillips feasts on comeback routes.
Few members of this class compare to his ability to catch the football in traffic. Phillips is a sure-handed target with excellent body control, allowing him to maintain momentum while snagging inaccurate pass attempts.
He springs off the ground for high throws and can come up with the catch even while tangled up with an opponent in midair.
"Wherever I am on the field, I fight for the football," Phillips said. "I don't back down."
That mindset makes him a go-to target on third downs and in the end zone. Quarterbacks will look in his direction when a play must be made.
Phillips doesn't project as the big-play weapon in a collegiate offense, but he could lead a team in receptions. His yards-per-catch average won't be staggering, but he will secure passes that come his way along the sidelines and across the middle, where other receivers can shrink.
Phillips, who caught 47 passes for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013, has the makings of a top-tier X receiver who can break press coverage while starting at the line of scrimmage.
8. Deon Cain, Tampa Bay Tech (Tampa, Florida)
Committed to: Clemson
Deon Cain, at 6'1", 190 pounds, turned more heads than just about anyone at The Opening and probably deserves to climb higher on this list. Despite spending his high school career at quarterback, he looked like a veteran running routes and ripping down passes in Beaverton.
Cain flashes rare change-of-direction ability on game tape when he retreats from the passing pocket and darts downfield. That quality was paramount in his performance during seven-on-seven action, where many of the nation's most heralded defensive backs struggled to contain him.
"Even though it's not my main position at high school, I already feel very comfortable playing receiver," Cain said after making multiple catches in a game. "I think my skills and talents work really well there and that's showing up now. Once I'm a full-time receiver in college I can really focus on the little things it takes to be successful."
Considering where Cain already is in his development as a receiver, Clemson fans should be elated about what he could accomplish with a few years of constant work at the position. There isn't overwhelming refinement required in any facet of his game, particularly when it comes to catching the ball at its highest point.
He displays excellent extension when the ball arrives, smoothly tucks it away and accelerates upfield. Cain's ability to compete at this level in live action remains an unknown commodity, but he's a physical runner on tape and should be able to shoulder the load as a key receiver in college.
He'll join NFL star Anquan Boldin and top-rated 2014 receiver prospect Speedy Noil (now a freshman at Texas A&M), among many others, as notable recruits who transitioned from quarterback to receiver after high school.
Based on how he handled himself in Oregon, it won't take Cain long to make a major impact at his new position.
7. Christian Kirk, Saguaro High School (Scottsdale, Arizona)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Texas A&M (74 percent); USC (17 percent); Ohio State (6 percent); Oregon (3 percent)
Christian Kirk has established quite a track record as an offensive weapon in high school. He notched his second straight 1,000-yard receiving season last fall, adding 832 rushing yards in the process.
His junior campaign included 30 total touchdowns and more than 2,000 total yards. Oh, by the way, he tallied 55 tackles and two interceptions while leading Saguaro to a state championship.
Despite all the success, Kirk understood everyone brought their own accolades to Oregon. He decided to leave his at home and earn respect all over again during a rare second trip to The Opening.
"All players want to prove they're a top college prospect at an event with so much talent," Kirk said. "I think I was able to do that."
The 5'10", 191-pounder was a relentless force throughout the camp, confirming the special attributes that showed up throughout his game film. Though there's a consensus that Kirk can be a prototypical slot receiver, he refuses to pigeonhole his possible role and displayed skills that could serve him well out wide.
"I just want an offensive coordinator who is open to me playing every wide receiver position on the field," Kirk said. "When a guy tells me 'We want you here in the slot,' and they don't want to move me anywhere else, that's not what I'm looking for. I may not be 6'3", but I want to be a true wide receiver who stretches the field."
He's a tenacious route-runner who gets to his spots at a well-timed pace. Kirk isn't the fastest receiver in America, but he attacks the secondary with elite burst and can maintain that speed downfield.
Once the ball is in his hands, Kirk shows why he's a little different than other receivers. He assumes the role of a running back and charges into the defensive backfield like it's a between-the-tackles rushing attempt at the goal line.
He weaves through lanes and doesn't decelerate while cutting and moving laterally. It's easy to forget he's 5'10" because of the ferocity he brings on every play.
Kirk refuses to be outworked, and that should help him quickly rise up a collegiate depth chart when he arrives on campus. Texas A&M hopes to pair him with 5-star quarterback commit Kyler Murray, who was his quarterback in seven-on-seven competition.
"Kyler is one of my boys, and he's the best quarterback out here I think," Kirk said. "We've got a lot of reps together and connect well on the field."
That should be received by Aggies fans as a rather positive assessment.
6. Damarkus Lodge, Cedar Hill High School (Cedar Hill, Texas)
Committed to: Texas A&M
Damarkus Lodge broke out in a big way during his first season as a substantial contributor for talent-laden Cedar Hill. He caught 72 passes for 1,255 yards and scored 25 offensive touchdowns.
Through just one campaign as a full-time starter, Lodge etched his place among the elite pass-catchers of this class. The 6'2.5", 190-pound prospect picks apart defensive coverage at every level of the field and can come up with big catches on a variety of routes.
He's an upright runner who presents a big target for his passer. Lodge is a tactician at finding ways to get open.
His get-off is purposely slow-paced at times, drawing the defensive back near him before bursting beyond into a clearing. Lodge also uses upper-body movements to throw off opponents, including an effective shimmy with his shoulders.
Lodge's ability to gain separation in a variety of ways makes him a major deep-ball threat. He adjusts well to the trajectory of a pass and smoothly makes improvisational adjustments to get underneath the ball.
His ability to pull down contested passes is also a big plus. He plucks the ball out of the air at its highest point and rarely allows it to approach his chest plate.
Lodge doesn't flash elite after-the-catch skills, but that could change as he develops physically. There's a lot to like about his chances in the red zone, where he can read and react based on what the defense shows him before slipping into space.
His June commitment to Texas A&M adds to an abundance of offensive firepower in College Station. Top-rated 2014 receiver Speedy Noil debuts this season and could create a dangerous duo with Lodge in the near future.
"There are going to be a lot of playmakers on the field," Lodge said. "It's going to be an exciting offense and really hard for teams to defend. I'm excited for the chance to be a part of it."
5. George Campbell, East Lake High School (Tarpon Springs, Florida)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Florida (85 percent); Clemson (6 percent); LSU (6 percent), Michigan (3 percent)
George Campbell competed at The Opening in 2013 as a rare rising-junior invitee. During his return visit, he didn't even have to hit the field to earn the spotlight.
The LSU gear he showed up wearing to check-in caught the attention of several media members and fueled message-board fodder about Campbell's collegiate intentions nearly 24 hours before he could catch a pass in Beaverton.
So how about those intentions?
Well, the 6'3", 184-pound playmaker was pretty tight-lipped about what comes next in his recruitment.
"I'm considering a lot of options right now," Campbell said. "I'm wide open, and there's a long way to go in this process."
The former Michigan commit seems content to take his time before arriving at another decision. He showed off the athleticism that makes him such a compelling prospect during his stay in Oregon.
Campbell, who was clocked at 4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash at The Opening last summer, doesn't look like he's lost a step despite adding muscle to his long frame. Many top receiver prospects possess an elite mix of size and speed, but he takes it to another level and could enter college at 6'4", 200 pounds.
His acceleration is tremendous for a tall athlete, and he gains yards in a hurry as a result of long strides. Right now, the best thing he does as a receiver is chase down deep balls.
Campbell gradually gains position downfield and hauls in the ball a stride or two beyond coverage. He can also reach back with long arms to retrieve an underthrown toss.
Campbell averaged 25 yards per reception during the past two seasons, providing evidence of his field-stretching skills. He hasn't racked up a ton of catches, establishing a career-high with 31 last fall, but he owns 12 receiving touchdowns since 2012.
The biggest knock on Campbell—and quite honestly the only reason he isn't the consensus No. 1 receiver—is a lack of consistently clean catches.
He uses fantastic athleticism to leap up and pull down highlight receptions, but there are too many occurrences of Campbell allowing the football to come into his chest. He must extend and high-point the ball on a regular basis to blossom into an all-around receiver.
Right now, the raw product is still pretty darn good.
4. Tyron Johnson, Warren Easton High School (New Orleans, Louisiana)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: LSU (89 percent); Texas Tech (11 percent)
Tyron Johnson isn't the best athlete in this group, but he may just be the smoothest. He repeatedly ran through reps at The Opening with routes and receptions that looked effortless.
Though Johnson doesn't stand out as a speedster or dominant physical specimen, there's something about his demeanor and diligence that gives you a sense he's always under control. That calmness is worth noting considering his competition included All-American defenders.
He looks natural at just about everything, gaining separation on underneath routes and along the sidelines. Johnson works well in tight areas and snags the ball like he owns it.
His hands don't let him down, and he's very coordinated while working his way toward the pass through a swarm of defenders. Johnson's timing is precise, and exemplary leaping skills make him more dynamic than his 6'1", 191-pound frame suggests.
Evidence gathered from game tape and at The Opening indicates he is a trustworthy receiver capable of racking up meaningful receptions in pivotal moments throughout his career. Johnson caught 87 passes for 1,433 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior.
He torches undisciplined defensive backs and wins battles with bigger and quicker opponents. It's easy to imagine Johnson sliding into a starting slot as a true freshman, especially if he signs with Texas Tech, the team he named his leader in June.
He was pleased with his effort in Oregon, where few receivers matched his consistency.
"I'm happy with the way I played," Johnson said. "I showed I can compete against the best and make big catches. This experience will make me better."
3. Preston Williams, Lovejoy High School (Hampton, Georgia)
Committed to: Tennessee
Standing at 6'4" and 191 pounds, Preston Williams looks the part.
The Volunteers' prized pledge possesses all the physical attributes coaches search for in a No. 1 receiver. Unique speed, devastating length and persistent effort combine to create a prospect packed with potential.
He provided plenty of promising glimpses as a junior, catching 59 passes for 1,388 yards and 14 touchdowns. It's almost unfair watching Williams work against overwhelmed high school defensive backs.
He can beat you in a footrace, outleap you for a jump ball and even embarrass you by running wild on a screen pass. Even with the national lauding and an abundance of offer letters, Williams still isn't satisfied.
"My goal is to be the best player in the country, not just at receiver," Williams said. "People saw what I can do last season, and now I'm trying to take the next step."
That mission is off to an impressive start considering the skills he flashed in Oregon.
Williams reaches his top-end speed in minimal strides, separating himself from talented tall receivers who take a while to build momentum off the snap. It's an invaluable asset for getting open, but it also becomes a factor after the catch, when he can take it to the house from any distance.
His stature allows him to shrug off feeble tackle attempts and keep churning toward the end zone. He has the potential to wreak havoc on short-yardage slant routes when the quarterback hits him in stride.
Tennessee will line up Williams outside and dare defenses to designate man-to-man coverage against him. It's a hellish assignment, even in a conference filled with standout secondary players.
2. Terry Godwin, Callaway High School (Hogansville, Georgia)
Committed to: Georgia
Terry Godwin is a 5-star prospect at receiver and cornerback, but after seeing him compete at The Opening, his college team can reap the biggest benefits by putting the ball in his hands as often as possible.
The 6'0", 168-pound playmaker doesn't have a preference of where he'd like to line up at the next level, at least not outwardly.
"I enjoy playing on both sides of the ball," Godwin said. "I wouldn't say I only want to play one or the other. It depends where the team needs me."
Despite being on the slender side, he is a fearless competitor who dishes out more power upon impact than his size would suggest. His attentiveness and aggressiveness as a blocker actually stand out on game film, as Godwin gives the running game a boost.
That workmanlike approach is refreshing to see in an era when some top-tier receivers appear bored when the ball isn't headed in their direction. Godwin flashes the same intensity when he's surging downfield.
He averaged 24 yards per reception in 2014, catching nine touchdown passes.
Elite straight-line speed gives him an advantage off the snap, and he navigates his way through the secondary with fluid hips. Godwin turns toward the ball and snags with both arms fully extended.
You have to admire the way he plucks poorly thrown passes from the air, even if the ball is heading in the opposite direction of his momentum. Efforts like that prevent interceptions and salvage drives.
Godwin tends to round off his routes on occasion, an element likely to develop rapidly at the next level considering his natural athleticism.
Although he remains committed to Georgia, several SEC schools remain persistent in their pursuit of the Peach State product. The recruiting pitches continued to come in Oregon, where fellow prospects attempted to sway his decision.
"There's been a lot of guys talking to me about my commitment and my recruitment," Godwin said at The Opening. "They're saying 'Come to Auburn', or 'Come down to Alabama' or 'We need you at Tennessee.' A lot of stuff like that, but there are some Bulldogs here too. It'll come down to Feb. 2 (signing day)."
1. Calvin Ridley, Monarch High School (Pompano Beach, Florida)
Committed to: Alabama
Calvin Ridley created more excitement and hype during the three-day stretch in Oregon than any offensive player in attendance. He put together a highlight reel of phenomenal plays, none better than his one-handed snag during one-on-one drills (which you can see for yourself in the video above).
"I've been practicing that catch a little bit at camps and had another chance in front of a big crowd," Ridley said. "That's why I did it to tell you the truth, just to have a little fun and get some attention."
Something tells us Nick Saban will encourage the Crimson Tide commit to sacrifice style points for two-handed receptions when he heads to Tuscaloosa, but it was thrilling to watch and showed off Ridley's ridiculous ball skills.
The 6'0", 170-pound playmaker looked polished in so many aspects, from his tight footwork to midair adjustments. He routinely took the lid of the defense and exploited it with receptions straight down the seam.
Blake Barnett, the quarterback who connected with him for a bunch of big plays during The Opening's seven-on-seven tournament, enjoyed working with his favorite target. It could be a tandem that torches SEC teams for years to come, as the California prospect is also committed to Alabama.
"We really found a rhythm together," Barnett said. "He's such a talented receiver, and it's big that we have a chance to build some chemistry before we both arrive at Alabama."
Ridley, who caught 41 passes for 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior, is a cool customer who clearly understands where he needs to be as a play progresses. There's also an edge to his game that seems to intimidate opponents as the game advances.
Aside from the aggressiveness, his confidence is apparent in how he handles deep routes. Ridley reels in over-the-shoulder receptions without missing a stride, setting the stage for plenty of long-distance touchdowns at the next level.
All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
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