20 College Football QBs Who Have a New No. 1 WR Target in 2014

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJuly 29, 2014

20 College Football QBs Who Have a New No. 1 WR Target in 2014

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    Of the 12 players who had more than 1,340 receiving yards last season, only one, Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder (1,360), is returning to college football in 2014.

    Which is crazy because only three of those players—Jordan Matthews, Jeremy Gallon and Chandler Jones—were seniors in 2013. Seven of them were juniors, and two of them, Mike Evans and Davante Adams, were only redshirt sophomores.

    But you can't really blame them for leaving, can you?

    Other than Willie Snead of Ball State (who went undrafted), every underclassman from that group who declared early was taken in the first or second round of the 2014 NFL draft. This is just the world that we live in, a climate where players have every reason to leave after posting a 1,340-yard season, to strike while the iron is hot.

    College football will go on without them, just as it will without the players who departed via graduation. And for 20 FBS quarterbacks who are returning to starting jobs this season—here defining that as "players who threw at least 200 passes in 2013"—it means they will have to break in a new No. 1 target in the passing game.

    Chime in below and let me know which QB you think will fare the best.

Didn't Qualify for the List (But Are Still Worth Mentioning)

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    As mentioned on the Intro slide, this list discounted quarterbacks who threw less than 200 passes last season (unless they played in a triple-option offense, which thankfully did not become an issue). It also discounted teams that didn't have a distinct No. 1 receiver in 2013 and QBs who started last year but are now fighting to keep their jobs.

    Here is a list of players who were excluded on those guidelines:

     

    Connor Cook, Michigan State

    Technically, Connor Cook loses his top receiver in Bennie Fowler, who led the team with 622 yards and six touchdowns. But Tony Lippett (613 yards) led the team with 44 catches, and slot target Macgarrett Kings also had more receptions (42) than Fowler's 36. Those three all sort of oscillated from week to week as the team's No. 1 option.

     

    Chuckie Keeton, Utah State

    Chuckie Keeton came in just under our minimum qualified pass attempts (200), throwing only 196 passes before blowing out his ACL and MCL against BYU. Assuming he comes back healthy—as he told B/R' Adam Kramer he believes he will—Keeton should help mitigate the losses of Travis Reynolds and Travis Van Leeuwen at receiver.

     

    Trevor Knight, Oklahoma

    You wouldn't remember it after all of the post-Sugar Bowl hype, but Trevor Knight actually threw just 134 passes last season—nearly 100 less than newly converted tight end Blake Bell. We didn't count him as a full-time starting quarterback for that reason, but that won't make replacing shifty Jalen Saunders any easier in 2014.

     

    Nick Montana, Tulane

    If he's somehow able to win back the starting job, Nick "Son of Joe" Montana will have to replace Ryan Grant, one of the best receivers in Tulane history. However, Montana was listed third on the team's post-spring depth chart, so it was hard to include him on the list.

     

    Joel Stave, Wisconsin 

    Like Montana, Joel Stave will have to replace one of the best receivers in program history, Jared Abbrederis...but only if he wins the starting job. Head coach Gary Andersen confirmed at Big Ten media days that Stave and former JUCO standout Tanner McEvoy will split even reps in fall practice, and the sentiment in Madison might shift to McEvoy after Stave's underwhelming performance in 2013.

     

    J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State

    Like his fellow Sooner State starter, J.W. Walsh threw less than 200 passes last season (190), which was almost exactly 100 less than the quarterback ahead of him, Clint Chelf (291). With Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and Charlie Moore all gone, Walsh will lose a lot of production and must prove much more reliable with his arm to compensate.

Brandon Allen, Arkansas

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    2013 Top WR Target: Javontee Herndon (31 rec, 437 yards, 4 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Keon Hatcher (27 rec, 346 yards, 2 TD)

    Javontee Herndon led Arkansas with just 31 receptions and 437 yards last season, which says everything you need to know about this passing game. It was more or less nonexistent.

    Still, now that Brandon Allen has a full season of starting and another offseason of development under his belt, he and Keon Hatcher should help the team improve through the air in Bret Bielema's second year.

    According to Bleacher Report's Bryan Heater, Hatcher was "one of, if not the most, consistent wideouts on the team this spring and had a team-leading five receptions in the Red-White game."

    The running game will always come first under Bielema—especially with sophomore Alex Collins and junior Jonathan Williams still in the backfield—but Hatcher and sophomore tight end Hunter Henry should give Allen adequate targets to work with.

Kameron Bryant, Appalachian State

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    2013 Top WR Target: Tony Washington (64 rec, 939 yards, 4 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Malachi Jones (31 rec, 293 yards, 0 TD)

    Appalachian State loses its top two wide receivers from last year: big-play option Tony Washington (highlighted above) and possession specialist Andrew Peacock, who led the team with 78 receptions.

    Fortunately, running back Marcus Cox, who finished third on the team in catches and yards last season, will return in 2014. But as Kameron Bryant and the Mountaineers transition to the FBS level on the heels of a 4-8 season, they will need someone to step up on the outside.

    Malachi Jones looks like the closest thing to a No. 1 receiver on the current roster, although fellow junior Simms McElfresh had comparable stats last season (along with a killer surname).

Ronnie Bell, Georgia State

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    Associated Press

    2013 Top WR Target: Albert Wilson (71 rec, 1,177 yards, 8 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Robert Davis (44 rec, 711 yards, 4 TD)

    Georgia State's first FBS season did not yield a tally in the win column, but it did yield a 1,000-yard receiver in Albert Wilson.

    What's more, 6'3" Robert Davis finished fifth among FBS freshmen with 711 receiving yards and ninth with 44 receptions. The passing game (and the team's slow overall improvement throughout the season) is something the Panthers can legitimately build on.

    Ronnie Bell's QB rating went up each month last season, apexing at 128.32 in the four games he played during November. Of course, this is not adjusted for opponent, but it would be remiss not to mention that Teddy Bridgewater's November QB rating was 127.78.

    Davis had two 80-yard games in November including four catches for 110 yards in the season finale against South Alabama. We'll see if he and Bell can build on that momentum in Year 2.

Cody Fajardo, Nevada

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    2013 Top WR Target: Brandon Wimberly (97 rec, 989 yards, 8 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Richy Turner (60 rec, 720 yards, 4 TD)

    Cody Fajardo has always been blessed with a great No. 1 target, and even though he loses a stalwart in two-time leading receiver Brandon Wimberly this season, he returns a Biletnikoff Award candidate (technically) in senior Richy Turner.

    Turner is only 5'11", relying more on precision and timing than on the physical skills that Wimberly (6'2") and former Nevada star Rishard Matthews (6'3") brought to the table. But he has proved to be reliable the past few seasons, posting nearly identical numbers in 2013 (60 catches for 720 yards) as he did in 2012 (60 catches for 752 yards).

    The smart money says that will go up in 2014.

Devin Gardner, Michigan

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    2013 Top WR Target: Jeremy Gallon (89 rec, 1,373 yards, 9 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Devin Funchess (49 rec, 748 yards, 6 TD)

    Jeremy Gallon was the only reliable receiver on Michigan's roster last season—but only because Devin Funchess was listed at tight end.

    Technically, though, Funchess was playing receiver for most of the year, a move that allowed freshman tight end Jake Butt to get on the field. And now, even though Gallon is gone, a full offseason practicing on the outside should make Funchess a capable No. 1 option.

    At 6'5", 230 pounds, Funchess is obviously a much different player than the slot-oriented Gallon, who checked in at a generous 5'8", 184 pounds. But Gardner should not need much of an adjustment period with a player he leaned on pretty heavily last season.

    He knows where Funchess likes to get the ball.

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State

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    2013 Top WR Target: Allen Robinson (97 rec, 1,432 yards, 6 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Geno Lewis (18 catches, 234 yards, 3 TD)

    Three of Penn State's four top returning pass-catchers are tight ends: Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman.

    Combined, those three had 743 receiving yards last season. That is barely half the total of Allen Robinson, who was by far Christian Hackenberg's favorite option during his true freshman year and often felt like the only player he could trust on the outside.

    Geno Lewis is the de facto No. 1 replacing Robinson this season, which could be a problem. His 13 yards per catch in 2013 prove that he can be a decent big-play threat, but Lewis caught just 18 of the 36 targets thrown his way—a catch rate of 50 percent

    He and Hack must find a way to pump that up to 60.

Taylor Heinicke, Old Dominion

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    2013 Top WR Target: Larry Pinkard (68 rec, 1,020 yards, 9 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Antonio Vaughan (60 rec, 843 yards, 9 TD)

    Larry Pinkard was slated to come back and build on last year's 1,000-yard season, but he was dismissed at the start of July for a violation of team rules, per Harry Minium of the The Virginian-Pilot.

    As a result, Taylor Heinicke and Antonio Vaughan find themselves back on this list for a second consecutive season. But that doesn't have to be a bad thing. Vaughan didn't become the No. 1 option as I predicted in 2013, but that was more on Pinkard than on him. Hauling in 60 passes for 843 yards and nine scores is nothing to scoff at.

    Plus, ODU returns a pair of 500-yard receivers in Blair Roberts and Zach Pascal behind him. Both of those guys should do fine on the outside, while the 5'8" Vaughan continues doing work in the slot.

Taysom Hill, BYU

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    2013 Top WR Target: Cody Hoffman (57 rec, 894 yards, 5 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Mitch Mathews (23 rec, 397 yards, 4 TD)

    Cody Hoffman was undoubtedly the best receiver on BYU last season, but Mitch Mathews might have been the most important.

    At 6'6", Mathews provided quarterback Taysom Hill with a reliable possession target on the outside and in the red zone. He caught five passes for 112 yards and three touchdowns against Utah State, and the passing game regressed a bit against Notre Dame, Nevada and Washington when a shoulder injury knocked him out for the year.

    This season, Mathews takes over as the likely No. 1 target, although UTEP graduate transfer Jordan Leslie, who led the Miners in receiving the past two years, is a dark horse to occupy that role. Either way, that duo should provide a solid one-two punch for Hill.

Brett Hundley, UCLA

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    2013 Top WR Target: Shaq Evans (47 rec, 709 yards, 9 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Devin Fuller (43 rec, 471 yards, 4 TD)

    Devin Fuller faded down the stretch (perhaps due to hamstring issues) in 2013, and his numbers were inflated by big games against California and Colorado, two of the worst pass defenses in the Pac-12.

    Still, there is reason to believe in his potential. Fuller was the No. 39 overall recruit in the 2012 class, and he has only been playing receiver full time for a couple of seasons. (For those who don't remember, he initially came to Westwood to play quarterback.)

    If he comes back healthy this season, there is no reason Fuller can't capably match (and probably surpass) Shaq Evans' 2013 numbers. With Jordan Payton across the formation and Brett Hundley behind center, he is set up well for success.

Jaquez Johnson, Florida Atlantic

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    2013 Top WR Target: Daniel McKinney (49 rec, 610 yards, 1 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: William Dukes (35 rec, 553 yards, 6 TD)

    The best quarterback you've never heard of might well be Jaquez Johnson, a rising junior who starred with both his arm and his legs and emerged as one of C-USA's marquee attractions last season.

    This year, Johnson returns his best big-play weapons but will need to prove more efficient in the short and medium game after losing his best possession receiver, Daniel McKinney.

    William Dukes made some nice plays down the field last year but only hauled in 35 of his 77 targets (45.5 percent), whereas McKinney's catch rate of 79.3 percent made him a reliable short-yardage option.

Matt Johnson, Bowling Green

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    2013 Top WR Target: Shaun Joplin (54 rec, 908 yards, 3 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Ronnie Moore (28 rec, 547 yards, 7 TD)

    Matt Johnson loses his favorite receiver, Shaun Joplin, and the team's second-leading pass-catcher, tight end Alex Bayer.

    But the Falcons return almost every other meaningful receiver from last year's team, and the addition of new head coach Dino Babers, an Art Briles protege, leaves the passing game in very capable hands.

    Speaking of capable hands, 5'9" slot target Ronnie Moore posted a ridiculous catch rate of 82.4 percent last season, hauling in 28 of the 34 passes thrown his direction. That he posted such a number and still led the MAC with 19.54 yards per reception is almost absurd, pointing to the unique and balanced threat that Moore poses.

    If 6'3" SMU transfer Gehrig Dieter becomes a viable replacement for Joplin and defenses are not able to hone in on Moore, Johnson could post huge numbers in this offense—the same offense that helped Jimmy Garoppolo throw for 5,000 yards at Eastern Illinois last season.

    "Tempo is what we do," Babers told Martin Rickman of SI.com in a must-read interview this offseason. "We will play fast."

    Playing fast is what Moore does best.

Joe Licata, Buffalo

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    2013 Top WR Target: Alex Neutz (61 rec, 1,024 yards, 12 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Boise Ross (13 rec, 156 yards, 0 TD)

    Few returning bowl teams face bigger receiver questions than Buffalo, which loses All-MAC stalwart Alex Neutz and No. 2 option Fred Lee (692 yards in 2013) from last year's surprisingly competent offense.

    Quarterback Joe Licata was a huge upgrade over Alex Zordich, but with attrition on the outside, he will be tested even more in 2014.

    Boise Ross put up decent production as a freshman last season and is the most likely candidate to lead the team in receiving. Hopefully, though, former 3-star recruit Devon Hughes can finally put it all together in his senior year and emerge as an offensive leader.

Sefo Liufau, Colorado

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    2013 Top WR Target: Paul Richardson (83 rec, 1,343 yards, 10 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Nelson Spruce (55 rec, 650 yards, 4 TD)

    It wasn't an Auburn- or Missouri-sized improvement, but Colorado took some big steps forward in Mike MacIntyre's second year.

    Sefo Liufau enjoyed a fine freshman season after relieving Connor Wood and is one of the more exciting young quarterback prospects in the Pac-12. But in 2014, he must prove he can produce without big-play threat Paul Richardson, who returned from a torn ACL to become one of the nation's best receivers and was selected in the second round of the NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks.

    Fortunately, Liufau can still target possession receiver Nelson Spruce, who played well down the stretch in 2013. He and Liufau connected for eight catches and 140 yards against California on Nov. 16 and 50-plus yards with a touchdown in back-to-back games against USC and Utah to end the season.

Sean Mannion, Oregon State

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    2013 Top WR Target: Brandin Cooks (128 rec, 1,730 yards, 16 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Richard Mullaney (52 rec, 788 yards, 3 TD)

    There is no proper way to replace Brandin Cooks, last year's Biletnikoff winner and a first-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints. He will go down as one of the better receivers in Pac-12 history.

    Victor Bolden, a 5'9" sophomore who surely benefited from learning under Cooks last season, will get the first crack at taking over Cooks' old position (Z-receiver), but last year's No. 2 receiver, Richard Mullaney, will be the one who assumes Cooks' duties of No. 1 target.

    Mullaney is 6'3" and was the starting X-receiver last season, providing Sean Mannion an outlet that Cooks couldn't provide on long third downs. His 12 receptions on 3rd-and-10 or longer were the most of any FBS player, and his 168 yards were the most in the Pac-12.

    If new offensive coordinator John Garrett, brother of Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, can channel that production on a down-to-down basis, Mullaney should put up solid stats in 2014.

    Mannion just ripped up the Manning Passing Academy and might be the best pure thrower in college football.

Marcus Mariota, Oregon

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    2013 Top WR Target: Josh Huff (62 rec, 1,140 yards, 12 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Devon Allen (n/a)

    This spot was supposed to be reserved for Bralon Addison, who finished second behind Josh Huff with 60 receptions for 890 yards and seven touchdowns last season. But a spring ACL tear will likely keep Addison out for the year, casting the receiver position into flux.

    Senior Keanon Lowe is the only experienced returnee, but he does not project as a true No. 1 target. Most dependable? Maybe. But there's a problem if he leads the team in receiving.

    Instead, look for redshirt freshman Devon Allen, who doubles as a star on Oregon's track team, to step up and become Marcus Mariota's favorite receiver. His speed is as good as his track background would indicate, and he closed the spring well with a pair of long touchdowns in the spring game (including one from Mariota).

Braxton Miller, Ohio State

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    2013 Top WR Target: Corey Brown (63 rec, 771 yards, 10 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Devin Smith (44 rec, 660 yards, 8 TD)

    Devin Smith has led Ohio State in receiving yards before, doing so as a true freshman in the passing-impaired season of 2011.

    But 294 yards is no longer enough to top the Buckeyes' receiving stats. Not with Urban Meyer running the show. And even though Smith has taken a back seat to Corey Brown the past two seasons, he's also managed to top 600 yards in both of those years.

    Dontre Wilson will be the most exciting receiver in Columbus next season, occupying a Percy Harvin-type role alongside Braxton Miller's Tim Tebow. But Smith should be the most dependable option and remains a safe bet to lead the team in receiving.

Nate Sudfeld, Indiana

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    2013 Top WR Target: Cody Latimer (72 rec, 1,096 yards, 9 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Shane Wynn (46 rec, 633 yards, 11 TD)

    Indiana has quietly developed one of the nation's most fearsome offenses—so much so that it can lose receivers Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes to the NFL and coordinator Seth Littrell to North Carolina and still reasonably expect to finish with a top-20 unit.

    Also lost from last year is quarterback Tre Roberson, who rotated constantly with Nate Sudfeld before transferring this summer. His departure limits how multiple the Hoosiers can be, but it will probably be a good thing for Sudfeld's development as a passer.

    Bringing back 5'7" senior Shane Wynn should also be good for Sudfeld's development. Wynn was steady in the slot last season, finishing between 45 to 90 receiving yards on 10 different occasions. Even though his three-touchdown finale against Purdue came with Roberson under center, he and Sudfeld connected a few times as well.

P.J. Walker, Temple

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    2013 Top WR Target: Robby Anderson (44 rec, 791 yards, 9 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Jalen Fitzpatrick (38 rec, 429 yards, 3 TD)

    Robby Anderson converted from cornerback to wide receiver toward the start of last season, and the results were immediately dramatic. He established a nice rapport with then-freshman quarterback P.J. Walker, catching nine passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns against SMU and eight passes for 184 yards and one touchdown in a near upset of eventual Fiesta Bowl champion UCF.

    He and Walker were supposed to return for an encore in 2014, but academic issues forced Anderson out of the program this offseason. That is obviously bad news for Walker's development, but he has the talent to overcome it.

    Walker impressed at the Manning Academy this offseason, which led one NFL scout to compare him with former Virginia Tech star Tyrod Taylor, per John N. Mitchell of the Philadelphia Inquirer"He shows anticipation, and he's got good accuracy," the scout elaborated. "I'm excited about him."

    Jalen Fitzpatrick can't stretch the field as well as Anderson, but he's a decent possession receiver whom Walker knows he can count on. The two hooked up four times for 128 yards and a touchdown against Army and five times for 52 yards against UCF last season.

Bo Wallace, Ole Miss

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    2013 Top WR Target: Donte Moncrief (59 rec, 938 yards, 6 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Laquon Treadwell (72 rec, 608 yards, 5 TD)

    Donte Moncrief had more than 930 receiving yards in two consecutive seasons and was selected in the third round of the NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts...and he was still probably the second-most talented receiver that Ole Miss had in 2013.

    Because even though he was asked to play more of an underneath, possession-type role, then-freshman Laquon Treadwell flashed the skills that helped him become the No. 1 receiver in the 2013 recruiting class, finishing third in the SEC (behind second-round NFL draft picks Jordan Matthews and Jarvis Landry) with 72 receptions.

    Now tasked with playing a more complete downfield role, Treadwell has reportedly put on 15 pounds of muscle, per Dane Brugler of CBS Sports (who also said he would rank Treadwell the No. 1 receiver prospect if he was eligible for the 2015 NFL draft).

    Moncrief was great, but in this case, Bo Wallace might be falling up.

Davis Webb, Texas Tech

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    2013 Top WR Target: Eric Ward (83 rec, 947 yards, 8 TD)

    2014 Top WR Target: Jakeem Grant (65 rec, 796 yards, 7 TD)

    Davis Webb doesn't just lose his top receiving target, Eric Ward, but also his top overall target, tight end Jace Amaro. Together those two combined for 189 catches, 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last year.

    Also gone is offensive coordinator Sonnie Cumbie (who accepted the same position at TCU), but with head coach Kliff Kingsbury and a tested group of receivers still returning in 2014, Webb should be able to improve on last year's impressive freshman campaign.

    Slot receiver Jakeem Grant, a 5'6" pain-in-the-neck to defend, will not occupy the same role as Ward did last season but should become Webb's most reliable target. He played a big part in the Holiday Bowl upset over Arizona State, ending his season in style with six catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns.