Top College Football Teams in Most Need of a Go-To Receiver
Football is the ultimate team sport, so the saying goes. One concurrent idea, though, is that it's not about the X's and O's, but instead the Jimmys and Joes.
X's and O's do make a difference, of course. But talent is crucial.
There is good reason, after all, that a handful of programs—Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and Oklahoma—have largely defined the College Football Playoff era. They've consistently developed star offensive weapons.
And while some exceptions do exist—Michigan in 2021, for example—most offenses for CFP qualifiers have featured a go-to target. Last season, Alabama (Jameson Williams), Cincinnati (Alec Pierce) and Georgia (tight end Brock Bowers) fit the mold.
As the 2022 season approaches, several offenses on top contenders are lacking that standout player.
Top contenders are defined as teams with +9000 national title odds or better on DraftKings, as of July 25.
Late in the 2021 season, Oregon may have found this answer.
Kris Hutson totaled 31 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns as a second-year freshman, which is decent yet unspectacular. However, he reeled in 18 passes for 239 yards and two scores in the Ducks' last four games.
Is that a breakout waiting to happen?
Oregon will be hoping so, considering the No. 2 returning target is Troy Franklin and his 18 catches.
Miami struck gold in the transfer portal last season, bringing in Charleston Rambo from Oklahoma. He set program records in receptions (79) and yards (1,172), also grabbing a team-high seven touchdowns.
But now, Rambo and Mike Harley—who broke Miami's career record for catches—are in the NFL.
Key'Shawn Smith (33/405/3) and Xavier Restrepo (24/373/2) put up encouraging numbers as complementary pieces, sure. Their challenge, perhaps with tight end Will Mallory (30/347/4), is making the leap to stardom, though.
For both Miami's benefit and quarterback Tyler Van Dyke to remain a top NFL draft prospect, the 'Canes need a legitimate go-to player to emerge.
Texas A&M Aggies
Texas A&M is actually the impetus behind this piece—and that was before Ainias Smith was arrested.
As of this writing, only four programs have shorter odds to win the national title. Texas A&M should have an elite defense, but the offense is full of questions after running back Devon Achane.
Smith is suspended from the team but could be reinstated. If that happens, he's the Aggies' top returning target.
He's posted back-to-back years of 40-plus catches, 500-plus yards and six touchdowns. Solid, but not overwhelming. Behind him, the Aggies have Jalen Preston (17/255/3) and Moose Muhammad III (10/153/4).
There is real potential for a star to rise, but it's not a certainty.
Despite losing top receiver Jacob Copeland to Maryland, Florida has a couple of encouraging options.
In the last seven outings of 2021, Justin Shorter (41/550/3) had three 90-yard performances and two more 50-yard games. Arizona State transfer Ricky Pearsall (48/580/4) brings a nice bit of production to the offense, too.
Again, though, the need is a higher tier of playmaker—which UF boasted in 2020 with Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney.
Shorter and Pearsall are nice players, but that doesn't beat Georgia. Florida needs them to be great players.
Michigan should not be panicking, either.
In 2019 and 2020 combined, Ronnie Bell notched 74 receptions for 1,159 yards and two scores. And after Bell's season-ending ACL injury in 2021, Cornelius Johnson (39/620/3) paced the Big Ten champions in all three receiving stats.
Yes, the best version of Michigan's offense leans on the running game anyway. Still, the blowout Orange Bowl loss to Georgia showed why the Wolverines must have a more dynamic pass-catching group.
Whether it's Bell regaining the spotlight or Johnson surpassing him as the lead target, Michigan is banking on them to carry the receivers in 2022.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama lost wideouts Jameson Williams (79/1,572/15), John Metchie III (96/1,142/8) and Slade Bolden (42/408/3) to the NFL from 2021's SEC-winning roster. So, the Tide hit the transfer portal for replacements.
Jermaine Burton (26/497/5) arrived from Georgia, and Tyler Harrell (18/523/6) headed to Alabama from Louisville.
Burton and Harrell join Ja'Corey Brooks, Traeshon Holden and JoJo Earle in a battle to become Bryce Young's primary weapon. Young, the defending Heisman Trophy winner, threw for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns last season.
Even as Burton is the apparent favorite here, Alabama has plenty of candidates who could rise.
Throughout the last decade, Clemson has pumped out NFL receivers and productive college wideouts. That trend hit a screeching halt in 2021.
Justyn Ross (46/514/3) didn't regain his production levels of 2018 or 2019 after returning from a major procedure to his spine. Joe Ngata (23/438/1) and Beaux Collins (31/407/3) were decent, each managing two 100-yard days.
Given the mediocre passing game, it's not a huge coincidence that Clemson's conference title streak ended.
Optimism for a rebound in 2022 is well-founded, but Ngata and Collins—along with potential slot receiver Brannon Spector—need to prove it.
As with Michigan, no reasonable person is arguing that Wisconsin will suddenly have a pass-first philosophy. Running back Braelon Allen will be the foundation of the Badgers offense in 2022.
The pass-catching unit is almost a complete rebuild, though.
Danny Davis (32/478/2), tight end Jake Ferguson (46/450/3) and Kendric Pryor (32/416/3) are gone. Chimere Dike (19/272/1) is the only returning player with 100 career receiving yards, let alone a single 100-yard season for the Badgers.
Fourth-year quarterback Graham Mertz must also improve substantially, but he'll need a boost from Dike or someone else in the receiving corps along the way.
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