2015 Wide Receiver Recruits Who Are Matchup Nightmares
Collegiate offenses rely on field-stretching wide receivers to enhance vertical efforts and exploit pass defenders dealing with a heightened prevalence of penalties. These elite pass-catchers can make the difference between an average downfield attack and one capable of routinely taking the top off of defenses.
We continue to see premier prospects become effective weapons as freshmen—2014 5-star recruit KD Cannon has 38 receptions for 731 yards this season—so members of this recruiting cycle are destined to make an impact as early as next fall.
Here's a look at several young receivers capable of creating matchup issues for opponents throughout their college careers. Each will be counted on to elevate offenses at the next level.
Preston Williams (Hampton, Georgia)
You can throw Lovejoy High School star Preston Williams into any conversation that centers around exceptional athletes in the 2015 class. The 6'4", 191-pound playmaker possesses elite speed and smooth route-running skills that allow him to take advantage of overmatched defenders in one-on-one settings.
Williams caught 59 passes for 1,388 yards in 2013, averaging approximately 24 yards per reception. He compiled 14 touchdown receptions during that breakout campaign.
Few high school prospects compare to Williams in terms of catch radius and wingspan. He routinely plucks the ball at its highest point and can burn defensive backs downfield in a straight-line footrace.
"My goal is to be the best player in the country, not just at receiver," Williams told me this summer. "People saw what I can do last season, and now I'm trying to take the next step."
He committed to Tennessee as a junior and remains pledged to the Volunteers despite efforts from Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and South Carolina.
Ryan Newsome (Aledo, Texas)
Ryan Newsome is hardly the most physically intimidating prospect in this bunch, but there's no denying his effect on the game. The 5'8", 168-pound Aledo High School standout enjoyed a historically productive season in 2013 and has several schools clamoring for a commitment.
"When Alabama offered, they told me they think I'm the best slot receiver in the nation," Newsome told me. "That's coming from Nick Saban, so it means a lot."
He tallied 826 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches as a junior, adding another 10 scores on the ground. Though Newsome starred in a versatile offensive role, his most impressive efforts occurred in special teams settings.
His seven punt return touchdowns last fall tied a national record and cemented his reputation as an elite scoring threat in this class.
"Teams started to just stop kicking me the ball," Newsome said. "I'm proud to be known as a great punt returner, but I can also do a lot more than that."
He's shown that throughout his high school career, blossoming into a reliable receiving threat. Given his quickness and hip agility, Newsome is a nightmare matchup for any defensive back.
Several programs remain in the picture here, including Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, UCLA and Ole Miss.
Juwan Johnson (Glassboro, New Jersey)
Juwan Johnson is at a similar stage of his physical development as older brother George was as a high school senior. Unlike George, a Detroit Lions defensive end who played at Rutgers, Juwan does his damage on offense.
The 6'4", 200-pound prospect earns his receptions with physicality and tenacious route running. He beats opponents off the line of scrimmage and wreaks havoc on cornerbacks who simply can't compete for well-placed tosses up top.
Johnson plays in a run-heavy offense at Glassboro High School, which produced current standout collegiate rushers Paul James (Rutgers) and Corey Clement (Wisconsin). Still, he's managed to become a key component of the offense throughout his career as a perimeter weapon.
His sophomore and junior campaigns included 55 combined catches for 862 yards and 10 touchdowns. Johnson has already established career highs this season through eight games, hauling in 29 passes for 535 yards and six scores, per MaxPreps.
He committed to Penn State this spring, spurning offers from Alabama, Ohio State, West Virginia and Michigan State, among others.
"We were talking in Coach Franklin's office and he was just being honest," Johnson told me. "He said 'We need you here and we want you to be a part of this team.' I liked everything about it and committed on the spot."
Calvin Ridley (Pompano Beach, Florida)
When you focus on Alabama commit Calvin Ridley, put all the measurables aside and watch him compete. The Monarch High School star is a relentless receiver who feasts on average defenders. He even made elite cornerbacks look rather pedestrian during his performance at The Opening, an invite-only football showcase held in July at Nike's world headquarters.
Ridley, a 6'0", 170-pound talent, earned overall MVP honors at the event, teaming up with fellow Crimson Tide pledge Blake Barnett for a seven-on-seven tournament title. The California quarterback provided rave reviews for Monarch High School's premier player.
"We really found a rhythm together," Barnett told me. "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 caught 41 passes for 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013 but could only suit up for three games as a senior due to age restrictions in Florida (19 years, nine months cut-off limit). He made the most of his abbreviated campaign, pulling in 18 passes for 420 yards and six touchdowns.
"I want to be one of the best to play this position," Ridley told me at The Opening.
Rated No. 1 nationally among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings, he's off to a strong start on that mission.
Equanimeous St. Brown (Anaheim, California)
Equanimeous St. Brown serves as the top target for Oregon quarterback commit Travis Waller, and the duo have created plenty of fireworks during their time together at Servite High School. The 6'5", 205-pound pass-catcher has overcome heavy defensive coverage as a senior to remain one of Southern California's most feared downfield threats.
"He's a very special player," Waller told me in July. "He finds a way to make all the tough plays, so I'm happy to have him on my side. Whichever team gets him is picking up a big-time receiver."
St. Brown is still considering his options with UCLA, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame among programs in the picture.
St. Brown combines rare size and length with top-level speed (clocked at 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash, per 247Sports).
"Teams like that I bring height to the field but also balance that with quickness," he told me this summer.
St. Brown caught 42 passes for 725 yards and six scores during a breakout junior campaign and continues to provide a downfield outlet this season, racking up 14 yards per reception and three touchdowns.
Christian Kirk (Scottsdale, Arizona)
His 5'10", 191-pound frame may not appear intimidating on paper, but Christian Kirk deserves consideration as the most versatile member on this list. The Saguaro High School senior brings a blend of toughness and refined mechanics to the field that separate him from more physically gifted athletes.
Kirk led the team in rushing and receiving during a 2013 state title run and is on track to surge past those statistical totals as a senior. He surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark last weekend and now has 32 total touchdowns in 2014, per MaxPreps.
Throw in 51 receptions for 983 yards and it's apparent Kirk belongs in the upper echelon of 2015 recruits.
"Christian has the ability to break any play at any time as long as the ball touches his hands," top-rated quarterback and UCLA commit Josh Rosen told me after practicing with him at The Opening. "The idea behind the spread offense is to get athletes in space and create matchups that you like with one player against another. He is definitely a guy who can beat just about anyone. You like his chances in those situations."
Kirk is considering multiple scholarship offers. His official visits include Auburn, UCLA, Texas A&M and Arizona State.
"I want an offensive coordinator who is open to me playing every wide receiver position on the field," Kirk told me. "When a guy tells me, 'We want you here in the slot,' and they don't plan to move me anywhere else, that's not what I'm looking for. I may not be 6'3", but I can be a true top target who stretches the field and creates problems for defenses."
George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, Florida)
East Lake High School sensation George Campbell, a rare two-time invitee to The Opening, is simply a freak athlete. The 6'3", 184-pound recruit runs the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds (clocked at 4.36, per 247Sports) and makes difficult plays appear simple with smooth transitions.
He displays impressive leaping ability and can overwhelm cornerbacks in stride-for-stride races along the sideline. Campbell, a former Michigan pledge, caught 61 total passes during the past two seasons for 1,535 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Occasionally questioned about the consistency of his hands, Campbell has elevated efforts as a senior. He has a career-high 43 receptions for 701 yard and 10 scores through nine games.
Though the Wolverines initially landed this commitment last summer, Campbell reopened things midway through his junior year. He committed to Florida State over LSU and Clemson earlier this season.
Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.