B/R CFB 150: Top 27 Wide Receivers

Bleacher Report College Football StaffFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2017

B/R CFB 150: Top 27 Wide Receivers

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    Western Michigan WR Corey Davis
    Western Michigan WR Corey DavisDylan Buell/Getty Images

    Bleacher Report's CFB 150 is an annual ranking of the game's best players, regardless of NFL potential. Authors David Kenyon, Brian Pedersen and Barrett Sallee have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list down and sorted it by position. Today, Pedersen presents the top 27 wide receivers.

    Other CFB 150 Positions

    Throw it their way and good things will happen.

    More than three dozen wide receivers gained at least 1,000 yards during the 2016 season, and nearly as many hauled in 10 or more touchdowns. The wide receiver position in college football is as strong as ever, as you'll see by our ranking of the best in the game.

    The following rankings are based primarily on one's skills as a college player rather than how he would fare in the NFL. Though these players may be using this time to develop their games for the pro level, primarily their goals are centered on helping their teams succeed.

27-22: Bonner-Ford

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    Jalen Robinette
    Jalen RobinetteLoren Orr/Getty Images

    27. Linell Bonner, Houston

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 98 receptions, 1,118 yards, three touchdowns

    Bonner had the lowest drop rate in the country, failing to haul in only one catchable pass thrown his way, per Pro Football Focus. As a result, the 6'0", 202-pound Bonner produced 53 first downs.

    26. Jalen Robinette, Air Force

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 35 receptions, 959 yards, six touchdowns

    Air Force averaged more than 317 rushing yards per game, but when it decided to throw Robinette was always the first option. The 6'4", 215-pound Robinette led the nation in yards per route run (5.48) and yards per reception (27.4).

    25. Keevan Lucas, Tulsa

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 81 receptions, 1,180 yards, 15 touchdowns

    The 5'10", 195-pound Lucas bounced back from a 2015 season that saw him limited to four games because of injury by recording five 100-yard receiving performances. His three touchdowns in the Miami Beach Bowl against Central Michigan gave him 32 for his career, tying Steve Largent and Howard Twilley for the school record.

    24. Michael Gallup, Colorado State

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 76 receptions, 1,272 yards, 14 touchdowns

    A junior college transfer who played only four games in 2015 because of injury, Gallup had a tremendous first season at the FBS level. He tied for the Mountain West Conference top spot in touchdown catches and produced the second-highest wide receiver rating in the country, per Pro Football Focus.

    23. Fred Ross, Mississippi State

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 72 receptions, 917 yards, 12 touchdowns

    The 6'2", 205-pound Ross tied for the SEC lead in touchdown catches, with nine coming in league play. He finished his career as Mississippi State's all-time leader in receptions (199) and yards (2,528).

    22. Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 79 receptions, 1,094 yards, seven touchdowns

    The 6'2", 195-pounder owns all the Virginia Tech receiving records, breaking his own season reception mark in 2016 after setting single-season yardage (1,164) and touchdown benchmarks (11) last season. He's the only player in school history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season, having done it twice.

21-16: Hansen-Sutton

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    Ryan Switzer
    Ryan SwitzerJeff Gammons/Getty Images

    21. Chad Hansen, California

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 92 receptions, 1,249 yards, 11 touchdowns

    A former walk-on who began his career at FCS Idaho State, the 6'2", 205-pound Hansen burst onto the scene in 2016 with 50 catches for 656 yards and six touchdowns in his first four games. Despite missing two contests midway through the year, he ranked third in the country in receptions per game.

    20. Richie James, Middle Tennessee

    Class: Redshirt sophomore

    2016 Stats: 105 receptions, 1,625 yards, 12 touchdowns

    The only player in the country with at least 105 catches in each of the past two seasons, the 5'9", 180-pound James has seven career games with 10 or more receptions. James scored at least once in 10 of 13 games in 2016.

    19. Ryan Switzer, North Carolina

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 96 receptions, 1,112 yards, six touchdowns

    Switzer first made a splash as a freshman with five punt return touchdowns, bringing back seven for his career, but over time he developed into an incredibly reliable receiver. The 5'10", 185-pound Switzer finished as North Carolina's all-time leader in receptions (243) and receiving yards (2,903).

    18. Shelton Gibson, West Virginia

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 43 receptions, 951 yards, eight receptions

    Gibson's 22.1 yards-per-catch average was the best in FBS among players with 40 or more receptions, aided by seven catches of 50 or more yards. The 6'0", 198-pound Gibson had 16 receptions thrown at least 20 yards downfield on 29 targets, the third-best rate in the country, per Pro Football Focus.

    17. Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 82 receptions, 1,535 yards, 19 touchdowns

    The FBS co-leader in receiving touchdowns, Henderson had 23 total scores in 2016, including two on runs and a pair of kickoff return TDs. The 5'11", 191-pound Henderson led the nation with 12 all-purpose plays of 50 or more yards.

    16. Courtland Sutton, SMU

    Class: Redshirt sophomore

    2016 Stats: 76 receptions, 1,246 yards, 10 touchdowns

    The 6'4", 215-pound Sutton holds the school record for yards as a freshman (862) and sophomore as well as the single-game record, hauling in 13 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns in November against South Florida.

15-11: Kirk-Taylor

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    James Washington
    James WashingtonJ Pat Carter/Getty Images

    15. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 83 receptions, 928 yards, nine touchdowns

    The 5'11", 200-pound Kirk led Texas A&M in catches for the second year in a row and had nearly 58 percent of his yardage after the catch. He also scored three times on punt returns to average better than 109 all-purpose yards per game.

    14. Calvin Ridley, Alabama

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 72 receptions, 769 yards, seven touchdowns

    A reduced passing attack lowered the 6'1", 188-pound Ridley's overall numbers but didn't lessen his value when Alabama needed a clutch catch. Nearly half of his receptions resulted in first downs, and he was the target on six of the Crimson Tide's 16 red-zone passing scores.

    13. Amba Etta-Tawo, Syracuse

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 94 receptions, 1,482 yards, 14 touchdowns

    A graduate transfer who had 61 receptions in three seasons at Maryland, the 6'2", 202-pound Etta-Tawo passed that number in his eighth game with Syracuse. He then finished his career with 13 receptions for 178 yards and five touchdowns against Pittsburgh.

    12. James Washington, Oklahoma State

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 71 receptions, 1,380 yards, 10 touchdowns

    A deep-ball master who had 10 catches for 40-plus yards, the 6'0", 205-pound Washington had the nation's highest per-catch average (19.4) for a player with 70 or more receptions. His return in 2017, combined with quarterback Mason Rudolph, will make Oklahoma State a strong Big 12 (and possibly playoff) contender.

    11. Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 98 receptions, 1,730 yards, 17 touchdowns

    The 6'1", 195-pound Taylor ranked third in FBS in yardage in 2016 with at least 100 yards in nine different games, including the Conference USA Championship Game (194 yards and two touchdowns) and the Boca Raton Bowl (144 yards, one TD). He had 16 of his touchdowns in the final 10 games of the season.

10. JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC

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    Leon Bennett/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 70 receptions, 914 yards, 10 touchdowns

    JuJu Smith-Schuster's overall numbers in 2016 weren't as good as those from his sophomore year, when he had 89 catches for 1,454 yards. But what he was able to do this past season had a greater value to his team, which, after a 1-3 start, won nine consecutive games to finish as one of the hottest teams in the country.

    The 6'2", 220-pound Smith-Schuster was USC's only reliable receiving target in 2015 when quarterback Cody Kessler targeted him 30 percent of the time, and he almost had more catches than the next three Trojans receivers. Deontay Burnett's emergence and senior Darreus Rogers' improved play enabled QB Sam Darnold to spread the ball around more, yet Smith-Schuster remained the go-to player in clutch situations.

    Seventy percent of Smith-Schuster's third-down catches resulted in conversions—the same rate of catches he made in the red zone that resulted in touchdowns.

9. Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 136 receptions, 1,803 yards, 12 touchdowns

    Great pass-catchers come in sizes big and small. Coaches prefer those who have size over anything else but will make do with smaller receivers if they are fast, dependable and able to make plays.

    That's why the 5'8", 178-pound Trent Taylor is among the best in the game despite not fitting that big-bodied mold. He had the second-most catches in FBS in 2016 while leading the nation in receiving yards on a Louisiana Tech team that had big-time targets in him and junior Carlos Henderson. While Henderson was the deep man, Taylor did the work underneath from the slot, where he collected all but five of his receptions, per Pro Football Focus.

    "When you have that kind of production, you have to move him around," coach Skip Holtz told Bleacher Report's C.J. Moore. "You don't always want people knowing where he's going to be because then he's too easy to double cover. We've had to get kind of inventive with some of the formations."

    Taylor wouldn't just catch the ball and go to the ground; he often hauled in the pass in stride and then let his skills do the rest. He had 1,039 yards after the catch, 169 more than any other player, and even as all those quick-fire targets came in hot, he was charged with just four drops.

8. Austin Carr, Northwestern

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    Adam Hunger/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 90 receptions, 1,247 yards, 12 touchdowns

    The Big Ten isn't known for its passing prowess, as no school from that conference averaged more than 300 yards per game for the third consecutive season. That made Austin Carr's 2016 effort stand out even more; he had 16 more receptions than any other Big Ten player and surpassed the field by 252 yards.

    The 6'1", 200-pound senior, who had 23 receptions in his career prior to 2016, had 50 more catches than any of his Northwestern teammates. More than 40 percent of the Wildcats' first downs via the pass were on throws to Carr, who had seven of his 12 touchdowns on third or fourth down.

    With just four drops all season, Carr was as reliable as they came. Pro Football Focus gave the Biletnikoff finalist the No. 2 receiving grade, just ahead of award winner Dede Westbrook of Oklahoma.

7. Zay Jones, East Carolina

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    Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 158 receptions, 1,746 yards, eight touchdowns

    Zay Jones doesn't look different than other wide receivers. If anything, his 6'1", 197-pound frame is unimposing. But where he separated himself from the rest of the pack is the sheer volume at which he produced for East Carolina, doing so at a level never seen before.

    The 2016 season saw Jones catch more passes than any player in FBS history. The seven receptions he had in the finale against Temple put him past the previous mark of 155 set by Bowling Green's Freddie Barnes in 2009. The game before, he became the all-time FBS leader in receptions, finishing with 399 for 12 more than former Pirates teammate Justin Hardy.

    Jones collected more than 44 percent of East Carolina's receptions in 2016, and he was targeted an amazing 215 times—44 more than any other player in the country. That makes his 3.68 percent drop rate on 163 catchable throws incredible.

    The most amazing part of Jones' performance was that it came from a player who was lightly recruited out of high school. Scout rated him as a 3-star prospect, while 247Sports ranked him the 203rd-best wide receiver in the 2013 class.

    "How did the recruiting ratings miss on a guy in Texas with this kind of speed, with this kind of body, with all the attributes he had?" East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery said to USA Today's Daniel Uthman.

6. Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 117 receptions, 1,700 yards, 17 touchdowns

    Cooper Kupp is the all-time NCAA leader in receiving yards, regardless of division, with 6,464 yards on 428 receptions with 73 touchdowns. Discount these numbers for coming mostly against FCS competition at your peril since he didn't disappoint against top-level opponents.

    The 6'2", 205-pound Kupp faced four Pac-12 teams while at Eastern Washington and hauled in 40 catches for 716 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had three TDs apiece against Washington (2014), Oregon (2015) and Washington State (2016). The Eagles won that last matchup and also won at Oregon State in 2013 when Kupp had five catches for 119 yards and two scores in his second collegiate game after redshirting in 2012.

    "If he was in the NFL this fall, I think he'd catch 90 balls—I really do," former Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin (now California's offensive coordinator) told Fox Sports' Sam Gardner in August, adding, "He has the versatility and the intelligence to move all around in an offense."

5. KD Cannon, Baylor

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 87 receptions, 1,215 yards, 13 touchdowns

    Baylor fell off the radar after it followed up a 6-0 start with six consecutive losses, but then KD Cannon made sure people paid attention to the Bears thanks to his mammoth swan song in the Cactus Bowl. His 14 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-12 blowout of Boise State reminded everyone what they'd been missing by not keeping tabs on Baylor in the second half of the season and what we'll miss now that he's on to the NFL.

    The 6'0", 180-pound Cannon had 195 catches in his career, and 27 went for touchdowns, roughly one in seven receptions. He was Baylor's designated deep man, and though he only hauled in 11 of 34 throws 20 yards or more downfield, just one of those non-catches was because of a drop, per Pro Football Focus, and he averaged 48.6 yards on those deep receptions.

    Cannon had six catches for 50 or more yards and three for at least 60 yards, and he might have had more if a midseason groin injury didn't cause him to miss one game and be limited in a few others. Once he got back to full strength, he averaged 9.4 catches for 131 yards with seven TDs over his final five games.

4. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 80 receptions, 1,524 yards, 17 touchdowns

    Dede Westbrook was a Heisman Trophy finalist and won the Biletnikoff Award given to college football's top wide receiver, honors that were the product of his entire season of work but heavily influenced by a dominant run through the early part of the Big 12 schedule.

    From the league opener at TCU on Oct. 1 through an early November game at Iowa State, Westbrook was unstoppable, racking up six of his eight 100-yard receiving games (two topped 200 yards) as he caught 47 passes for 1,012 yards and 12 touchdowns. He did that at all of 6'0" and 176 pounds, often going up against defensive backs who were bigger than him, yet he still caught nearly 77 percent of his targets, per Pro Football Focus.

    Rated third overall by PFF, Westbrook could make something out of anything. More than 51 percent of his yardage came after the catch as he forced 20 missed tackles, and his 19.05 yards-per-catch average was third-best in FBS among players with at least 60 receptions.

    "It's been a privilege to be able to work with him," Oklahoma receivers coach Dennis Simmons said, per John Rohde of SoonerSports.com.

3. John Ross, Washington

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 81 receptions, 1,150 yards, 17 touchdowns

    Watch a few minutes of film from this past season and there's no way of telling John Ross tore knee ligaments in the spring of 2015. Such an injury usually results in a reduction in speed and mobility, not to mention the potential to affect the player's willingness to take chances, especially since this was Ross' second such ailment in two years.

    Instead, the time off enabled him to become stronger and more determined, resulting in a monster 2016 that helped Washington win the Pac-12 and reach the College Football Playoff. The 5'11", 190-pound speedster—who also scored touchdowns as a running back and kickoff man this season—tied for third in FBS in TD catches, and seven of those scores came on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield.

    Of the 122 balls thrown his way, only one ended up getting intercepted, and Ross dropped only four potential receptions. He had five multi-TD games, tied for second-most in the country, and was one of 10 players in FBS with multiple three-TD performances.

    "John Ross became great thanks to his work as a route-runner in addition to his God-given explosiveness," coach Chris Petersen told reporters.

2. Mike Williams, Clemson

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 98 receptions, 1,361 yards, 11 touchdowns

    Clemson made consecutive national championship games against Alabama, winning the most recent one in dramatic fashion. Had Mike Williams been available for the first meeting with the Crimson Tide, we might be discussing the Tigers as a dynasty instead of celebrating their first title in 35 years.

    The 6'3", 225-pound Williams missed nearly all of the 2015 season with a neck injury suffered in the opening game, hurt while leaping in the end zone for a touchdown. The injury nearly ended his career but instead provided motivation to come back even stronger and have a tremendous bounce-back season, which included eight catches for 94 yards and a TD in the national title game.

    "To see the run that we went on [in 2015] and not be able to play, that was tough on him," coach Dabo Swinney told the media. "He's a better player because of it."

    Williams was nearly automatic on third down in 2016, as 23 of his 32 receptions went for first downs. Pro Football Focus rated him fourth overall in receiving thanks to a 69.2 percent catch rate and just six drops among the 104 catchable balls thrown his way.

1. Corey Davis, Western Michigan

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 97 receptions, 1,500 yards, 19 touchdowns

    It may be debatable that Corey Davis was the best wide receiver in college football this past season. The same can't be said about where he stands among the all-time greats in terms of production.

    Davis ended his career with 5,278 receiving yards, 273 more than anyone else in FBS history. That included 1,500 yards on 97 catches in 2016 when he tied for the national lead in touchdowns with 19. His 331 career receptions were the fourth-most ever, while his 52 TDs were second all-time.

    "He's the real deal," quarterback Zach Terrell told the Associated Press (h/t USA Today). "Anybody that doubts that, just look at the highlights."

    But numbers alone aren't why we put the 6'3", 213-pound Davis at the top of the list. It's what he did with those catches and how they made it possible for Western Michigan to post a perfect regular season, win the Mid-American Conference and reach the Cotton Bowl, despite the fact that every opponent worked overtime to try to prevent him getting the ball.

    He still gained 3.54 yards per pass route, third-best in the country, per Pro Football Focus, and his wide receiver rating of 141.1 was third overall.

    Statistics courtesy of CFBStats or ProFootball Focus and recruiting information courtesy of Scout unless otherwise noted. All slides written by Brian J. Pedersen. Follow the author on Twitter at @realBJP.

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