Ranking the Best Receiving Corps for 2019 College Football Season
Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa are the best quarterbacks in all of college football, and it certainly doesn't hurt either player to have a spectacular supporting cast.
More specifically, they're both targeting a couple of elite wide receivers. The Tigers and Crimson Tide—as we've come to expect in multiple conversations—boast top-10 pass-catching groups in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Only a program's wide receivers and tight ends were considered for this ranking, with an emphasis on the starting unit. Depth is important, but some offenses simply leave their starters on the field.
Production was the greatest factor. Collective talent is taken into consideration, but potential must translate to on-field results.
Baylor Bears: Chris Platt's sixth year of eligibility was a considerable boost for this unit. He's collected 1,479 yards since 2016, and Denzel Mims has 1,881 over the last two seasons. Tyquan Thornton and Marques Jones both caught 20 passes last year too.
Colorado Buffaloes: Laviska Shenault Jr. demanded a place on the national radar as a sophomore. Injuries stunted the middle of his season, but he topped the 1,000-yard barrier in just nine appearances. Colorado also returns K.D. Nixon and Tony Brown, who combined for nearly 1,000 yards.
Memphis Tigers: Although he didn't quite match the 1,400-yard production of former Tiger Anthony Miller, Damonte Coxie was pretty close at 1,174. He's the defensive star of the returning pass-catchers, but tight ends Joey Magnifico and Sean Dykes have both had 300-yard seasons at Memphis. Pop Williams joined that duo with 304 last year.
Michigan Wolverines: This group has enormous potential but many questions―and that extends to new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones both crested 600 yards last season, and Tarik Black looked excellent when healthy in 2017. Will a refreshed offense be enough for the talent to thrive?
Minnesota Golden Gophers: After setting program records with 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, Tyler Johnson decided to pass on the NFL to play one more year. He headlines a group that included a pair of breakout freshmen in 2018; Rashod Bateman amassed 704 yards and six scores on 51 catches, and Chris Autman-Bell finished with 449 yards.
Purdue Boilermakers: Rondale Moore electrified the FBS as a freshman, amassing 1,258 receiving yards among his 2,215 all-purpose yards. Tight end Brycen Hopkins is back after posting a career-high 583 yards too. Depth is bit of a concern, but Moore and Hopkins are effectively half of the passing game anyway.
SMU Mustangs: A first-team All-AAC choice in 2018, James Proche led the Mustangs with 93 receptions for 1,199 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Reggie Roberson Jr. pitched in 802 yards and six scores on 52 catches, while Rice transfer Kylen Granson had 622 yards in two years at his previous stop and will be eligible in 2019.
Texas A&M Aggies: Texas A&M is a perfect example of weighing talent and production. Quartney Davis, Camron Buckley, Jhamon Ausbon, Kendrick Rogers and Hezekiah Jones were all top-500 recruits. Last year, they combined for 1,904 receiving yards and 13 scores. Not bad, not great—substantial upside yet proving themselves.
10. North Texas Mean Green
North Texas would've been even higher had Jalen Guyton returned to Denton instead of pursuing the NFL.
Still, the Mean Green have first-team All-Conference USA performer Rico Bussey Jr. to lead the receivers. He made 68 receptions for 1,017 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, improving upon a sophomore year with 47 catches, 677 yards and seven scores.
Michael Lawrence, who paced UNT in receiving two years ago, has 94 catches for 1,252 yards and six scores since 2017. Jaelon Darden is also a two-year contributor and has 856 career yards. Tight end Kelvin Smith has consecutive seasons of 27-plus grabs.
North Texas ranked No. 12 nationally in passing offense last season, and the return of quarterback Mason Fine coupled with this receiving unit suggests a higher finish in 2019 is likely.
9. Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State must replace more than 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, but few programs are better suited for this type of transition.
K.J. Hill led the Buckeyes with 56 catches in 2017 and posted a personal-best 865 receiving yards as a junior. Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack both offered 300-yard outputs in reserve roles.
Chris Olave became a valuable piece late last season, and Luke Farrell paced the tight ends with 20 catches and 205 yards. They'll be expected to hold complementary roles alongside projected H-back Jaelen Gill while early-enrolling 5-star Garrett Wilson and 2018 4-star Kamryn Babb try to crack the rotation.
Georgia transfer Justin Fields has plenty of encouraging talent around him for Year 1 at quarterback in Columbus.
8. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The leading returning wideout in the nation, Tylan Wallace, shredded the box score for 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns last year.
Wallace will be tough to handle—no matter who becomes Oklahoma State's new quarterback (likely Spencer Sanders or Dru Brown). Granted, one elite receiver does not make a heralded unit. But that's where Dillon Stoner and Landon Wolf enter the conversation.
Stoner has consecutive years of 570-plus yards, and Wolf notched 362 during his first season in the rotation. Tight end Jelani Woods caught two touchdowns and should again lead the position in 2019.
New coordinator Sean Gleeson's impact is a wild card, but he brings a creative system from Princeton. Of course, as long as he features Wallace, the Pokes should be just fine.
7. Houston Cougars
New head coach Dana Holgorsen inherited an established receiving corps at Houston.
In 2018, Marquez Stevenson finally had a healthy campaign and ended with 75 receptions for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns. Keith Corbin reeled in a team-best 10 scores, finishing second on the Cougars in both catches (40) and receiving yards (691).
Courtney Lark missed a few games but still collected 539 yards and five trips to the end zone. Behind him, Houston has a pair of returnees in the versatile Bryson Smith and Jeremy Singleton, who both contributed 285 receiving yards last season. Terry Mark has a bit of experience too.
If the Cougs get contributions from Tre'von Bradley, Julon Williams or a tight end, that's a bonus for Holgorsen's debut season.
6. Texas Longhorns
Whichever player is tasked with replacing the creativity and explosiveness of Lil'Jordan Humphrey—who thrived on option routes in the slot—will be facing a massive challenge.
But the Longhorns have a terrific foundation.
Collin Johnson has grabbed 122 passes for 1,750 yards and nine touchdowns over the last two seasons. And in 2018, Devin Duvernay provided 41 catches, 546 yards and four scores.
Beyond the duo is where it gets interesting. John Burt has mostly been a non-factor since 2015 but has 844 career receiving yards. Excluding Bru McCoy, Texas has signed one 5-star and five 4-star talents during the last two recruiting cycles.
Johnson and Duvernay will brace the unit as new contributors emerge.
5. Washington State Cougars
Did you expect anything else from Mike Leach?
Nobody leans more heavily on the passing game than the Washington State head coach. Last season, 10 different players made at least 20 receptions. That group included eight wideouts, and seven of them are returning to Pullman in 2019.
Dezmon Patmon recorded a team-best 816 yards, while Davontavean Martin paced the Cougars receivers in two categories. He caught 69 passes and shared the touchdown lead (eight) with Easop Winston Jr., who had 654 yards. Jamire Calvin ranked fourth among wideouts with 497 yards.
Travell Harris, Calvin Jackson Jr. and Renard Bell all contributed in smaller roles, offering 20-plus receptions and at least 202 yards.
Entering 2019, no single receiver has asserted himself as the dominant go-to target. Separation from being a product of the system to a standalone star is important. Still, this is a hugely talented group.
4. USC Trojans
USC has 99 problems, but the receivers ain't one.
Michael Pittman Jr. returns after leading the Trojans with 758 yards and six scores in 2018. Amon-Ra St. Brown backed up his hype as a freshman, providing a team-high 60 receptions for 750 yards. He closed the season with a 10-catch performance against Notre Dame.
Tyler Vaughns didn't quite match his superb freshman campaign yet had 58 receptions, 674 yards and six touchdowns. Velus Jones Jr.—who flirted with a transfer but chose to stay—added 266 yards.
3. Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma's depth of talent is impressive, but CeeDee Lamb is the featured target because of his All-American upside. As the No. 2 option last year, he amassed 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns on 65 catches.
And given the tendency of Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts to lock onto his top receiver—see: Calvin Ridley, 2017—Lamb appears to be destined for a massive season.
Nevertheless, the Sooners are stocked with options.
Lee Morris gathered 457 yards and eight touchdowns on just 21 catches, and Grant Calcaterra is a seam-busting weapon who had 396 yards and six scores. Injuries limited Mykel Jones in 2018, but he posted 310 yards the year before.
2. Clemson Tigers
Unfortunately for Clemson, projected starter Amari Rodgers is expected to miss a majority of the season after tearing his right ACL.
Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins are healthy, though. And they're special.
In 2018, the duo combined for 105 catches for 1,936 yards and 21 touchdowns. During the College Football Playoff, they produced 435 yards and five scores.
Clemson wouldn't have the No. 1 spot even if Rodgers were healthy; Derion Kendrick and Diondre Overton both had about 200 yards last season. While top recruits Frank Ladson and Joe Ngata are promising, they're projections at this point.
But a duo of Ross and Higgins with some experienced depth is plenty to merit a No. 2 ranking.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama is No. 1, and it's not particularly close.
Last season, Jerry Jeudy won the Biletnikoff Award as the country's best receiver. He racked up 68 catches for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns while sharing the field with a quartet of terrific options. Three of those players will be back in 2019.
Jaylen Waddle collected 45 receptions, 848 yards and seven touchdowns, while Henry Ruggs III tallied a 46/741/11 line. DeVonta Smith―the hero of Bama's championship win over Georgia following the 2017 campaign―grabbed 42 passes for 693 yards and six scores.
This unit is stacked.
"A lot of teams have one dynamic guy and some complementary guys," former Alabama assistant coach Joe Pannunzio said prior to leaving for the NFL, per Marq Burnett of Saturday Down South. "We have four of those guys, and they're all a little bit different."