Projecting College Football's Top 10 Wide Receiver Superstars in 2020

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2020

Projecting College Football's Top 10 Wide Receiver Superstars in 2020

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    With guys like Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, Sam Ehlinger and Travis Etienne returning to school, much of the discussion on college football's 2020 group of superstars revolve around quarterbacks and running backs, and rightfully so.

    But the remaining group of pass-catchers coming back to terrorize defensive backs across the nation is impressive, too.

    Even with CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Laviska Shenault Jr. and others off to the NFL, there is still a bunch of high-quality wide receivers coming back.

    The group is so strong that guys like Oklahoma's Jadon Haselwood, Indiana's Whop Philyor, Florida State's Tamorrion Terry, Memphis' Damonte Coxie and Louisville's Chatarius Atwell didn't make the list. They were right on the cusp, though. There are plenty of other capable playmakers who will emerge, too.

    College football has a dynamic group of receivers, from players with elite skill sets that will translate in the pros to others who are just phenomenal players on this level. 

    Using talent, production and emerging opportunity, Bleacher Report ranked the biggest projected CFB receiving stars in 2020. Let's take a look.

10. Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC

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    The silky-smooth skills of Amon-Ra St. Brown were certainly on display in 2019 as the sophomore posted a huge second season with Kedon Slovis slinging him the ball in Graham Harrell's offense.

    Now, the USC Trojans are expected to have a QB battle on their hands with Slovis trying to hold off JT Daniels, the former starter who was lost for the season in the opening win over Fresno State last year. The winner of that race is going to be throwing darts all over the place.

    With Michael Pittman Jr. off to the NFL, St. Brown becomes the team's leading receiver with 77 catches for 1,042 yards and six touchdowns. Though the 6'1", 195-pound pass-catcher isn't necessarily a field-stretcher, he can do it.

    The Trojans are going to be loaded at receiver with Tyler Vaughns and jumbo receiver/flex tight end Drake Jackson returning and freshmen Bru McCoy and Kyle Ford talented enough to slot into the rotation and get plenty of run.

    But St. Brown has been a fixture in the rotation and loading the stat sheets the past two seasons. With Pittman gone, he's going to have a lot more scoring opportunities, and with presumably Slovis settling into his second season as the starter, that's a familiarity that will bode well.

    Will the chemistry be enough to save coach Clay Helton's job? The Trojans better parlay those receiving numbers into some victories for that to happen.

9. George Pickens, Georgia

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    The biggest disappointment on Georgia's loaded 2019 football team was its struggles in the passing game, with quarterback Jake Fromm taking a colossal step back with James Coley as the offensive coordinator. The young receivers didn't do those two any favors, either.

    Now, Fromm and Coley are both gone, and that may not be a bad thing for the Bulldogs. New offensive coordinator Todd Monken is one of the best minds in the game, and he is going to have a shiny, new toy to work with in graduate transfer Jamie Newman, who left Wake Forest for Athens.

    The brightest pass-catching star a season ago was true freshman George Pickens, who came on at the end of the year, torching Baylor for 175 yards on 12 catches in the Sugar Bowl to set the stage for an exciting future. 

    Pickens was a coveted prospect out of Hoover High School in Alabama and was committed to Auburn for a long time before choosing UGA over the Tigers and Tennessee. His first season was a roaring success with 727 yards on 49 catches. He also got in the end zone eight times.

    DawgNation's Mike Griffith noted how Pickens finished as the nation's top-ranked freshman at his position, according to the Pro Football Focus metric, and referred to former LSU defensive coordinator and current Baylor coach Dave Aranda developing a "Pickens Plan" in the SEC championship game to limit his touches.

    LSU freshman DB Derek Stingley Jr. praised Pickens, too. How could you not? He's an elite force, and if he stays healthy and remains in the starting lineup, he's going to be a terror for SEC defensive backs the next two seasons. He and Newman will quickly develop a rapport, and a big season is sure to follow.

8. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

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    Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck authored one of college football's biggest feel-good stories in 2019, taking the Golden Gophers to an impressive 11-2 record and putting them on the cusp of the College Football Playoff conversation for much of the season.

    With quarterback Tanner Morgan returning for another season, Minnesota should keep building in the right direction. Yes, losing star receiver Tyler Johnson and running back Rodney Smith will be big holes, but there are budding stars ready to step in.

    Runner Mohamed Ibrahim is on several breakout lists this offseason, but that's only because teammate Rashod Bateman is already on the upper tier of receivers nationally.

    Johnson's 1,318 receiving yards led the team, but Bateman was right behind him with 1,219 yards. He also had 11 touchdowns, two behind Johnson's 13. In other words, Bateman could have been a No. 1 receiver on most college teams and should slot nicely into that role next year.

    The familiarity between him and Morgan is going to lead to huge numbers. The Gophers need other pass-catchers to step up, and guys like Chris Autman-Bell, Demetrius Douglas and freshman Daniel Jackson are prime candidates.

    But they'll be playing second fiddle to Bateman. At 6'2", 209 pounds, the former Tift County (Georgia) product is the type of pass-catcher who absolutely could have played in the SEC but chose to head north where he blossomed into a star.

    The NFL may come calling after 2020, but his junior season is going to be exciting to watch.

7. Rondale Moore, Purdue

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    Like another guy on this list you'll read about soon, Purdue's Rondale Moore may be collecting dust on the back shelf of your mind after battling injuries for much of his 2019 sophomore season.

    He played in just four games for the Boilermakers in what basically was a lost, injury-riddled season for a program that appeared to be heading in the right direction under Jeff Brohm before the disappointing '19 campaign. With a healthy Moore, things could turn around in a hurry.

    The redshirt year, however, likely is academic for Moore, who is a do-it-all force nobody expects to remain in college four seasons before the NFL comes knocking on his door. Even so, if he wants, he'll have three more seasons remaining in West Lafayette.

    As a freshman in 2018, Moore had 114 catches for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns and ran for 213 more yards and another pair of scores. He also can be a force on special teams, and he is a generational-type talent who will excel in Brohm's offense.

    With him out much of '19, freshman David Bell turned into a star, as did tight end Brycen Hopkins, who is off to the NFL. Moore and Bell return, though, and they should be as formidable a duo as anybody in the nation.

    There's no way you can keep the ball out of Moore's hands if he's healthy and on the field, so look for him to approach the century mark again in grabs and eclipse 1,000 receiving yards. He's also going to make plenty of electrifying plays in other ways, too.

    So, unless Purdue is just awful again, you'll be seeing Moore's name pop up on postseason honors lists.

6. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State Buckeyes

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    There may not be a team in the nation blessed with as much 2020 talent in the passing game as the Ohio State Buckeyes, and this is a team that said goodbye to K.J. Hill, Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor from a season ago.

    Of course the catalyst for it all is Heisman Trophy finalist Justin Fields, who is back for his junior season in Ryan Day's offense and should be the nation's top playmaker. He's going to have plenty of talent around him, too.

    Chris Olave is back after catching 49 balls for 849 yards and 12 touchdowns a season ago, and the freshman trio of Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Gee Scott Jr. is dynamic and versatile. But the breakout player who should have the biggest season of them all is Texas sophomore Garrett Wilson.

    The 6'0", 188-pound budding star found space in a crowded receiving corps as a true freshman, finishing the year with 30 catches for 432 yards and five touchdowns. Though Olave put up better numbers, Wilson is perhaps the better all-around receiver.

    He can do everything you want at the position, and though he isn't the biggest receiver, he plays bigger than his size and is a highlight-reel play waiting to happen.

    "We think he obviously has a tremendous ceiling, and he's growing every week," Day told Letterman Row's Austin Ward during the 2019 season. "He's understanding how to practice. He's understanding how to play within the offense. But I feel like his maturity level, it's kind of like how Chris Olave came on late in the season last year as a freshman."

    With Olave and Wilson entrenched on the perimeter and Fields throwing them the ball, expect big things.

5. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State

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    The Oklahoma State Cowboys had to deal with a massive, late-season blow when star receiver Tylan Wallace went down in practice with a non-contact torn anterior cruciate ligament that kept him out the final four games.

    So, you may have forgotten just how dynamic the guy is with the ball in his hands. 

    It won't be long until you see it for yourself on the football field. The Tulsa World's Bill Haisten recently reported Wallace—who elected to return to Stillwater for his senior season rather than come out in a loaded pass-catcher class without being full-strength—is ahead of schedule on his recovery.

    He should be catching Spencer Sanders passes by fall practice, and the 6'0", 185-pound star receiver shouldn't need a whole lot of time to readapt to the game. Though he may not be a top-tier pro prospect, few are better than him in the college game.

    With him and running back Chuba Hubbard returning, the Cowboys should be considered in the mix to win the Big 12 championship this season, and if that happens, it'll be because Wallace was a major part of the offense.

    In 2018, Wallace finished the year with 86 catches for 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns, making big play after big play and finishing second to Jerry Jeudy in the Biletnikoff Award race as a sophomore after basically coming from nowhere.

    Those numbers didn't falter at all in '19, as he piled up 903 yards on 53 catches and scored eight times in the nine games he played.

    If Wallace returns full-strength from his knee injury as expected, he's going to be one of the nation's top receivers and perhaps even one of the best players.

4. Justyn Ross, Clemson

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    When Clemson won the national championship two years ago, then-freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence got most of the late-season headlines, but it was another first-year player who helped the Tigers take over and elevate their game to another level.

    Justyn Ross surpassed Tee Higgins as the go-to guy for Lawrence down the stretch, and everybody in the nation "oohed" and "ahhed" about the potential of the Higgins-Ross combo moving forward. They didn't disappoint in '19, either, though Higgins re-asserted himself as the top target.

    Now, with Higgins off to the NFL with certain first-round pick potential, Ross is entering his junior season needing to step up his game even more.

    His role changed a bit as a sophomore as he went from 46 catches for 1,000 yards and nine grabs as a first-year player to more of a possession guy last year, catching 66 passes for 865 yards and eight scores. That wasn't an indictment of his game, either. Instead, it's just further proof he can do it all.

    With Higgins stretching the field last year, Lawrence looked for Ross in other situations. Now, it may be Ross' turn to go deep once again. He's going to have a lot of players around him for which defenders must account, too. Joe Ngata, Frank Ladson and Amari Rodgers give Lawrence tons of targets.

    Now that Lawrence is entering his junior season, his classmate could be the top target once again. The bet here is he will be, and Ross not only will be the best playmaker on the Tigers but one of the top in the nation.

    Look for him to have a massive season for a team that should contend for a title once again.

3. DeVonta Smith, Alabama

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    Much like a lot of players on this list, DeVonta Smith watched as prolific pass-catchers left Alabama, and he surged up the depth chart to be the top guy.

    The only thing in this case is Smith had the biggest year of any Crimson Tide receiver last season; better than defending Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, better than future NFL high draft pick Henry Ruggs III and better than dynamic returning athlete Jaylen Waddle.

    Smith caught the biggest pass of his career as a true freshman, hauling in Tua Tagovailoa's overtime bomb to beat Georgia in a walk-off national championship victory. But Smith's junior season proved he has elite potential, finishing with 68 catches for 1,256 yards and 14 scores.

    Even with Tagovailoa out this past year, Smith performed, catching four passes for 94 yards and a pair of scores against Western Carolina, five catches for 80 yards against Auburn and three for 56 yards and a touchdown against Michigan.

    If Mac Jones is the quarterback of choice in Tuscaloosa, he'd be wise to look to senior Smith more often than not. The same goes for incoming freshman Bryce Young. 

    But with the uncertainty surrounding that position, it's hard to envision Smith putting up the same kind of numbers he did when Tagovailoa was healthy. It's going to be interesting to see how the passes are distributed with him and Waddle leading the way and UA breaking in a bunch of young receivers.

    Much like with fellow SEC West foe LSU, there are a lot of questions. It's how quickly the answers emerge that will determine how big Smith's final season will be. He's certainly got the potential for it to be the biggest one yet if things shake out.

2. Ja'Marr Chase, LSU

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    No matter how many star receivers there were in college football in 2019 (and there were plenty) or how many dynamic pass-catchers there were even on his own team, LSU sophomore Ja'Marr Chase was the best of them all.

    Playing in Joe Burrow's High-Flying Bayou Bengals Air Assault, Chase finished the season with 84 catches for 1,780 yards, averaged more than 21 yards per catch and wound up with 20 receiving touchdowns. Even with Justin Jefferson, Terrace Marshall and Thaddeus Moss making plays, Chase was elite.

    Everybody noticed, too, as he won the Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top receiver.

    With Jefferson and Moss off to the NFL, there should be plenty of opportunities for Chase to shine yet again in what is surely going to be his final year in Baton Rouge. But the biggest question for LSU—and perhaps nationally—is who's going to get him the ball?

    Myles Brennan is the expected replacement for Burrow, and there's nothing to suggest he can't be a serviceable SEC starter. Look at what Mac Jones did at Alabama in relief of Tua Tagovailoa, and you may have a best-case scenario for the Tigers junior.

    Of course, passing game coordinator Joe Brady is gone, too, as is elite running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger will be calling plays, and that's a big deal for LSU, Brennan and Co. There are also still plenty of potential star pass-catchers.

    Chase and Marshall lead the way, but freshman Arik Gilbert could be special, too. It should be expected Chase will take a rather large step backward in '20, but he's still going to be among the nation's best receivers. If Brennan is better than expected, Chase may wind up with back-to-back Biletnikoffs.

    Don't count him out just yet.

1. Dazz Newsome, North Carolina

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    You're probably shocked at the name that holds the top spot on this list. If you're not a die-hard college football fan, it's OK to even admit you may have whispered, "Who?"

    But you've got to familiarize yourself with rising North Carolina senior Dazz Newsome.

    He finished the year with 72 catches for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Tar Heels, and he teamed with Dyami Brown (51 catches for 1,034 yards and 12 touchdowns) to provide an elite pass-catching duo during coach Mack Brown's first season back in Chapel Hill.

    When the Heels dominated Temple in the Military Bowl, Newsome wound up with eight catches for 71 yards and displayed elite athleticism with a pair of acrobatic touchdown catches. With Sam Howell back for his sophomore season and more comfortable in the offense, expect huge things.

    Just how big could it be? The Heels are going to have another season of Brown's recruiting outfitting the roster with better players, and there should be an improved running game. The offensive line could be better, too.

    But Howell is the type of player who is going to shatter records in Chapel Hill, and he is going to help get UNC back on the map after a frustrating down cycle under Larry Fedora.

    Newsome won't have to deal with the waves of star receivers loading the roster like Wilson and Ross. He won't have to worry about breaking in a new quarterback like Chase and Smith. He can just go out there with Howell, and he and Brown can play pitch and catch all day.

    That's why you should expect Newsome to have the biggest year catching the ball of anybody in college football. He may not be as big a pro prospect as some of the guys at the top of this list, but he will be the biggest star at the position in college football in 2020.


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