Ranking the Top CFB Wide Receivers Set to Play This Fall

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2020

Ranking the Top CFB Wide Receivers Set to Play This Fall

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    Alabama WR DeVonta Smith
    Alabama WR DeVonta SmithAssociated Press

    Although the 2020 college football season will be unusual because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group of wide receivers set to play this fall is nevertheless impressive.

    Last year's Biletnikoff Award winner, LSU wideout Ja'Marr Chase, recently opted out of the 2020 season. However, 2018 Biletnikoff finalist Tylan Wallace and a smattering of 1,000-yard receivers return.

    Yes, a bunch of top wideouts will be on the sideline. Between the Big Ten and Pac-12 alone, the sport loses Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Rondale Moore, David Bell, Rashod Bateman, Whop Philyor, Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Chase and Wake Forest's Sage Surratt opted out, and Justyn Ross is injured, too. 

    So, who are the best receivers set to suit up this fall? Based on individual talent, past performance and 2020 expectations, the following players stand out.

Honorable Mentions

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    Oklahoma WR Charleston Rambo
    Oklahoma WR Charleston RamboSue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Power Five Receivers

    • Charleston Rambo, Oklahoma
    • Seth Williams, Auburn
    • Tamorrion Terry, Florida State
    • Dyami Brown, North Carolina
    • Elijah Moore, Mississippi


    Group of Five Receivers

    • Reggie Roberson Jr., SMU
    • Tre Nixon, UCF
    • C.J. Johnson, East Carolina
    • Marquez Stevenson, Houston
    • Austin Watkins Jr., UAB
    • Jaelon Darden, North Texas

8. Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    LSU appeared poised to have one of the nation's top receiver duos. But when Ja'Marr Chase announced he was opting out of the season to focus on the 2021 NFL draft, Terrace Marshall Jr. suddenly became the best receiver on the roster.

    It's a label he can handle.

    As a sophomore, Marshall caught 46 passes for 671 yards and 13 touchdowns. Considering that Chase and Justin Jefferson accounted for 3,320 yards and 38 scores, that is still excellent production for Marshall, who missed three games because of a foot injury.

    Marshall's numbers are poised to soar as the featured target for first-year starter Myles Brennan.

7. Damonte Coxie, Memphis

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Running back Kenneth Gainwell's decision to opt out of the 2020 season increased the pressure on Memphis' receiving unit to produce, but that won't be a problem for Damonte Coxie.

    After managing only 323 yards in 2017, he put together a breakout 2018 campaign with 72 catches for 1,174 yards and seven scores.

    Last season, Coxie reeled in 76 passes for an American Athletic Conference-high 1,276 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He closed the campaign with eight receptions for 132 yards against Penn State in the Cotton Bowl.

    The senior opened 2020 on a superb note, making eight catches for 90 yards and a touchdown in a 37-24 win over Arkansas State.

6. George Pickens, Georgia

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    George Pickens ended 2019 on a hot streak, catching a touchdown in four straight games. He piled up a career-high 12 catches and 175 yards in the Sugar Bowl victory over Baylor, too.

    While expectations are understandably high because of that, Georgia needs a big season from the sophomore anyway.

    Projected starter Dominick Blaylock will miss the season because of a torn left ACL. Demetris Robertson has yet to match his 5-star billing. And although the receiving corps is full of talent, no other returning player has more than 10 career catches.

    Beyond the quarterbacklikely USC transfer JT Daniels, now that Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman has opted outPickens is Georgia's most important player on offense.

5. Dazz Newsome, North Carolina

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Sophomore quarterback Sam Howell deservedly draws much of the attention, but North Carolina has a pair of standout receivers in Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome.

    The latter is particularly dangerous.

    Operating out of the slot, Newsome is a reliable middle-of-the-field weapon because he's adept at creating space with his quickness and is a smart route-runner. Last season, he grabbed a team-high 72 catches for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns.

    Though Newsome doesn't provide as many explosive plays as Brown, his quickness is key to holding safeties and allowing Howell to attack downfield so often.

4. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Through two seasons, Jaylen Waddle is best known as a returner. He's scored on a punt return in both years at Alabama and took a kickoff for a touchdown in 2019.

    However, he's also tallied 78 receptions for 1,408 yards and 13 touchdowns over those two seasons. And following the departures of Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, Waddle is a starter on offense.

    It's safe to suggest he will be comfortable with the transition.

    "He's going to play a very big role," teammate Patrick Surtain Jr. said, per Charlie Potter of 247Sports. "He's a special player."

    Whether on special teams or after a catch, Waddle is legitimately a threat to score on every touch. While he's far more polished than just being fast, that game-breaking speed is his greatest strength.

3. Tutu Atwell, Louisville

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    Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

    Small in stature. Not in production.

    Listed at 5'9" and 165 pounds, Tutu Atwell doesn't have the build of a prototypical star receiver. But there is no arguing what the speedy wideout has accomplished at Louisville.

    As a freshman, he pulled in 24 passes for 406 yards and two touchdowns. Last year, he had 70 receptions for 1,276 yards and 12 scores. His 18.2-yards-per-reception average ranked 30th nationally and third among players with at least five catches per game.

    Volume is valuable, and efficiency is important. Combining the two is what makes Atwell an elite receiver.

2. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Tylan Wallace could've been a two-time Biletnikoff finalist had a torn ACL not ended his 2019 season in October.

    He appeared in only eight games last year, yet he collected 53 receptions for 903 yards and eight scores. That followed a sophomore campaign with 86 catches for 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns. Wallace landed second-team Associated Press All-America honors in 2018.

    Oklahoma State may be cautious with Wallace early in 2020, but he seems healthy and ready to complement star running back Chuba Hubbard in this exciting offense.

1. DeVonta Smith, Alabama

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Despite being a potential first-round pick in the 2020 NFL draft, DeVonta Smith returned to Alabama for his senior year. That decision provided a major boost to the Crimson Tide offense.

    Smith amassed 68 catches for 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns last year despite playing alongside Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. He had 42 receptions, 693 yards and six scores in 2018 and caught the game-winning touchdown to beat Georgia in the national championship as a freshman.

    Perhaps the only thing left for Smith to achieve is winning the Biletnikoff Award, and he enters 2020 as the favorite.


    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research.

    Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.