Projecting College Football's Top 10 Wide Receiver Stars in 2021

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2021

Projecting College Football's Top 10 Wide Receiver Stars in 2021

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The 2021 NFL draft has a chance to be one of the deepest in years at the wide receiver position, and that means a mass exodus of high-profile talent from the college ranks.

    Alabama's dynamic duo of DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, LSU star Ja'Marr Chase and first-team All-American Elijah Moore are just a few of the big names exiting the college ranks.

    But as always, a fresh batch of rising stars is waiting in the wings to take their place.

    Ahead, we've projected the top 10 wide receivers for the 2021 season based on a mix of past production, perceived upside, path to playing time, and stability at the quarterback position.

    Let's start with a handful of honorable mentions who just missed the cut.

Honorable Mentions

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    Jaivon Heiligh
    Jaivon HeilighChuck Burton/Associated Press

    Here are a few other names to know at the wide receiver position in 2021:

    • Jordan Addison, Pitt
    • Calvin Austin lll, Memphis
    • David Bell, Purdue
    • Jahan Dotson, Penn State
    • Erik Ezukanma, Texas Tech
    • Zay Flowers, Boston College
    • Troy Franklin, Oregon
    • Jaivon Heiligh, Coastal Carolina
    • C.J. Johnson, East Carolina
    • Bo Melton, Rutgers
    • Marvin Mims, Oklahoma
    • Sam Pinckney, Georgia State
    • Rashee Rice, SMU
    • Jaquarii Roberson, Wake Forest
    • Gunner Romney, BYU
    • Justyn Ross, Clemson
    • Khalil Shakir, Boise State
    • Jalen Tolbert, South Alabama
    • Jaden Walley, Mississippi State

10. Treylon Burks, Arkansas

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 51 catches, 820 yards, 7 TD

    A 4-star recruit and the headliner of a 2019 Arkansas recruiting class that ranked 23rd in the nation, Treylon Burks became a focal point of the Razorbacks offense this past season.

    The 6'3", 232-pound sophomore provided a big target for transfer Feleipe Franks, leading the team in receptions and receiving yards while putting together some huge individual performances.

    • @ Missouri: 10 catches, 206 yards, TD
    • vs. Ole Miss: 11 catches, 137 yards, TD
    • @ Texas A&M: 7 catches, 117 yards, 2 TD
    • vs. Georgia: 7 catches, 102 yards, TD

    He'll have a new starting quarterback throwing to him in KJ Jefferson, and he should once again be one of the most productive wide receivers in the SEC.

9. Jaylon Robinson, UCF

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 55 catches, 979 yards, 6 TD

    Jaylon Robinson began his college career at Oklahoma, tallying three receptions for 28 yards as a true freshman before entering the transfer portal.

    He landed at UCF, and after sitting out the 2019 campaign, he emerged as a major weapon in the Knights offense this past season.

    With leading receiver Marlon Williams (71 catches, 1,039 yards, 10 TD) off to the NFL, Robinson will be the go-to target in 2021.

    It doesn't hurt his outlook that Dillon Gabriel is returning for his junior season after passing for 7,223 yards and 61 touchdowns during his first two years under center.

8. Bru McCoy, USC

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 21 catches, 236 yards, 2 TD

    After a rocky start to his collegiate career that saw him enroll early at USC as a 5-star recruit, transfer to Texas and then return to USC following spring practice before missing several months with an undiagnosed illness and redshirting, Bru McCoy finally began to show why he was such a highly regarded prep prospect in 2020.

    His numbers don't exactly jump off the page, but he was behind 2021 NFL draft prospects Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns on the depth chart.

    Drake London (33 catches, 502 yards) is still around and will see plenty of targets, but McCoy is the best bet to emerge as the new No. 1 receiver for a Trojans team that will enter the year with lofty expectations in the Pac-12.

    With Kedon Slovis returning at quarterback, McCoy could be one of the biggest breakout players of 2021.

7. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 43 catches, 723 yards, 6 TD

    Garrett Wilson came to Ohio State as a 5-star recruit and the No. 2 wide receiver prospect in the 2019 class, and he saw significant playing time as a true freshman.

    The 6'0" speedster tallied 30 receptions for 432 yards and five touchdowns in his collegiate debut, and he emerged as a bigger deep threat this past season.

    How much better can he get?

    It's a fair question, one that Gabe Brooks of 247Sports posed during his time in high school by calling him "polished to the point that it could ultimately limit ceiling" while projecting him as a future Day 2 pick in the NFL draft.

    His sure hands and plenty of single coverage lining up opposite Chris Olave in the Buckeyes offense should mean a big statistical season even if NFL teams don't see a future No. 1 receiver.

6. Ty Fryfogle, Indiana

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 37 catches, 721 yards, 7 TD

    After averaging 13.1 yards per catch as a sophomore and 13.4 yards per catch as a junior, Ty Fryfogle finished third in the Big Ten with 19.5 yards per reception in 2020.

    He's among the players taking advantage of the NCAA's decision to grant fall sport athletes an additional year of eligibility, and that's good news for an Indiana Hoosiers team looking to build off a surprising surge up the AP poll.

    Fryfogle had back-to-back 200-yard games on the road against Michigan State and Ohio State at midseason, but he had just six catches over the team's final three games, two of which starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. watched from the sidelines.

    The health of Penix will be the key to Fryfogle posting gaudy numbers in 2021, but he has earned his seat at the table in the top 2021 wide receiver conversation.

5. Kayshon Boutte, LSU

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 45 catches, 735 yards, 5 TD

    With more consistent quarterback play, Kayshon Boutte has the tools to develop into one of college football's most productive wide receivers.

    As a 5-star recruit and the No. 2 wide receiver prospect in the 2020 class, he saw the field immediately for an LSU team that lost a ton of talent to the NFL following the 2019 season.

    It took some time for him to find his footing. But once he did, he was a clear bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season for the defending champs.

    The speedy 6'0", 185-pound freshman went over 100 receiving yards in each of the team's final three games, including a huge 14-catch, 308-yard, three-touchdown performance against Ole Miss in the regular-season finale.

4. Romeo Doubs, Nevada

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 58 catches, 1,002 yards, 9 TD

    Romeo Doubs enters his senior season at Nevada with 145 receptions, 2,213 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in his career, and the best is still to come.

    A 3-star recruit who ranked 1,296th nationally in the 2018 recruiting class, Doubs put together two solid seasons to begin his college career before breaking through as one of just 11 receivers to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark during the 2020 season.

    Carson Strong completed 70.1 percent of his passes for 2,858 yards and 27 touchdowns against four interceptions in 2020, and his decision to put the NFL on hold and return for his redshirt junior season is a big reason Doubs earns such a high spot in these rankings.

    They should be as productive as any quarterback-receiver duo in the country.

3. John Metchie III, Alabama

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 55 catches, 916 yards, 6 TD

    An injury to Jaylen Waddle opened the door for John Metchie III to see more playing time than expected during his sophomore season, and he responded with an extremely productive season opposite Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.

    With Smith and Waddle both moving on to the NFL along with quarterback Mac Jones, it will be a new-look offense for the Crimson Tide in 2021.

    Will the Alabama passing game be as potent with sophomore Bryce Young under center and Steve Sarkisian no longer calling the shots as offensive coordinator?

    That question will need to be answered for Alabama to make another national championship push, but there is little doubt Metchie will be No. 1 on the wide receiver depth chart. He's poised for a big season as the go-to option.

2. George Pickens, Georgia

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    Michael Woods/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 36 catches, 513 yards, 6 TD

    Big things were expected from George Pickens heading into 2020 after he hauled in 49 catches for 727 yards and eight touchdowns as a true freshman.

    He didn't take the major step forward many were predicting, but inconsistent quarterback play is largely to blame. It's no coincidence his production picked up down the stretch when JT Daniels took control of the offense for the final four games.

    • First 4 games: 13 catches, 140 yards, 2 TD
    • Final 4 games: 23 catches, 373 yards, 4 TD

    Daniels will be the starter from the jump in 2021, and that should mean a return to elite status for Pickens as he turns his attention to boosting his stock for the 2022 NFL draft.

1. Chris Olave, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    2020 Stats: 50 catches, 729 yards, 7 TD

    With crisp route-running ability, sure hands and good measurables, there's a good chance Chris Olave would have been a first-round pick had he declared for the 2021 NFL draft.

    Instead, he has decided to avoid the stacked 2021 wide receiver class to return for his senior season and try to establish himself as the No. 1 receiver on the board for the 2022 draft.

    First and foremost, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day needs to figure out who his quarterback will be for the upcoming season, but he has a talented stable of options to chose from that includes C.J. Stroud (4-star, 2020), Jack Miller (4-star, 2020) and Kyle McCord (5-star, 2021).

    Provided the quarterback position is not a revolving door, Olave checks all the boxes to be the best wide receiver in the nation in 2021.

        

    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference.