Clemson WR #5, Tee Higgins (Sophomore) at Orange & White Spring Game 2018
Photo by Austin Silvey @SilveyESP
There aren't as many "household" names in the 2018 college football wide receiver pool. By the end of the season that may no longer be the case though. These picks are based solely on their ability, potential, production, and my personal 'eye test' at the college level -- not their pro potential necessarily.
Without further delay, here are my top 15 wide receivers to watch in the 2018 college football season...
15. Jalen Reagor - TCU, 5-11 185, Sophomore
2017 - 33 receptions, 576 yards, 17.5 avg | 8 TD
14. Emanuel Hall - MISSOURI, 6-3 200, Senior
2017 - 33 receptions, 817 yards, 24.8 avg | 8 TD
13. Riley Ridley - GEORGIA, 6-2 209, Junior
2017 - 14 receptions, 218 yards, 15.6 avg | 2 TD
12. Jaylen Smith - LOUISVILLE, 6-4 223, Senior
2017 - 60 receptions, 980 yards, 16.3 avg | 7 TD
11. Jerry Jeudy - ALABAMA, 6-1 187, Sophomore
2017 - 14 receptions, 264 yards, 18.9 avg | 2 TD
10. Greg Dortch - WAKE FOREST, 5-9 170, Sophomore
Greg Dortch burst onto the scene in 2017. He showcased explosiveness as both a receiver and a returner. Before missing the last five games of the season to injury, Dortch reeled in 53 receptions on 74 targets (71.6% catch rate) for 722 yards and nine touchdowns. On special teams, he totaled 38 kick & punt returns for 529 overall yards, averaging nearly 14 yards per return.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dortch received a 137.6 passer rating when targeted which is first overall among 29 returning ACC receivers who were targeted at least 33 times in 2017; eighth overall among all FBS wide receivers. He also averaged 3.68 yards per route run and forced 13 missed tackles on receptions.
Dortch was voted to the 2018 Preseason All-ACC First-team as an All-purpose player.
9. Parris Campbell - OHIO STATE, 6-1 208, Senior
Parris Campbell may well be the most dangerous 'yards after catch' receiver in the country. When he gets the ball in his hands, he knows precisely how to navigate through a defense and find big yardage using his top-end speed and agility. In 2017, Campbell averaged 13 yards after the catch per reception and 87.5% of his receiving yards came after the catch.
Campbell hauled in 41 receptions on 54 targets for 589 yards and three touchdowns last season. According to PFF, he averaged 11.4 yards per slot target in 2017 which is 5th-highest among returning FBS wide receivers.
With JT Barrett now gone, I think Campbell's usage will ramp up this season with a better passer in Dwayne Haskins behind center for the Buckeyes.
8. Deebo Samuel - SOUTH CAROLINA, 6-2 210, Senior
Deebo Samuel is Mr. 'Do-It-All' for South Carolina. His 2017 season was cut short due to an injury in the second half of the week three game vs Kentucky. In his limited action, he brought in 15 receptions for 250 yards and three touchdowns receiving, one rushing and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns.
According to PFF, Samuel recorded a 126.9 passer rating when targeted which was +36.5 higher than the NCAA average. After his electric start to the season, Samuel leaped into the Heisman discussion before getting injured. He will look to come back in 2018 and make another run at it.
Deebo was voted to the 2018 Preseason All-SEC First-team as the second wide receiver.
7. Stanley Morgan Jr - NEBRASKA, 6-1 195, Senior
The one bright spot for the Cornhuskers in recent memory has been Stanley Morgan Jr. Last year he caught 61 balls on 113 targets for 986 yards and 10 touchdowns. He finished with a 90.9 wide receiver rating. He is Nebraska's highest rated returning player in 2018 (84.5).
Morgan had a target rate of 24.8% and a catch rate of 56% in 2017. Scott Frost will have a lot of fun coaching a talent like this. Expect an uptick in Morgan's numbers this season.
6. David Sills V - WEST VIRGINIA, 6-4 201, Senior
David Sills was the go-to guy for touchdowns in Morgantown last season. Sills accounted for 60 receptions on 103 targets, 980 yards, and 18 touchdowns. His passer rating when targeted in 2017 was 121.8 (17th highest among returning FBS receivers). He made the majority of his plays on deep passes where he accumulated 477 deep receiving yards.
Sills is the kind of receiver that every quarterback would love to have. A tall guy that can stretch the field and provide a big body in the redzone to go up and get balls. He is part of a crowded wide receiver room but he will be looked to as the main scoring threat for the Mountaineers in 2018.
5. Tee Higgins - CLEMSON, 6-4 200, Sophomore
Tee Higgins is on the verge of becoming a superstar at Clemson. As a freshman in 2017, Higgins caught 17 passes on 31 targets for 345 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 20.3 yards per reception and 11.1 yards per target.
Higgins has a large catch radius to go along with good long speed and soft hands. He can go up and battle for 50-50 balls in the air and as he continues to get stronger, he'll win more of those battles. A freak athlete and in time, with proper development, could become the best wide receiver in Clemson history.
He draws a comparison to former Georgia wide receiver (current Cincinnati Bengal) AJ Green. They share a similar build and stature and if Higgins' freshman year was any indication, they will both share in great success. Higgins will be looked to as the number one guy in 2018 with Deon Cain now out of the program.
4. Kelvin Harmon - NC STATE, 6-3 213, Junior
Kelvin Harmon is one of my favorite receivers coming into the 2018 seasons. Harmon is a physical receiver that is not going to be denied. When he goes up for a catch, you better believe he is coming down with it 11 times out of 10. He wants it more than everybody he plays against.
In 2017, Harmon caught 69 passes on a whopping 117 targets, going for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 14.7 yards per catch, 8.7 yards per target, and a 59% catch rate. According to David Hale, on throws of 10 or more yards down the field, he had 27 catches on 60 targets, four touchdowns, 143 yards after the catch, and just a 3.3% drop rate.
He and Jakobi Meyers will look to make Ryan Finley's job easy in 2018 and I have no doubt they will do just that. Harmon was also voted to the 2018 Preseason All-ACC First-team at the wide receiver position.
3. AJ Brown - OLE MISS, 6-1 225, Junior
AJ Brown is the 'Big Gun' in a pool of talented wide receivers at Ole Miss. The Rebels have what most consider to be one of the better receiver rooms in the country this year and perhaps the best in the SEC; neck-in-neck with South Carolina in my opinion. Alongside DK Metcalf and DeMarkus Lodge, Brown and company will look to make the most of a season with no postseason in play.
In the 2017 season, Brown hauled in 75 catches on 94 targets for 1,252 yards (16.7 yards per catch) and 11 touchdowns. He averaged 13.3 yards per target and had a catch rate of 79.8%. PFF graded him with a 143.9 passer rating when targeted which is +53.5 higher than the NCAA average.
On non-screen receptions, Brown averaged 8.27 yards after the catch which led all FBS receivers with at least 40 receptions on non-screen passes [according to Austin Gayle].
Brown is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball and is an explosive playmaker. He missed two games last season so if Brown can stay healthy and play all 12 games this year, I would expect him to eclipse the 1,500 yard mark and score over 10 touchdowns easily. Brown received the most votes in the 2018 Preseason All-SEC First-team at the wide receiver position.
2. N'Keal Harry - ARIZONA STATE, 6-4 216, Junior
Khalil Tate may hog the spotlight as far as college football goes in Arizona, but the state school in Tempe hosts one of the best receivers in the country. N'Keal Harry is a stud in a conference not known for it's plethora of wide receivers.
In 2017, Harry caught 82 passes on 120 targets for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged 13.9 yards per reception and 9.5 yards per target. PFF graded him with a 107.0 passer rating when targeted which is +16.6 above the NCAA average. His highest rated routes on his route tree are the 'Go' route (134.5 passer rating) and the 'Crossing' route (152.9 passer rating).
He finished the season with a PFF grade of 85.8 and made their All-Pac 12 first-team.
His big, solid frame helps him win some one-on-one battles down the field. He has soft hands and tremendous concentration and ball-tracking abilities. He plays with a great awareness and has the best all-around skill set in the country right now at the receiver position. I believe he is the most complete wide receiver in college football right now.
1. Anthony Johnson - BUFFALO, 6-2 207, Senior
Last season, I listed Michael Gallup of Colorado State as my top wide receiver for the 2017 season. Most people didn't know who he was until late in the season when he was named a Biletnikoff Award Finalist.
Now, in 2018, my favorite receiver to watch comes from the MAC out of sunny Buffalo. Anthony Johnson is a little more of a well-known commodity than Gallup was last year going into the season but he is still flying under the radar to some.
In the 2017 season, Johnson caught 76 passes on 127 targets for 1,356 yards (average of 17.8 yards per catch) and 14 touchdowns. He averaged 10.7 yards per target with a target rate of 33.2% and a 59.8% catch rate.
He is the highest-graded returning wide receiver in the country according to Pro Football Focus, with a 90.2 overall grade. He finished with 599 deep receiving yards (20+ yards downfield) and a 124.2 passer rating when targeted (+33.8 higher than NCAA average). He also forced 18 missed tackles and made PFF's All-American team.
Johnson is almost impossible to defend. He has a natural ability to catch the football. He has strong, soft hands and great instincts to go along with great athleticism allowing him to adjust to balls in the air and make plays on them. He is a strong route runner and he uses that to create separation where his speed can't.
Bryan Edwards, South Carolina
JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford
Darius Slayton & Ryan Davis, Auburn
Gary Jennings, West Virginia
Collin Johnson, Texas
Denzel Mims, Baylor
Marcquise Brown & CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
Ahmmon Richards, Miami
Penny Hart, Georgia St
John Ursua, Hawaii
Justin Hall, Ball St
Jakobi Meyers, NC State
DK Metcalf, Ole Miss
Anthony Ratliff-Williams, UNC
all the UCF receivers because McKenzie Milton