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Pac-12 preview: Wide receiver rankings

The top five receivers in the Pac-12 from a season ago have all moved on as teams around the conference are now tasked with finding the next batch of go-to targets.

To download this week's edition of the 'Sun Devil Source Report' podcast and listen to our 'Pac-12 Preview: Wide receivers and tight ends' episode, click here.

As the spring comes to a close and the summer arrives, SunDevilSource will provide broader context for our Arizona State player capsules and player preparedness and potential grades by embarking on a podcast series that compares the Sun Devils' depth at various position groups to the rest of the teams around the Pac-12 conference.

Each week, SunDevilSource analysts Chris Karpman and Kerry Crowley will review position groups for each Pac-12 team, and draft the players from those groups in order of which players they would most like to have on their own hypothetical rosters. In each podcast, Chris and Kerry trade off picks in an effort to build the deepest team. 

After releasing their quarterback and running back rankings last week, the next installment of the series features SunDevilSource's wide receiver unit rankings. With the Pac-12 losing all four First and Second Team All-Conference receivers from a season ago, teams are tasked with finding the next set of star pass-catchers this fall.

Wide receivers

1. Colorado-- The Buffaloes boast the deepest group of returning playmakers at the receiver position in the Pac-12, and it's not particularly close. Devin Ross is the top returning player in the conference in terms of receptions after he posted 69 a season ago, while Shay Fields is one of the best deep threats in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes feature a complete unit as both Bryce Bobo and Jay MacIntyre hauled in more than 30 receptions a season ago, while 6-foot-3 transfer Kabion Ento showed promise as well. There's no shortage of targets for Buffaloes' quarterback Steven Montez, as Colorado shouldn't take a step back in the passing game after losing starter Sefo Liufau.

2. Washington-- Even though the Huskies lost top-10 NFL draft choice John Ross to the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington returns standout red zone target Dante Pettis who caught 15 touchdown passes from quarterback Jake Browning a season ago. Versatile scatback Chico McClatcher is back in the fold as well, and hoping to build off a season in which he notched 31 receptions for 574 yards. Aaron Fuller will likely step into a bigger role for the Huskies, while coach Chris Petersen signed three four-star players at the position during the 2017 recruiting cycle.

3. USC-- Perhaps SunDevilSource is overvaluing the Trojans, who lose both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darreus Rogers, but USC has never had an issue producing top-of-the-line skill position players. Deontay Burnett could become the featured target for quarterback Sam Darnold after Burnett hauled in 56 receptions for 622 yards and seven touchdowns last season, while Steven Mitchell is poised to take on a larger share of the duties. Clay Helton signed five-star talent Joseph Lewis, who was one of the most prized receiver recruits in the country and could have an immediate impact this fall.

4. Cal-- The Bears aren't running Sonny Dykes' Air Raid offense any more, but the Cal offense is still loaded with diverse talent at the wide receiver position. Freshman All-American Demetris Robertson is one of the top NFL receiver prospects in the conference, and he'll become Cal's top threat after Chad Hansen departed for the NFL. The Bears have a deep group of playmakers that includes an exciting slot receiver, Melquise Stovall, and a few other players capable of becoming more productive threats like Jordan Veasy and Brandon Singleton. 

5. Arizona State-- The Sun Devils return Freshman All-American N'Keal Harry, but it's the players around Harry who have the potential to help ASU's offense take off this season. There aren't many pass-catchers in the conference who were more consistent than Harry last season, and if ASU can take advantage of the electrifying speed of transfers John Humphrey Jr. and Ryan Newsome, it will be harder for opponents to lock in on the program's best target. ASU also boasts the services of junior Jalen Harvey, one of the best blockers in the conference and a tough, physical asset in the slot. 

6. Washington State-- The Cougars lose two of the conference's high-volume pass-catchers from a season ago, Gabe Marks and River Cracraft, but Mike Leach always has plenty of weapons at the receiver position. Tavares Martin had 64 catches for 728 yards last year and stands to become Luke Falk's most targeted player this season, while Robert Lewis, Kyle Sweet and Isaiah Johnson-Mack are all back after the trio combined for over 100 receptions last year. Washington State may not have much explosiveness on the perimeter this season, but all four of the Cougars' top receivers are solid fits for Leach's Air Raid system.

7. UCLA-- Aside from ASU and Colorado, UCLA is the only program returning an Honorable Mention All-Conference receiver as Darren Andrews is back following a 55-reception, 709-yard campaign in 2016. For a team that has recruited well under Jim Mora, the Bruins don't have the type of explosive, twitchy athletes you'd expect at the receiver position, but secondary targets like Eldredge Massington and Jordan Lasley are still solid options for quarterback Josh Rosen.

8. Utah-- For years, the Utes have operated a run-first attack under head coach Kyle Whittingham that takes advantage of the physically gifted offensive linemen the program has recruited. Nevertheless, Utah's receivers have always been well-coached and fundamentally sound, and the expectation is that won't change this season. Even though the program loses Tim Patrick, Raelon Singleton is back and the 6-foot-3 target appears poised to become the next No. 1 receiver in the Utes' offense. Additionally, Demari Simpkins and Kyle Fuller are both athletes capable of taking on a larger role this year.

9. Oregon-- The Ducks will need to rebuild much of their depth at the receiver position, but Oregon still has one of the conference's most dependable possession receivers back with the return of Charles Nelson and a good deep threat in Darren Carrington. Nelson posted 52 receptions for 454 yards last season, and if the Ducks are going to take a step forward in Willie Taggart's first season with the program, Oregon will likely need Nelson to double his yardage output in 2017. Carrington added 43 catches for 606 yards last season, and gives quarterback Justin Herbert a much-needed vertical threat.

10. Stanford-- Like UCLA, the Cardinal don't boast much explosiveness at the receiver position, but Stanford has a pair of strong possession targets in Trent Irwin and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Irwin's recruitment came down to ASU and Stanford, and the high school teammate of ASU quarterback Brady White opted to continue his career in Palo Alto where he amassed 37 receptions for 442 yards in 2016. Arcega-Whiteside is the second most productive returner, as he notched 24 catches for 379 yards last year. Stanford will miss Michael Rector, whose ability to stretch the field with his speed opened up opportunities for other players in the Cardinal's pro-style system.

11. Oregon State-- The Beavers accomplished a remarkable feat last season: Despite producing 13 total touchdown receptions, no individual player on Oregon State's roster hauled in more than two touchdown catches. Balance was the name of the game for an Oregon State offense that relied heavily on its run game, but the Beavers may be able to expand their horizons through the air a bit more this season as Seth Collins, Jordan Villamin and Timmy Hernandez all return. Collins, a former quarterback, is the leader of the group as he posted 36 receptions for 418 yards last year.

12. Arizona-- Under Rich Rodriguez, Arizona's offense has always been predicated on using a successful rushing attack to open up the passing game. The issue for the Wildcats in 2017 is that quarterback Brandon Dawkins may not have anyone to throw the ball to. Nate Phillips, Trey Griffey and Samajie Grant all moved on after last season, leaving Shun Brown as the top returning threat for the Wildcats' offense. Brown did rack up over 500 yards last season, but only caught 29 passes. Cam Denson, Shawn Poindexter and Tony Ellison are the players who should receive more opportunities following the departures of three key players. 


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