With spring practice nearly completed everywhere in the SEC, here is an early look at the receiver position at all 14 schools for 2015.
Alabama: If you go by past production, then Alabama is hurting. If you go by how Alabama develops its players and the offense that will be run, then you know this will be a very productive position by year’s end. Alabama lost the best wide receiver in the country (Amari Cooper) and two other talented seniors so there weren’t many catches to be shared by the kids. Tight end O.J. Howard (31-521, 2 TD career) should see the ball a lot more this year and Chris Black (23-267, 2 TD career) and sophomores ArDarius Steward (12-149 last year) and Cam Sims (7-62, 1 TD) all have great speed and ooze potential. Alabama redshirted Calvin Ridley and Daylor Charlot, both of whom will get into the rotation in 2015.
Arkansas: Finding a complementary receiver to Keon Hatcher (73-925, 9 TD career) on the outside is critical. Hatcher has real speed and is used in the running game on jet sweeps (16-252, 1 TD career). The Razorbacks have three wide receivers with experience in Jared Cornelius (18-212, 2 TD as a freshman last year), Kody Hollister (13-137, 1 TD) and Drew Morgan (10-181, 1 TD). One of them needs to become a legitimate alternative target to Hatcher. The Razorbacks aren’t afraid to throw the ball over the middle to tight end Hunter Henry (65-922, 6 TDs in two seasons), who could make some All-America teams.
Auburn: The Tigers lost burner Sammie Coates (early NFL) and big play Quan Bray (graduation), but the cupboard isn’t anywhere close to bare. Auburn will be throwing the ball with much greater frequency in the fall to take advantage of the cannon arm of Jeremy Johnson, who has big time targets on the outside in D’haquille Williams (45-730, 5 TD last year) and Ricardo Louis (52-622, 5 TD in his career), also a legitimate threat running the jet sweep and reverses (18-220, 1 TD). Marcus Davis (36-309, 2 TD career) should be the slot receiver and this might be the year that Melvin Ray (13-290, 2 TD career) harnesses all that speed and puts a solid season together.
Florida: It’s going to be interesting to see how much improvement Florida’s receivers make this year. The last two years have seen a plague of dropped passes, bad routes and an inability to get separation from opposing DBs. New head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier have some raw talent to work with starting with junior Demarcus Robinson (60-853, 7 TD career) who had 810 yards last season but far too many drops. Ahmad Fulwood oozes potential but lacks productivity (29-326, 2 TD career). Latroy Pittman has yet to reach the end zone in three years (19-188). There is great hope that the slot will be very productive with Brandon Powell (15-147, 1 TD as a freshman) and Valdez Showers (20-133, 1 TD career) splitting the position. If Jake McGee, given a sixth year by the NCAA, can return to the 2013 form he showed at Virginia, the Gators will have a real threat at that position for the first time since 2012.
Georgia: It’s no secret that Georgia is going to try to pound people into submission on the ground, but they’ve got to be able to throw the ball, too. If oft-injured Malcolm Mitchell stays healthy (116-1,485 11 TD career), then whoever plays quarterback has his go-to guy. Justin Scott-Wesley is another one who has to stay healthy. He played in only two games last year but he caught 16 passes for 311 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2013 (24-498, 4 TD career). If Scott-Wesley is fully recovered, he has stretch the field speed. Sophomore Isaiah McKenzie (6-67) has great speed and is expected to help out other than in the return game. Georgia’s tight ends will spend more time blocking but both Jeb Blazevich (18-269, 2 TD last year) and Jay Rome (30-310, 3 TD) are good possession receivers.
Kentucky: New offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson comes from the Mike Leach school, so the Wildcats will go four-wide and throw a ton of bubble screens. The promise is they’ll throw it downfield more often this year. There is a legitimate threat in Ryan Timmons (77-874, 4 TD career) and three receivers who all caught more than 10 passes last year in Garrett Johnson (22-271, 2 TD), Dorian Baker (19-199, 1 TD) and Blake Bone (14-194, 2 TD). Bone doesn’t have great speed but he’s tall (6-4) and athletic and can be the down the field receiver.
LSU: The problem at LSU isn’t talent and speed. The Tigers have that in abundance. The problem at LSU is finding a quarterback who can throw the ball accurately. Let’s just say Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris are challenged in that area. The receivers aren’t challenged. In junior Travin Dural (44-903, 9 TD career), Malchi Dupre (14-318, 5 TD last year as a freshman) and John Diarse (15-273, 3 TD as a freshman), the Tigers have three burners who can get deep on anyone. Trey Quinn (17-193 last year will be the guy who moves the chains if he can get over the case of the dropsies he had as a freshman. Tight end Desean Smith (5-80 career) catches an occasional pass but his primary job is to block.
Mississippi State: If De’Runnya Wilson (73-1,031, 12 TD career) skates on his legal issues (arrested for marijuana back in March), then the Bulldogs will have one of the deepest and most productive units in the SEC. Wilson played in the spring game but there has been no mention of a court date or discipline. But if Wilson can’t go the Bulldogs will still be very productive. Fred Ross (39-604, 5 TD career) is expected to have a breakout year and Joe Morrow (40-688, 5 TD career) has speed and is very dependable. Fred Brown (23-373, 2 TD career) and Gabe Myles (22-178 as a freshman). The Bulldogs go four wide quite often so tight end Gus Walley (4-49, 1 TD) isn’t on the field much except in goal line situations.
Missouri: Missouri lost 148 catches, 2,073 yards and 23 touchdowns at wide receiver to graduation, leaving behind a grand total of 11 receptions for 151 yards to take over in 2015. The most productive of the newbies is Nate Brown (5-45) while Wesley Leftwich (3-36), J’Mon Moore (2-33) and Lawrence Lee (2-7) weren’t far behind. Tight end Sean Culkin (21-180, 1 TD career) is the most experienced receiver. Freshman wide receivers Keyon Dilosa, Desean Blair, Lawrence Lee and Nate Brown will have their chances to start early on. Unless Gary Pinkel can find some people who can catch the ball, the 55-45 run/pass ratio he likes so much might be more like 65-35.
Ole Miss: If Laquon Treadwell is back 100% from his horrendous broken leg last year, then Ole Miss has the receivers to light up nearly any team in the country. The question is who gets the ball to them now that three-year starter Bo Wallace has graduated? Juco transfer Chad Kelly will go into the fall as the #1 QB and if he can get the job done, then Ole Miss is going to score a lot of points. Treadwell had 48 catches for 632 yards and 5 touchdowns when he went down last year. The Ole Miss offense was never the same without him. In two years, he has proven himself as a playmaker (120 catches, 1240 yards, 10 TDs). Cody Core (46, 653, 6 TD career) will be on the other side and Quincy Adeboyejo (33-394, 3 TD career) or Markell Pack (14-173 as a freshman) will be in the slot. When the Rebels want to go down the middle, they look for Evan Engram (59-930, 5 TD in two seasons), one of the best pass catching tight ends in the country.
South Carolina: Unless some unproven receiver steps it up and proves he belongs on the field from day one, then Pharoh Cooper (69-1,136, 9 TD last year) is going to see every kind of gimmick defense imaginable because right now, he’s about all the Gamecocks have at wide receiver. Cooper also runs (27-200, 2 TD) and throws (5-8, 78, 2 TD last year). K.J. Brent’s career numbers are 14 catches, 142 yards and 1 touchdown while Shamier Jeffery has 8 catches for 41 yards. That’s the experience. Freshmen Shaquille Davidson and Tyshun Samuel have blow by speed and they’ll have to be ready to play from the time practice begins in August. There is talent and experience at tight end where Jerrell Adams (38-556, 4 TDs returns). Other than Cooper and Adams, South Carolina has zero in the way of experience or productivity in the passing game. If Steve Spurrier’s staff can’t coach up all these newbies, the offense is going to have issues.
Tennessee: In the Butch Jones offense, the passing game is really nothing more than extension of the running game. There’s not much in the way of downfield passing (Vols averaged 6.4 yards per attempt and 10.4 per catch last year). Still there are plenty of experienced players who have caught passes so it’s a position of overall strength. The key is junior Marquez North (68-816, 5 TD career), injured much of last year. He’s a big, athletic receiver who can make plays downfield. Pig Howard (111-1060, 5 TD career) catches a lot of short stuff and moves the chains. He’s also vital to the running game (233 yards, 2 TD career). Von Pearson (38-393, 5 TD) and Jason Croom (21-305, 4 TD) will be in the hunt for the other outside receiver. Josh Malone (23-231, 1 TD as a freshman) and Jonathan Johnson (10-117, 2 TD) will be on the field a lot. Tight end Ethan Wolf (23-212) had a most productive freshman year.
Texas A&M: There is no secret what the Aggies are going to do. They’re going to spread the field with four wide and take advantage of their young, fast receivers in one-on-one situations. Josh Reynolds (52-842, 13 TD), Speedy Noil (46-583, 5 TD) and Ricky Seals-Jones (49-465, 4 TD) should be much improved now that they’re sophomores and have figured out what the Kevin Sumlin offense is all about. Junior Edward Pope (39-514, 4 TD career) and Boone Niederhofer (29-293, 1 TD) would start just about anyplace else in the SEC. The Aggies run a highly efficient passing game that puts the ball in the air about 40 times a game. Their receivers are going to wear out most of the secondaries in the league.
Vanderbilt: New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig came to Vandy from Wisconsin where he ran run-heavy offenses that got the ball deep to fast wide receivers. The problem with Vandy is the overall lack of speed. That is going to be a problem. The Commodores think wideout C.J. Duncan is going to be a star whose freshman numbers (28-441, 4 TD) are just an indicator of things to come. Latevius Rayford (38-379, 1 TD) will start on the other side. He catches the ball well but lacks speed. Tight end Steven Scheu (39-525, 4 TD last year) is big and strong and a very dependable guy in the middle.
Rating the receiver positions in the SEC:
1. Texas A&M
2. Ole Miss
3. Mississippi State
13. South Carolina
The Five Best Wide Receivers in the SEC
1. Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
2. Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
3. LaQuon Treadwell, Ole Miss
4. Travin Dural, LSU
5. De’Runnya Wilson, Mississippi State
The Five Best Tight Ends in the SEC
1. Hunter Henry, Arkansas
2. Evan Engram, Ole Miss
3. O.J. Howard, Alabama
4. Jerrell Adams, South Carolina
5. Jeb Blazevich, Georgia
That’s the hot rumor. Miller was in Tuscaloosa earlier in the week after getting his shoulder checked up in Birmingham by renowned Dr. James Andrews. He drove the 35 miles over to Tuscaloosa to hook up with Trey DePriest, the ex-Bama linebacker who is (a) from Ohio and (b) an old buddy. There is no mention of where Miller and DePriest hooked up. Could it have been on campus? Perhaps at the football complex? Anything is possible. Coming off shoulder surgery that cost him the 2014 season at Ohio State and with Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett having produced at such a high level in his absence, Miller really does need to transfer somewhere if he intends to play quarterback someday in the NFL. Put him in the same backfield with Derrick Henry and the Bama offense could be scary good on the ground. At this point it’s a rumor without legs, but that could change in a hurry.
Which Florida receiver do you see stepping up to take the pressure off Demarcus Robinson in the fall?
It really wasn’t a surprise that The Black Crowes disbanded last year. They really hadn’t done much since releasing “Croweology” in 2010. The band did nine studio albums, starting with “Shake Your Money Maker” which reached #4 on the Billboard charts. Their 1992 release “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion” made it to #1 but I have always been partial to their first album, which I thought was terrific southern rock and roll.