First rate: Receivers

Only Ben Koyack is gone from an Irish receiving corps that thrived with Everett Golson at QB. Can Notre Dame maximize its pass-receiving talent with Malik Zaire at the controls?

Somewhat similar to the running back position, it’s not a star-studded corps of receivers on the Irish slate this season with only Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd, Notre Dame’s Will Fuller, and Clemson’s one-two punch of Mike Williams and Artavis Scott among the “elite” wideouts as we perceive it at the present time.

Three teams – Clemson, Notre Dame and USC – boast depth of proven pass-catching talent. The Tigers should continue to thrive with Deshaun Watson building upon last year’s debut season. So, too, should the young Trojan receiving corps, led by JuJu Smith, with Cody Kessler slinging it. A surprise entry in the top five on the Irish slate is Massachusetts as quarterback Blake Frohnapfel has all his main weapons returning from a 3,345-yard, 23-touchdown season.

With Everett Golson, Notre Dame’s passing numbers would have been off the chart. It’s not as certain with Malik Zaire at quarterback, although Notre Dame’s depth of talent at receiver is among the best in the country.

13) Georgia Tech (WR-Michael Summers)
The ground-based attack makes it difficult for the Yellow Jackets to rank too high at this position to begin with, and then when you throw in the loss of Deandre Smelter (35 rec., 715 yds., 20.4 avg., 7 TDs) and Darren Waller (26 rec., 442 yds., 17.0 avg., 6 TDs), you have a pre-season wasteland. Summers has 15 career receptions for 245 yards, including just seven grabs for 45 yards in ’14.

12) Navy (Z-Jamir Tillman)
By Navy standards, the 6-foot-4 Tillman is a rare find for the Midshipmen passing game with 20 grabs for 386 yards (19.3-yard average) and three TDs a year ago. But no other returning receiver had more than three receptions in ’14.

11) Temple (WR-John Christopher, TE-Romond Deloatch, WR-Brandon Shippen)
The Owls lost a good one in Jalen Fitzpatrick, who had 53 receptions for 730 yards and six scores in ’14. Among those returning at wideout, only Shippen averaged double-digit yards per reception, and he caught just 12 passes with one TD. John Christopher totaled less than 200 yards on 24 grabs. The Owls have a potentially productive TE tandem in Romond Deloatch (14 rec., 169 yds., 12.1 avg., 3 TDs) and Colin Thompson (11 rec., 98 yds., 8.9 avg., 0 TDs).

10) Boston College (TE-Dan Crimmins, WR-Charlie Callinan, WR-Sherman Alston)
Steve Addazio’s emphasis on the running game – coupled with the running prowess of QB Tyler Murphy – meant that no pass catcher totaled more than 27 grabs in ’14. The top returner is TE Crimmins, who averaged 12.2 yards on 25 receptions with zero TDs. At 6-foot-4, Callinan figures to be the go-to guy at WR if Addazio can find a competent triggerman at QB to replace Murphy. Callinan caught 13 passes and scored one TD in ‘14. Alston, at 5-foot-6, has been more of a rushing threat (352 yards) than pass-catching target (16 receptions, 10.9-yard avg., 2 TDs), although that could change as the search for playmakers in the passing attack continues.

9) Wake Forest (TE-Cam Serigne, WR-Jared Crump)
If Stanford’s Austin Hooper (see below) isn’t the best tight end on Notre Dame’s slate this year, Wake’s Serigne (54 rec., 531 yds., 9.8 avg., 5 TDs) is. Jared Crump is the only returning wideout for the Demon Deacons that scored a touchdown in ’14.

8) Texas (WR-Marcus Johnson, WR-Armanti Foreman, TE-M.J McFarland)
The Longhorns’ passing game was hit-and-miss to begin with, and now in Charlie Strong’s second season, they’ll have to do it without John Harris and Jaxon Shipley, who combined for 127 catches, 1,628 yards (1,051 by Harris) and eight TDs (seven by Harris) in ‘14. Johnson is the most experienced of the group, although his 27 receptions averaged just 11.6 yards per grab with one TD. Two of Foreman’s 10 catches went for scores.

7) Virginia (WR-Canaan Severin, WR-T.J. Thorpe, WR-Andre Levrone)
Ultimately, the key to the Cavaliers’ passing success will fall more on the shoulders of the QBs than the WRs. Matt Johns/Greyson Lambert will have some capable ones to throw to in Severin (42 rec., 578 yds., 13.8 avg., 5 TDs), Thorpe, the North Carolina transfer (42 career receptions), and Levrone (15 rec., 248 yds., 16.5 avg., 2 TDs). Some believe 6-foot-7 TE Rob Burns will emerge.

6) Stanford (TE-Austin Hooper, WR-Devon Cajuste, WR-Francis Owusu, WR-Michael Rector
Ty Montgomery was known as an explosive threat, yet that was more in the return game. He averaged less than 10 yards on his 61 receptions a year ago with just three TDs. Now he’s gone, opening up more opportunities for Cajuste (34 rec., 557 yds., 16.4 avg., 6TDs), Rector (24 rec., 324 yds., 13.5 avg., 2 TDs) and Owusu (11 rec., 138 yds., 12.5 avg., 0 TDs). Hooper has emerged as one of the top TEs in the country after catching 40 passes for a 12.5 average and two TDs.

5) Pittsburgh (WR-Tyler Boyd, TE-J.P. Holtz)
Not sure about the depth of productivity from this corps, but the headliner – the junior Boyd – can be a one-man wrecking crew. Of his 78 receptions for 1,261 yards and eight TDs, 48 of the grabs and 833 of the yards came over the final seven games. TE Holtz (21 rec., 4 TDs) has a nose for the end zone. Young WRs Dontez Ford and Elijah Zeise may be the greatest beneficiaries of the extra attention on Boyd.

4) Massachusetts (WR-Tajae Sharpe, WR-Marken Michel, WR-Jalen Williams, TE-Rodney Mills)
What are the Minutemen doing this high? QB Blake Frohnapfel threw for nearly 3,400 yards and 23 TDs in just 10 games in ’14, and the junior-dominated receiving corps has become a senior-laden unit in ’15. Sharpe, (85 rec., 1,281 yds., 15.1 avg., 7 TDs), at 6-foot-4, is the top returning pass-catcher on Notre Dame’s slate. Mills has a very high yards-per-catch average (16.3) for a tight end as well as five TDs among his 30 grabs. The 6-foot-3 Michel caught 30 passes a year ago.

3) USC (WR-JuJu Smith, WR-Darreus Rogers, TE-Bryce Dixon, WR-Adoree’ Jackson)
They aren’t household names yet, but with the departure of Nelson Agholor, George Farmer and TE Randall Telfer, the next wave of receivers to take throws from Cody Kessler has arrived. Smith (54 rec., 724 yds., 13.4 avg., 5 TDs) announced his presence with a bang in ’14, and Jackson turned three of his 10 catches into scores when he wasn’t starring at cornerback. Dixon was productive, turning four of his 14 grabs into scores, but he was an academic casualty in the spring. Steven Mitchell could be ready to emerge if 6-foot-4 JUCOs Isaac Whitney and De’Quan Hampton do not. Oklahoma transfer Taylor McNamara could be a solution at tight end.

2) Notre Dame (WR-Will Fuller, WR-David Robinson, WR-Chris Brown, WR-Amir Carlisle, WR-C.J. Prosise)
Few could have projected the explosive emergence of Fuller in ’14. He tied Notre Dame’s single-season record for TD receptions with 15 while cracking the 1,000-yard mark. Robinson became a red-zone threat last year (40 rec., 5 TDs). For the hard-working junior, it’s now a matter of stringing those successes together in succession. The Irish could be in a pick-your-poison situation with Brown (39 rec., 548 yds., 14.1 avg., 1 TD), Prosise (29 rec., 516 yds., 17.8 avg., 2 TDs) and Carlisle (23 rec., 309 yds., 13.4 avg., 3 TDs). There’s also Torii Hunter, Jr., and TE Durham Smythe.

1) Clemson (WR-Mike Williams, WR-Artavis Scott, WR-Germone Hopper, WR-Charone Peake, TE-Jordan Leggett)
For sheer one-two punch, we’ve got to go with the Tigers and the Williams-Scott pairing. Between them, they had 133 receptions for 1,995 yards and 14 TDs with Williams averaging 18.1 yards per his 57 grabs while Scott scored eight times. Hopper and Peake combined for another 39 receptions and five TDs. The Tigers also have an established one-two punch at TE in Leggett and Stanton Seckinger, who combined for 23 receptions and 283 yards.

Here is the running tally through three positions:

1. USC (7--QB 1st, RB 3rd, WR 3rd)
2t. Notre Dame (11 -- QB 7th, RB 2nd, WR 2nd)
2t. Clemson (11 -- QB 4th, RB 6th, WR 1st)
4. Pittsburgh (12 -- QB 6th, RB 1st, WR 5th)
5. Stanford (15 -- QB 5th, RB 4th, WR 6th)
6t. Georgia Tech (23 -- QB 2nd, RB 8th, WR 13th)
6t. UMass (23 -- QB 8th, RB 11th, WR 4th)
8. Navy (24 -- QB 3rd, RB 9th, WR 12th)
9. Texas (25 -- QB 10th, RB 7th, WR 8th)
10. Boston College (28 -- QB 13th, RB 5th, WR 10th)
11. Virginia (29 -- QB 12th, RB 10th, WR 7th)
12. Wake Forest 31 -- QB 9th, RB 13th, WR 9th)
13. Temple (34 -- QB 11th, RB 12th, WR 11th)

Related stories: First Rate Top Stories