Rating SEC receivers

Six of the SEC's premier wide receivers from 2007 will be playing for pay in 2008, yet the cupboard is far from bare.

Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett, LSU's Early Doucet and Florida's Andre Caldwell were chosen in Round 3 of the recent NFL Draft, with Kentucky's duo of Keenan Burton (Round 4) and Steve Johnson (Round 7), plus Arkansas's Marcus Monk (Round 7) also being selected.

In spite of this talent exodus, the league returns some very productive pass catchers for the season ahead. Leading the way are Tennessee and LSU.

The Vols may have the SEC's best outlook at receiver, thanks to the return of their Big Three from 2007 – Lucas Taylor (73 catches for 1,000 yards), Austin Rogers (56 for 624) and Josh Briscoe (56 for 557).

LSU can make a pretty strong case for being just as strong at the wideout position, however, thanks to the presence of Brandon LaFell and Demetrius Byrd. LaFell caught 50 passes for 656 yards last season (13.1 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Byrd, more of a big-play threat, caught 35 balls for 621 yards (17.7 per catch) and 7 TDs. Both have NFL-caliber skills.

Since I can't decide which program is better fortified at wideout, I'm going to list Tennessee as 1A and LSU as 1B in my ratings of SEC receiver talent. Those ratings are as follows:

1A. Tennessee. The Vols return their top five wideouts from last year, led by the trio mentioned above.

1B. LSU. LaFell and Byrd might be the best 1-2 punch in college football.

3. Florida: Percy Harvin looks to be the league's premier offensive weapon for 2008. He ranked No. 4 among SEC players in all-purpose yards last season with 1,622, an average of 147.5 per game. He ranked No. 4 in receiving yards (858), No. 5 in catches per game (5.36) and averaged a healthy 14.5 yards per catch. He'll miss having Andre Caldwell as a complementary receiver, however.

4. South Carolina: Kenny McKinley is back after leading the SEC a year ago in receptions per game (6.42) and receiving yards per game (80.7). He also finished No. 2 in TDs (9) and averaged a solid 12.6 yards per catch.

5. Georgia: After flashing great potential in 2006, Mohamed Massaquoi grossly underachieved in '07. He dropped a bunch of balls, finishing with just 32 catches for 491 yards in 10 starts. Still, he averaged an imposing 15.3 yards per catch. He needs a bounce-back year in 2008.

6. Ole Miss: Mike Wallace didn't get much recognition playing for an inept Ole Miss team last fall but he ranked No. 9 among SEC wideouts in receiving yards (716). He also converted his 38 receptions into six touchdowns and an eye-popping 18.8 yards-per-catch average.

7. Kentucky: Minus Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson and standout tight end Jacob Tamme from last fall, the Big Blue desperately needs a big year from Dicky Lyons this fall. He was No. 9 among SEC wideouts last year in receptions per game (4.31), while averaging 11.7 yards per catch and scoring seven touchdowns.

8. Auburn: If you think Rodgeriqus Smith is difficult to spell, you should try covering him. The Tiger standout averaged 13.6 yards per catch last fall en route to finishing 10th among SEC wideouts with 705 receiving yards. After scoring five touchdowns in an offense that struggled mightily in '07, he should flourish in the spread attack being installed by new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.

9. Alabama: Minus leading receivers D.J. Hall and Matt Caddell from 2007, the Tide will hope for big things from Mike McCoy. He made nine starts as a sophomore last fall, finishing with 28 catches for just 207 yards and one TD. Look for heralded freshman Julio Jones to be the Tide's go-to receiver by midseason ... if not sooner.

10. Mississippi State: Jamayel Smith returns after catching 33 balls for 510 yards last year. He averaged an impressive 15.5 yards per catch but scored just three TDs for the offensively challenged Bulldogs.

11. Vanderbilt: Earl Bennett picked the pros over his senior season, leaving George Smith (32 catches for 397 yards) and Sean Walker (20 for 270) as the Commodores' top returning receivers. Without Bennett to draw double-coverage, they'll find less operating room in opposing secondaries this fall.

12. Arkansas: The Razorbacks' top three receivers last fall were running backs – Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden, Felix Jones – and all departed. The Hogs also lost wideout Marcus Monk, who missed half of '07 due to injury. Thus, their top returning receiver is Lucas Miller, who caught just 12 balls for 157 yards last fall. On a positive note, he parlayed 25 percent of his catches (3) into touchdowns.

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