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Big 12 quarterbacks have been putting up Playstation-type numbers for the last several years. But those numbers didn't happen in a vacuum -- there were some awfully good wide receivers helping to spearhead the passing charge as well.
The 2010 season should be no different. Sure, there are some great No. 1 receivers in the league like Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles, Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller and Nebraska's Niles Paul. And there are several tight ends who show the potential to have big years. But perhaps more importantly, there's an entire league teeming with strong receiving groups. Heading into this season, there probably isn't a single team that isn't excited for what its receivers can do, and that's a pretty impressive statement to make. Even the bottom two units listed below have some players who will be difficult to defend on third-down situations this year.
Now, on to the conference's top receiver/tight end units:
1) Texas A&M
The Aggies bring a variety of targets to the table, but it seems like all of them are effective. When healthy, Jeff Fuller is a monster to cover, a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder who can change games. He suffered a fractured fibula last season, missing four games and still wound up with 568 yards and seven touchdowns. Ryan Tannehill, who also serves as the Aggies' backup quarterback, has outstanding hands. He led the Aggies with 46 catches a year ago. And Uzoma Nwachukwu showed big-time playmaking ability as a true freshman a year ago, leading A&M with 708 yards receiving. None of that counts Terrence McCoy, another big target (6-4 211), or Brandal Jackson, another speedster. Sophomore receiver Ryan Swope and redshirt freshman tight end Hutson Prioleau each had big springs.
When building a top-notch receiving unit, it never hurts to have the conference's top wideout. That's exactly the luxury that Oklahoma has in junior Ryan Broyles. Broyles caught 89 passes for 1,120 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago. He'll be joined by the Sooners' No. 2 receiver from a year ago in Dejuan Miller (6-4 224), who had 434 receiving yards in 2009. True freshman Kenny Stills turned heads in the spring and has an excellent shot to start opposite Miller. Brandon Caleb brings experience, Mossis Madu versatility and Jax Reynolds speed. Justin McCay, another true freshman, could also find some playing time. He's a big receiver at 6-3 220 pounds with great speed.
3) Texas Tech
The Red Raiders will likely run the ball a little more in 2010, but that doesn't mean that Tech quarterbacks won't have plenty of receivers to find when they do throw the ball. Texas Tech returns three starters from a year ago, with Alex Torres, Detron Lewis and Tramain Swindall combining for 2,344 yards and 17 touchdowns. Lyle Leong should slide into the other spot. All he did was catch 45 passes for 571 yards and nine more scores. Junior Jacoby Franks and redshirt freshman Eric Ward made names for themselves with strong springs as well. This is a group unlike a lot of previous groups at Texas Tech, as they can beat you over the top.
With the graduation of Jordan Shipley, there isn't a sure No. 1 guy. But few units in the league, if any, can boast the depth of playmakers that Texas can. James Kirkendoll returns after catching 48 passes and six touchdowns a year ago, and he might be able to make the leap to an all-conference type season. If not, another decent bet would be speedster Malcolm Williams (6-3 225), who has all the gifts in the world, but must become more consistent. Senior John Chiles and slick sophomore DeSean Hales give the Longhorns options out of the slot, while Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe each made big plays last season with their pure speed. The young crop is also impressive, with redshirt freshman Greg Timmons and true freshmen Mike Davis and Darius White.
Receiver appeared to be a major weak spot heading into the Buffaloes' 2009 season, but it's a spot that will likely be one of Colorado's main strengths this year. Scotty McKnight has been the Buffs' leading receiver the past three years, and he had a strong 2009 with almost 900 yards receiving on 76 catches. He also scored six touchdowns. Markques Simas, a 6-2 215-pound junior, has all the potential in the world, but must stay out of trouble. He had close to 600 yards receiving last year. And Michigan transfer Toney Clemons gives the Buffalo quarterbacks another big (6-2 210) target to find. Colorado is usually successful at tight end, and Ryan Deehan and redshirt freshman DaVaughn Thornton should keep that tradition going.
Best of the Rest
6) Missouri -- Gone are Danario Alexander and Jared Perry, the Tigers' top two wideouts from a year ago. But Missouri has recruited well at the position, and should be just fine with a combination of Jerrell Jackson, Wes Kemp and Rolandis Woodland. Jackson, who had 458 receiving yards last year, could be Missouri's next star, though don't count out Kemp, a 6-4 225-pound junior who can make plays down the field. Woodland and redshirt freshman T.J. Moe both have excellent potential, as do incoming freshmen Maurice Lucas and Bud Sasser. Tight ends Andrew Jones and Michael Egnew also make nice targets in the passing game.
7) Kansas -- Johnathan Wilson returns after two years as a starter, but also after playing third fiddle behind Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier. Now, Wilson will have a chance to share the spotlight with Bradley McDougald, a sophomore outside receiver who showed glimpses of his potential a year ago, starting several games. In the slot is Daymond Patterson, who made big plays as a freshman from the spot before getting converted to cornerback. The unit's depth is pretty strong as well -- look out for redshirt freshmen Chris Omigie and Christian Matthews, who each caught touchdowns in the spring game. Tim Biere gives the Jayhawks a strong target at tight end.
8) Nebraska -- Senior Niles Paul is the headliner, and is one of the top wideouts in the Big 12. Paul combines great size at 6-1 220 with excellent speed and can be a handful in one-on-one coverage. He averaged 19.9 yards per catch and scored four times last season. Mike McNeill should spend more time flexed out as a receiver this year, much like the Colts' Dallas Clark. There's an open competition for the spot opposite Paul, with junior Brandon Kinnie, and sophomore Khiry Cooper the most likely targets.
9) Oklahoma State -- Hubert Anyiam stepped up in the abscence of Dez Bryant last year, hauling in 42 passes for 515 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore in 2009. Now, it's time for Anyiam to develop more consistency. He'll be joined by sophomore Justin Blackmon, who caught 30 passes for 260 yards and two scores last year. Josh Cooper, a 5-11 junior, is a shifty player from the slot, while sophomore Tracy Moore fills the other inside receiver spot like a tight end. Moore, a 6-2 237-pound sophomore, is said to have the best hands on the Cowboys' roster.
10) Baylor -- Kendall Wright has caused problems for opposing defenses each of his two years in Waco. Even with the Bears' quarterback problems last year, Wright grabbed 66 passes for 740 yards and four touchdowns from Baylor's inside receiver position. Now, Baylor must find the targets on the outside. One spot should go to Lanear Sampson, a sophomore who appears to be reaching his potential. And sophomore Terrance Williams gives the Bears some height at 6-2, along with the wheels to make big plays. Fellow sophomore Josh "Flash" Gordon (6-3 220) has the nickname, and the game, to be a factor as well.
11) Iowa State -- In 2009, Iowa State was able to find a pair of solid targets in senior Jake Williams and junior Darius Darks. Now, the group loses top wideout Marquis Hamilton, but returns Sedrick Johnson and Darius Reynolds, a pair of players with nice size at 6-3 and 6-1, respectively. The Cyclones' unit should also improve with more passes thrown the way of sophomore Josh Lenz, who has nifty moves and the ability to make something out of nothing.
12) Kansas State -- Consider this ranking based on production, not potential. The Wildcats' projected starting group of receivers Aubrey Quarles, Brodrick Smith and Chris Harper and tight end Travis Tannahill combined for two catches in 2009 (both Tannahill's). Quarles missed the season with an injury, while Smith and Harper sat out following transfers to Manhattan. The group does bring plenty of size and the athleticism and talent to vault up these rankings.