Cody Core, Mississippi (6-3, 207): Core caught 83 passes for 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career. As a senior, he caught 37 passes for 644 yards (17.4 average) and four touchdowns. That came after catching 41 passes for 558 yards and six scores as a junior. Core, a native of Auburn, Ala., was an under-the-radar prospect who didn’t get a sniff from his hometown school — and only got on Ole Miss’ radar late in the recruiting process. Not only does he play with a chip on his shoulder, but he plays for his mom, who died at age 37 after a brain aneurysm.
Trevor Davis, California (6-2, 180): Davis spent two years at Cal after transferring from Hawaii, catching 64 passes for 1,071 yards (16.7 average) and seven touchdowns. While he averaged only 21.4 yards per kickoff return as a senior, Davis averaged 32.6 with a pair of touchdowns as a junior. The touchdowns came on back-to-back returns at Washington State. Later that season, he suffered a head injury while returning a kickoff vs. UCLA. His father called it “the worst 10 minutes of my life." IIn two seasons at Hawaii, he caught 45 passes for 601 yards and five scores. Forced to sit out a year upon transferring, Davis made the redshirt season count.
Josh Doctson, TCU (6-2, 195): Doctson spent his first collegiate season at Wyoming before transferring. In three seasons at TCU, he caught 180 passes for 2,785 yards (15.5 average) and 29 touchdowns. That includes 79 receptions for 1,327 yards (16.8 average) and 14 touchdowns this season, when he was a Biletnikoff finalist and a consensus first-team All-American. Despite missing the final three games with an injured wrist, he finished fourth in the nation in receiving yards and third in receiving touchdowns. He joined Michael Crabtree as the only players in FBS with six consecutive games of 100-plus receiving yards and two-plus touchdowns. His mom is a vice-chancellor at TCU. “My mom has taught me to never be satisfied, that there's always room for improvement.” That’s not why he left Wyoming, though. He did that to be nearer to his ill grandfather. His playing at Wyoming caught TCU’s attention after it elected not to recruit him out of high school.
Will Fuller, Notre Dame (6-0, 184): Underclassman. Fuller caught 62 passes for 1,258 yards and 14 touchdowns to earn second-team All-American honors. He ranked 14th in the nation with 20.5 yards per reception, fifth in receiving touchdowns and 16th in receiving yards. In 2014, he had 76 catches for 1,094 yards and 15 touchdowns. His 30 career touchdown catches trail only Michael Floyd’s 37 on the school career list. “Without Will, we wouldn’t be in the spot we’re in today,” Notre Dame running back C.J. Prosise said. “A lot of people talk about his game-changing ability, but I don’t think a lot of people credit his motivation and dedication to this team and to winning for this team. There are times they call him a quiet guy and he won’t say much, but when it’s game time, and it’s time to make a big play, Will is the first guy you see and one of the only voices you hear. And that’s something you don’t see in a lot of guys, especially a guy with his ability.” Fuller got his start in football as a youngster when his foot-hockey coach told his mom that he was too aggressive and that football would be a better option. “My first sport was soccer when I was 4 or 5. My mom and dad always tell me that I was too aggressive when I was younger. I had an accident where I kicked a girl in the face or something when I was really young. I guess it’s just a legend now, because they always tell me that. I don’t remember. They tried foot hockey, and it was the same thing. I was just too aggressive.” In high school, he broke receiver records held by Pro Football Hall of Famer-to-be Marvin Harrison, yet somehow went under the radar. “That’s how my life has always been,” Fuller says. “When I went to high school, I wasn’t recruited. I didn’t get picked for any of the big (All-American) games coming out of high school. I didn’t get picked for the Pennsylvania (local all-star) game. I had a pretty good season last year, and I didn’t get picked for any All-American lists. That always puts a chip on my shoulder, and keeps me humble. I always have room to improve.”
Keyarris Garrett, Tulsa (6-3, 221): Garrett had a monster senior season with 96 receptions for 1,588 yards and eight touchdowns. He led the nation in receiving yards and finished eighth in receptions. He topped 100 yards seven times and had at least 10 catches in three games, including a stunning 14 receptions for 268 yards and three scores vs. Memphis. He missed most of the 2013 season after sustaining a compound fracture of his lower left leg. He struggled throughout most of 2014 before dominating this year. “That was an awful injury,” Garrett said. “I had a lot of surgeries on my leg just to get it back right, so it took me a lot of time. At one point in time I didn’t think I was going to be able to come back, because there was just so much going on.”
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State (6-2, 188): Underclassman. In 2015, Higgins recorded 75 receptions for 1,062 yards (14.2 average) and eight touchdowns. In 2014, he was a Biletnikoff finalist with 96 receptions for 1,750 yards (18.2 average) and 17 touchdowns, with Higgins leading FBS in yards and touchdowns. He finished as Colorado State's all-time leader in receptions (238), yards (3,643) and touchdowns (31). He recorded a reception in all 38 career games and his career averages of 6.3 receptions and 90.9 receiving yards ranked 24th and 22nd in FBS, respectively. Furthermore, he scored 24 touchdowns in his final 20 games. Higgins, soft-spoken yet confident, had his nickname of “Hollywood” tattooed on his arm as a middle-schooler. The death of his father in January 2014 — and his desire to take care of his mom — helped fuel Higgins’ drive.
Johnny Holton, Cincinnati (6-2, 190): In eight games as a senior, he caught 17 passes for 461 yards — a lofty 27.1-yard average — and five touchdowns. He added an average of 22.0 yards on kickoff returns. Holton was busier as a junior, with his 29 receptions for 431 yards (14.9 average) and five scores, plus a 20.6-yard average on kickoff returns. Holton spent his first two seasons at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill. Why the junior-college route? "I have 10 siblings and it was hard for my mother to take care of them, so I decided to get a job and try to help out a little bit. I played Pop Warner but I stopped at the age of 13. That was the last time I played until I was 19 and went off to the College of DuPage and played junior college football for two years. I was playing flag football with one of my fellow students at Coral Cables (Fla.) High School. He was going to play football at the College of DuPage and asked me if I wanted to go there. I told him I would like to give it a shot, but I didn't have any film. So I flew out there and tried out and they gave me a chance."
Cayleb Jones, Arizona (6-3, 215): Underclassman. Football runs in Jones’ DNA. His father, Robert Jones, won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker at East Carolina before playing 10 NFL seasons. His uncle, Jeff Blake, is a former NFL quarterback. A brother, Isaiah, was a second-team all-conference receiver at East Carolina as a junior in 2015. Cayleb Jones spent 2012 at Texas before being granted his release from the team for punching a Longhorns tennis player and breaking his jaw. After sitting out 2013, he caught 73 passes for 1,019 yards (14.0 average) and nine touchdowns in 2014. In 2015, Jones’ production declined a bit to 55 receptions for 904 yards (16.4 average) and five scores.
Kenny Lawler, California (6-2, 195): Underclassman. Lawler finished his career tied for second on Cal’s all-time list with 27 touchdown receptions — tied for 12th in Pac-12 history. He caught 143 passes for 1,706 yards with at least one reception in 34 of 35 career games. In 2015, he caught 52 passes for 658 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns. Lawler, the son of a college coach, matured during his time at Cal, in part by watching the diligent work ethic of star quarterback Jared Goff. As a freshman, he slacked off in training and was asked on more than a few occasions to leave practice. “I just think Kenny needed to realize it’s OK to be a good guy,” coach Sonny Dykes said. “Before, I think Kenny felt like he wasn’t supposed to be a good guy because he was a good athlete.”
Roger Lewis, Bowling Green (6-1, 199): Underclassman. As a redshirt sophomore in 2015, Lewis finished second nationally with 1,544 receiving yards and third with 16 receiving touchdowns. Lewis averaged 18.2 yards on his 85 catches. In 2014, he caught 73 passes for 1,093 yards and seven touchdowns to become the first freshman in school history to top 1,000 receiving yards. Two days before National Signing Day as a high school senior in Ohio, he was arrested and charged with two counts of rape. He was acquitted of the first count and the second count was dropped for a guilty plea for making false statements to police. He received three years of probation and couldn’t walk across the stage at graduation. “It’s emotional to me to know that the game of football could have been taken away from me,” Lewis said. “But that’s how much I love the game.”
ALSO IN THIS SERIES
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.