College football’s 10 best wide receivers
College football is almost here. USA Today Sports is getting you ready for the 2018 season by breaking down the best players at each position in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Next up: the wide receivers. There’s no clear, can’t-miss headliner at the position heading into the regular season. But with as many as 15 or 20 battling for recognition, it should be an intense competition for national hardware and postseason All-America honors.
From the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Pac-12 Conference and all points in between, here are the best wide receivers in college football for 2018.
1. A.J. Brown, Mississippi
You had some idea that Brown was set for a fine career with the Rebels after his solid freshman season in 2016. Then he took things to another level: Brown caught 75 balls and scored 11 touchdowns as a sophomore to cement his place as the top receiver in the Southeastern Conference and the entire FBS. The NFL is waiting.
2. N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
There might not be a more physically gifted receiver in college football, with all due respect to Brown and the other names on this list. Once a top-tier recruit, Harry lived up expectations in making 82 grabs for 1,142 yards as a sophomore in 2017. His connection with ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins assures that Henry will rank among the most productive Power Five receivers in the country.
3. David Sills, West Virginia
Sills averaged about a touchdown grab for every three receptions in 2017, which is as good a number as any to describe his winding road from can’t-miss quarterback prospect to preseason All-America lock. At a sturdy 6-4 and more than 200 pounds, Sills has the size and body control to own the red zone and pick on smaller defensive backs. The best part? You can make the case that due to his relative inexperience, Sills’ best is yet to come.
4. Kelvin Harmon, North Carolina State
Harmon and quarterback Ryan Finley form one of the top offensive combinations in the FBS. Harmon hasn’t gained the same level of publicity as his quarterback, but that should change in 2018. His size, toughness and strength puts Harmon in an elite class of receiver — and makes him a threat to fall in the first round of next year’s NFL draft.
5. Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
The first of two Group of Five receivers on this list, Johnson led all returning FBS pass-catchers in receiving touchdowns (14), receiving yards per game (113) and overall receiving yards (1,356). The former junior-college transfer simply brings too much to the table for Mid-American Conference defenses to handle. Buffalo’s early matchups with Temple, Rutgers and Army will give Johnson three chances to prove himself during non-conference play.
6. Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
On a national level, Brown’s first year at Oklahoma went largely unnoticed amid Baker Mayfield’s Heisman Trophy, tight end Jake Andrews’ All-America production and running back Rodney Anderson’s torrid second half to the regular season. But the JUCO transfer was a revelation: Brown led Oklahoma in receiving yards (1,095) and yards per catch (19.21) while saving some of his best performances for the Sooners’ biggest games — such as Oklahoma State, the Big 12 championship game and the Rose Bowl.
7. Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska
Morgan exemplifies Nebraska’s offensive outlook in Scott Frost’s first season: inexperience at quarterback, unproven speed at running back, a very questionable front and talent to burn at receiver. Morgan’s the best of the bunch for a solid group that provides some optimism heading into Frost’s debut. If healthy, Morgan will break his school record for receiving yards in a season, become the first Cornhusker to crack 1,000 yards and challenge for All-America accolades.
8. Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
If he’s back to full strength after missing all but the first few weeks of last season, Samuel will give South Carolina the sort of game-breaking, big-play threat it needs to give Georgia a run for the SEC East Division. Already one of the nation’s most electric returners, Samuel showed through three games in 2017 that he’s more than capable of shouldering the load as the Gamecocks’ top receiving option.
9. Penny Hart, Georgia State
Few know about Hart, who plays in relative obscurity for Georgia State in the Sun Belt Conference, but his numbers are can’t be ignored. Hart leads all active FBS players in career receiving yards (2,281), receiving yards per game (84.5) and receiving scores (17). The SBC Freshman of the Year in 2015, Hart missed all but two halves of 2016 but returned to lead the conference in receptions and touchdowns a year ago.
10. Jonathan Giles, LSU
A name you should know: Giles was a stud for Texas Tech in 2016, when he made 69 catches for 1,158 yards, before opting to transfer to LSU. After sitting out last season, Giles has ascended to the top of pecking order for the Tigers, with the hope that his rapport with Ohio State graduate transfer Joe Burrow adds a slice of explosiveness to LSU’s often predictable offense.
FIVE JUST OFF THE LIST
• Jaylen Smith, Louisville
• Ahmmon Richards, Miami (Fla.)
• Collin Johnson, Texas
• Cody Thompson, Toledo
• Juwan Johnson, Penn State
Paul Myerberg writes for USA Today.
Paul Myerberg writes for USA Today.