It’s their turn now: wide receivers, part 1

One of the best aspects of the college game is that no matter how many players graduate or leave early to move on to the next level, at the end of the day the football program remains — and readies itself for the next season with a new batch of emerging talent.

With the 2010 NFL Draft in the books and the spring football season coming to a close on college campuses, the National Football Post takes a look at some of the players who will be replacing the marquee names drafted three weeks ago.

Third in the series will be a look at the wide receivers who will become household names by the time opening kickoff arrives on Thursday, Sept. 2.

Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech: Somehow, Demaryius Thomas was able to rack up 1,154 receiving yards and eight TDs in Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense in 2009. How could a wideout from an option offense be the first receiver taken with the 22nd pick in the draft? Well, Thomas was that darn good. Plus, as much as the Yellow Jackets like to run, quarterback Joshua Nesbitt still needs receivers to throw to in order to keep defenses honest. The most intriguing returning wideout for the Jackets is lanky 6-4 sophomore Stephen Hill, who only caught six balls for 137 yards and a touchdown in ’09. While the team is expected to spread the ball around more in the passing game, Hill could emerge as Tech’s next great receiver by the end of his career. He bulked up to 205 pounds by the end of spring and is primed to take center stage on offense — at least when the Jackets throw the ball.

2009 stats:

Hill: 6 catches for 137 yards and 1 TD.

Hubert Anyiam, Oklahoma State: With new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s spread attack being implemented in Stillwater, there won’t be as big of a need for an elite wideout like Dez Bryant, as the Cowboys will spread the football around on offense. Additionally, Bryant missed most of last season anyway, so he hasn’t been a part of the offense for awhile now. Junior Hubert Anyiam led the Cowboys in receiving last year and is expected to be the main target of the new attack in 2010. After an inconsistent ’09, he missed the team’s spring game with a broken foot but should be healthy by fall camp. With Holgorsen’s offense leading the nation in scoring and yards gained last season at Houston, expect a surge in numbers from Anyiam and the rest of the receiving corps.

2009 stats:

Anyiam: 42 catches for 515 yards and 3 TDs.

A.J. Jenkins, Illinois: After nearly transferring following a horrendous ’09 season, A.J. Jenkins will enter fall camp as arguably Illinois’ top receiver and the heir to Arrelious Benn. He no longer has to worry about playing in a stale, stagnant offense — no matter who is playing quarterback — as new coordinator/receivers coach Paul Petrino will have the Illini flying all over the field. Benn’s talent may have been wasted as the team finished 87th in the nation in passing last season, but Jenkins should emerge next fall in the new scheme.

2009 stats:

Jenkins: 10 catches for 123 yards and 1 TD.

Tai-ler “TJ” Jones, Notre Dame: I didn’t go with Michael Floyd here because he has already established himself as a stud and perhaps the best receiver in the college game. The biggest beneficiary of Golden Tate’s entry into the draft is true freshman Tai-ler “TJ” Jones, who enrolled early in South Bend and worked with the first-team offense nearly the whole spring. He caught four passes for 56 yards and an 18-yard touchdown in the team’s spring game, and his quick ascent up the depth chart was one of the most pleasant surprises of spring camp. It doesn’t look like he is going to relinquish any opportunity for playing time anytime soon, as he’s big, physical, fast and a hard worker. New head coach Brian Kelly will love seeing Jones flourish in his spread offense, especially working opposite of Floyd.

Ronald Johnson/Kyle Prater, USC: With Damian Williams moving on, Ronald Johnson will emerge as the No. 1 wideout for the Trojans in the fall after he was projected as the team’s deep threat last season. Unfortunately, a broken collarbone at the end of fall camp prevented him from seeing significant action early in ’09. However, he returned to the field at Notre Dame and amassed 378 yards on 34 catches on the year. The 6-foot, 190-pound speedster should have a breakout year. In addition to Johnson, keep an eye on highly recruited Kyle Prater, who should get plenty of chances to see the field early. The 6-5 early enrollee made quite an impression throughout spring drills.

2009 stats:

Johnson: 34 catches for 378 yards and 3 TDs.

Russell Shepard, LSU: Russell Shepard’s days under center appear to be over — at least for now. The playmaker was moved to wide receiver full time this spring and appears to be content with making the move from quarterback. While he will still get snaps out of the Wildcat formation, as the Tigers will line him up in a variety of spots, Shepard should see plenty of action on the outside as LSU looks to become a more explosive offense. With Brandon LaFell gone, much will be expected of Shepard, Terrance Toliver and Rueben Randle.

2009 stats:

Shepard: 5 catches for 34 yards and 0 TDs.

Aldrick Robinson, SMU: Which SMU wideout will follow in Emmanuel Sanders’ footsteps and take advantage of June Jones’ wide-open offense? Senior Aldrick Robinson will be the next Mustang to churn out eye-popping numbers, as the speedster had a huge bowl game against Nevada to close out ’09, hauling in nine catches for 176 yards. He was overshadowed by new Pittsburgh Steeler Sanders, but Robinson had 1,047 yards receiving during his sophomore season in ’08 and should come close to that number again in 2010 with Sanders gone.

2009 stats:

Robinson: 47 catches for 800 yards and 5 TDs.

Malcolm Williams, Texas: Jordan Shipley may not have been the most intriguing pro prospect, but he may be the toughest in the nation to replace. The Longhorns will look at all options during fall camp, including James Kirkendoll, DeSean Hales, Marquise Goodwin and John Chiles. But junior Malcolm Williams is my pick to establish himself as the most consistent receiver for new quarterback Garrett Gilbert. Keep in mind, however, that the Longhorns signed the nation’s top receiving class — Mike Davis, Darius White and Chris Jones lead the pack, along with athlete Demarco Cobbs. Could one of the super freshmen emerge and become the top dog on the outside?

2009 stats:

Williams: 39 catches for 550 yards and 2 TDs.

Troy Stoudermire Jr./Da’Jon McKnight, Minnesota: Eric Decker may have been the most underappreciated receiver in the entir e country the last three seasons, and his loss to injury really decimated the Gophers’ offense in ’09. There is concern about overall quality and depth at the position, but junior speedster Troy Stoudermire and 6-3 junior Da’Jon McKnight look to have the best chemistry with quarterback Adam Weber.

2009 stats:

Stoudermire Jr.: 26 catches for 306 yards and 2 TDs
McKnight: 17 catches for 311 yards and 0 TDs

Next: Part 2, where we’ll look at the wide receivers replacing those drafted in rounds 4-7.

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