SQ's College Football Top Five: Wide Receivers

As winter turns to spring, college football starts a new chapter. A new season approaches, but it is still too far off for our liking. Therefore, we will fill these agonizing weeks with our position-by-position rankings of the top five players entering the 2015 season; this week we will name our top five wide receivers. The only thing we are certain of about next season is that these rankings are sure to be wrong, so let us know why we are full of it in the comments below. Enjoy!

No. 5: D'haquille Williams, Auburn

2014 Stats: 45 receptions, 730 yards, 16.2 yards per catch, 5 touchdowns

At first glance, Williams' stats don't jump off the page. Nevertheless, the former No. 1 JUCO transfer has the ability to emerge as the nation's top receiver in 2015. As a freshman at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Williams caught 67 passes for 1,295 yards and 17 touchdowns. The 6'2", 215-pound receiver decided to return to the plains for his senior season, in a decision that surprised many scouts. Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN's draft guru, has declared that Williams will begin the season as the No. 1 receiving prospect for the 2016 draft. Although Auburn has dedicated themselves to running the football under Gus Malzahn, the Tigers should open up their offense a bit more in 2015, which bodes well for Williams.  

Our Thoughts

William McFadden - Sammie Coates is gone, and now it is Williams' turn to become the number one wide receiver for the Tigers. Although Auburn has been a run-oriented offense under Gus Malzahn, new starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson has a better arm than Nick Marshall ever did - despite the team's insistence that Marshall became a good passer last season. Williams missed some time last season due to injuries, and was completely ineffective in some games, but he has the skill set to thrive as the go-to-guy. Without Coates on the roster, Williams will have plenty of chances to shine. 

Tyler Endebrock - Duke Williams comes from an offensive scheme that doesn’t always favor wide receivers, but he has been able to help out Auburn’s offense with his size, hands, blocking, and frame. He is a consistent deep threat that defenses need to worry about over the top, and although he does not have speed that kills, his range allows him to go up and catch any ball in his giant catch radius. With Sammie Coates declaring for the draft, Williams will be the clear number one target for presumed starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson.  If Auburn needs another miracle Hail Mary or some one-handed acrobatic catches this year, look for Williams to be that guy.

Erik Weiss - D’haquille “Duke” Williams entered last season as the number one JUCO receiver. It’s safe to say he did not disappoint. In the 10 games he played in, Williams caught 45 balls for 730 yards and 5 scores. The one thing that I like most about him is that he has all of the qualities needed to be a big-time number one guy. At 6’2", 220-lbs, he has the size to complement his exceptional athleticism. He's a former basketball player and it definitely shows in his play, as he excels at jump balls. Having a quarterback like Jeremy Johnson will definitely help his case. In the one game where Johnson started last year, he completed 12 passes. Nine of those went to Williams. The best thing that can happen to a receiver is to have a quarterback who favors you. Luckily for Williams, that is just the case.

No. 4: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina

2014 Stats: Receiving - 69 receptions, 1,136 yards, 16.5 yards per catch, 9 touchdowns

                    Rushing - 27 carries, 200 yards, 7.4 yards per carry, 2 touchdowns

The days of Alshon Jeffery and Marcus Lattimore seem a distanct memory for South Carolina, but Pharoh Cooper gives the Gamecocks one explosive weapon for 2015. As a sophomore, Cooper was expected to emerge as one of the most versatile players in college football. Although he didn't reach the lofty expectations set for him, Cooper did find success in the SEC. It remains unclear how USC's quarterback situation will affect his numbers, not to mention the lack of experience in the receiving corps, but few are as lethal with the ball in their hands as Cooper. The receiver's disappearance in games last season likely have more to do with the rest of the offense than Cooper himself, but he has the ability to take over games, like he did against Tennessee, when he had 233 yards and two touchdowns on eleven receptions. The offense may limit Cooper somewhat, but his ceiling is just as high as anyone's on this list.

Our Thoughts

Erik Weiss - Cooper led the Gamecocks in receiving last season, and will most definitely be their biggest weapon going into next year. Cooper’s best trait is that he has the potential to score every time he touches the ball. Last season he touched the ball a total of 111 times (catches, carries, returns) and generated 1,411 all-purpose yards - not to mention he threw for two touchdowns as well - which means that he averaged 12.7 yards every time he touched the ball. Cooper is definitely the most versatile player on this list, and will look to become one of the most dangerous players in the nation next season.

William McFadden - Erik hit the nail on the head when he mentioned that Cooper has the ability to score on any given play. Whether it is on a designed run, a screen pass, or a deep ball, Pharoh Cooper can leave defenders in the dust. One of the SEC's top breakout players in 2014, he quickly became THE GUY in the South Carolina offense. His crowning achievement last season came against Tennessee, when he averaged 21.2 yards per catch and had three touchdowns (two through the air, and one on the ground). I would not be surprised at all if Cooper is able to build upon last year's performance and approach 1,800 total yards, but I also would not be shocked if he struggles. Defenses know that Cooper is the only real threat in that offense, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts.  

Tyler Endebrock - Pharoh Cooper has everything you would want in a wide receiver for a spread offense: speed, elusiveness, and great hands. Once the ball is in his hands, he has the instincts of a running back and it shows in his success in the return game. Cooper might just be the best receiver in the SEC by the end of the season, even though three different SEC receivers make our list. He has great instincts to go up and get the ball in traffic, and with the speed in the SEC that he will be facing, it will be very important for Cooper to take a short catch and turn it into a big gain. One of my favorite things about Cooper is his all-around athletic ability. Not many receivers around the nation have the skill set to line up at QB in the wildcat, run with the force that he does, and catch as well as he does.

No. 3: Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh

2014 Stats: 78 receptions, 1,261 yards, 16.2 yards per catch, 8 touchdowns

Tyler Boyd has been an extremely productive receiver throughout his entire college career. As a freshman in 2013, Boyd gained 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns on 85 receptions, only to improve upon those numbers last season. Despite playing on a 6-7 team, Boyd was able to surpass 100 yards receiving in six games, all but one of which were losses. It is truly a wonder that the Panthers won only six games with the likes of Boyd and running back James Conner, but that is beside the point. New head coach Pat Narduzzi will install a new offense this spring, and it will certainly feature large doses of both Conner and Boyd. Consistency is Boyd's calling card, and the Pitt receiver likely has the highest floor of those on this list; nevertheless, 2015 could be a big year for one of the ACC's top play-makers. 

Our Thoughts

Tyler Endebrock - Tyler Boyd is my favorite wide receiver on this list, mainly because I feel like he is the purest receiver in all of college football.  He put up ridiculous numbers for a Pitt team that had seven losses, and he would have had even better stats had he been catching the ball from a better quarterback. He has great acceleration, and can change direction on a dime. Boyd’s consistency in his route running stands out amongst all receivers this upcoming season, and his strength, combined with his speed, allows him to break away from defenders better than any other player in the country. It would be interesting to see Boyd play for a team with better all-around talent, because he would be this season’s Amari Cooper, in my opinion. The best part about him is that he has a chance to be that special even with his current Pitt team.

Erik Weiss - Tyler Boyd is like a Ferrari in a garage surrounded by a bunch of Honda Civics. I agree with Tyler here: if Boyd was on a better team, he would be higher up on the list. Unfortunately, that is not the case, but he has still been one of the most dominant players in the country. Boyd is easily the most pro-ready receiver, as he is an excellent route runner and has exceptional hands. On top of that, he has breakaway speed and enough athleticism to win the 50/50 balls. Even without a reliable quarterback, Boyd finished the year 11th among all wideouts in receiving yards. What’s even more impressive, is that he did so while receiving the majority of a defense's attention every single game. Regardless of the quality of his team, Boyd will continue to be a contender for the best at his position.

William McFadden - While several receivers may be more talented than Boyd, very few are as polished as the Pitt receiver. His abilities as a route runner will have NFL scouts drooling, and he has incredibly soft hands. It truly speaks to the dearth of talent on the Panthers' roster that the team went 6-7 while having a receiver like Boyd, and a running back like James Conner. Pat Narduzzi, Pitt's new head coach, is known more as a defensive guru, but fortunately his offensive game-plans should be fairly simple: hand the ball off to Conner, and throw the ball to Boyd. When it comes to Pittsburgh receivers, the biggest compliment one can get is a comparison to Larry Fitzgerald. Well, Tyler Boyd has every bit of Fitzgerald's talent.

No. 2: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss

2014 Stats: 48 receptions, 632 yards, 13.2 yards per catch, 5 touchdowns

Like Williams, Laquon Treadwell's stats don't tell the entire story. For starters, Treadwell missed the last four games of the season last year after going down with a gruesome leg injury. The injury looked so devastating, many wondered if the sophomore receiver's career was over. Instead, Treadwell has quickly recovered, and says that he is at about 80% right now, and expects to be 100% by the fall. When healthy, Treadwell is one of the best play-makers in the SEC. His size - 6'2", 230 - allows him to bully smaller defenders, and he has the speed to break away on the outside. The Rebels' offense was a weakness last season, which limited the receiver's effectiveness, but Treadwell draws comparisons to Dez Bryant in his abilities. The 5-star receiver gained 608 yards on 72 catches as a freshman. Before suffering his injury, Treadwell had already gained more yardage in his sophomore season, despite catching 24 fewer passes. Need more convincing? Treadwell has a picture of his season-ending injury saved as his phone background for motivation. Don't be surprised if Treadwell becomes a bona fide star in 2015.

Our Thoughts

William McFadden - When I watched Ole Miss and Auburn play last season, I immediately fell in love with Laquon Treadwell. Not only did he have the greatest wide receiver name since Rod Tidwell, but he was strong, fast, and fearless. Needless to say, it did not take long for Treadwell to win me over. Unfortunately, it also did not take long for him to break my heart. As gruesome as his leg injury was, all reports say that he has healed quicker than expected, and should be back to full strength by the start of the season. Much to my delight, and SEC defense's dismay, a healthy Treadwell could be one of the top players in the country. It remains to be seen who will be under center for the Rebels in 2015, but JUCO transfer Chad Kelly could work wonders with the junior receiver. While his size is what immediately grabs a viewer's attention, it is his ability in the open field that truly sets him apart. Players his size just aren't supposed to be able to move like he does. Here is hoping he makes a Tidwellian recovery, and fulfills his massive potential. 

Erik Weiss - Laquon Treadwell is the prototypical NFL receiver. If you couldn’t tell by now, I tend to favor the big-bodied, aggressive receivers. At 6’3", 230-lbs, there is no questioning Treadwell’s size. And with one look at his film, there’s no questioning his strength and skill. He was a man among boys against Auburn, and made LSU’s “DB-U” look silly. If not for his tragic injury, there is no reason why he would not have eclipsed 1,000 yards and scored double-digit touchdowns. Going into 2015, the glaring question will be: can he recover? Hopefully, that answer is yes. Treadwell showed significant improvements between his freshman and sophomore years, as he was able to work on his athleticism and become more dangerous after the catch. If Treadwell is able to recover and perform at the same rate that he has been, he will most likely be one of the top receivers taken in next year’s draft.

Tyler Endebrock - Treadwell might be one of the biggest question marks heading into the season. Before breaking his leg in the Auburn-Ole Miss thriller, Treadwell was one of the best receivers in the country. He is big-bodied, strong, and elusive, which creates a threat that opposing defenders have to worry about on each down. Can Treadwell bounce back from his horrific injury, however, and have the season that he was destined for last year? I think so, and my colleagues agree. He made Alabama’s defense look silly, and if he can do that to Alabama, then he can do that to pretty much anyone. Despite being one of the biggest receivers on this list, his route running and run-after-catch are incredibly fluid, which is why he will be one of the best receivers this season.

No. 1: Rashard Higgins, Colorado State

2014 Stats: 96 receptions, 1,750 yards, 18.2 yards per catch, 17 touchdowns

In Higgins' case, the stats do tell the entire story. Anytime you can have a player average over 18 yards per reception while catching nearly 100 passes, you know that player is special. Higgins is another tall receiver, standing at 6'2", but is a much lighter 190 pounds. Although slightly shorter, Higgins' game is reminiscent of A.J. Green in that he has the ability to beat defenders vertically, and shows speed and quickness in shorter routes. A high volume receiver, Higgins recorded less than five catches only once in 2014, and caught ten or more passes five times. As a sophomore, Higgins exploded onto the scene, more than doubling his freshman totals in yards and touchdowns, but failed to gain more national attention due to his school and the abilities of other high-profile receivers. It is possible that the same could happen in 2015, especially if the other receivers on this list have big seasons, but there is no question that Rashard Higgins is the top receiver heading into the fall.

Our Thoughts

Tyler Endebrock - It takes only three words to describe Rashard Higgins: separation, hands, and speed. As you can probably tell, I love speedy receivers, and Higgins is able to use his speed to get separation in ways that most guys cannot. He catches anything and everything thrown his way, so it is easy for a QB to just loft up the ball in his general direction. Higgins had 96 receptions for 1,750 yards last year in Jim McElwain’s offense, and over 2,500 receiving yards for his short, two-season career. Those are crazy numbers no matter what conference you play in. It will be interesting to see how Higgins fares in a new offense without McElwain, but one thing is for certain: If Higgins stays healthy this year, he will be on his way to break some Mountain West, and possibly NCAA, records.

William McFadden - It is tough to say whether Higgins benefited more from Jim McElwain, or if McElwain benefited more from Higgins. Starting at wide receiver in a wide-open offense like Colorado State's will usually lead to some pretty gaudy numbers. On the other hand, it makes play-calling a bit easier if you have a player like Higgins who can constantly get behind a defense, and a quarterback like Garrett Grayson who can get the ball deep. While we will never know the exact answer, McElwain has moved on to Florida leaving Higgins to play under new head coach Mike Bobo. Fortunately for Higgins, Bobo's offense at Georgia seemed to work fairly well for A.J. Green, and the nation's leading receiver shouldn't have any complaints. Higgins isn't the strongest player on this list, nor the tallest, but he can flat-out fly. I'd like to see a little more polish to his route running, and some improvement in beating press coverage, but there really isn't much to complain about when the receiver in question had over 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns.   

Erik Weiss - If you have read some of my other posts, you will come to realize that Rashard Higgins is easily my favorite receiver in college football. Although he’s not quite the “prototypical NFL receiver” that I previously described, Higgins' play speaks for itself. The First Team All-American relies on elite speed and soft hands for success. His finesse at the position is off the charts. He can run routes almost flawlessly, catch the ball over the middle, blow the roof off of defenses, and grab the over-the-shoulder ball as if it’s second nature. Statistically, Higgins was the best receiver in the nation last year. With guys like Amari Cooper and Kevin White leaving for the draft, Higgins stands alone at the top. It will be interesting to see how he performs without coach Jim McElwain and quarterback Garrett Grayson, but I’m confident that his production won’t dip at all on his way to another All-American year.

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