It’s that time of year again, college football is back! I’ll be taking a look at the top 10 WRs in FBS for this upcoming season, including some key transfers to keep an eye on.
Note: This is not a draft projection.
1. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio St
The Buckeyes had two first-round WRs depart to the NFL, but their most productive receiver is back for his junior season. After both Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave sat out the Rose Bowl, we got a look at Smith-Njigba as the go-to target for C.J. Stroud and he responded with a monster 15-347-3 line. JSN has elite separation ability, both off the release and at the top of routes. He is also very shifty with the ball in his hands and has good ball-tracking ability. Smith-Njigba lined up in the slot for 89% of his snaps in the regular season last year, but dropped to 72% in the bowl game. He has the tools to be effective both out wide and in the slot, so it will be interesting to see how much maneuvering around the formation JSN does this upcoming season.
2. Jordan Addison, USC
After a Biletnikoff season in 2021 where he led the nation in TD receptions, Addison left Pitt to team up with Caleb Williams and Lincoln Riley. He is equally effective operating in the short, intermediate, and deep areas of the field. He has an explosive first step off the line, and is extra slippery in the open field. Addison has elite body control and natural hands when making tough sideline grabs. Although he is not a big receiver at 5’11 175, he does not lack toughness and is not shy when going over the middle to take a hit. Michael Crabtree and Justin Blackmon are the only players to win the Biletnikoff award twice in a row. Addison has a chance to join that list.
3. Kayshon Boutte, LSU
Boutte returns, after missing the final 7 games of last season with an ankle injury, to a new coach Brian Kelly and a new quarterback (probably Jayden Daniels), both of whom are likely to be significant upgrades. Boutte is a dynamic athlete with fluid movement skills and impressive long speed. He consistently shows off natural strong hands and good ball tracking. He is also very twitchy and can succeed with his start-stop moves both during the route and after the catch.
4. Josh Downs, North Carolina
Last season, Downs played in a funnel offense at UNC where he received 144 targets. The next closest receiver had 48. Early returns for this season remain the same as Downs had 13 targets in the Tar Heels first game. He operates almost exclusively from the slot and does most of his damage in the short and intermediate areas due to UNC’s RPO-driven attack, but he has the skills to make plays over the top. As a smaller receiver, he is a quick and decisive route runner but also has great leaping ability and can high point as well as anyone in the nation.
5. Xavier Worthy, Texas
Worthy is hoping to build on his record-setting freshman season at Texas in 2021 and will likely get a boost at the QB position with Quinn Ewers joining the team. As a true freshman, Worthy really came into his own towards the end of last season, and he was rewarded with a significant boost in targets. He has good burst and shows great concentration at the catch point, especially on deep throws. He still needs to fill out his frame, but Worthy has enormous potential in what should be an improved Longhorns offense.
6. Cedric Tillman, Tennessee
After going 16-210-2 over the first 6 weeks of the 2021 season, Tillman went off for 48-871-10 for the final 7 games, including a dominant 200-yard performance against Derion Kendrick and Georgia. He is a big body at 6’3, but is very nimble in and out of breaks and has make-you-miss ability after the catch. He didn’t get many bunny receptions, so he had to rely on his deep ball prowess for the majority of his production. With the departure of Velus Jones, Tillman will be the go-to man for the Vols this season.
7. Quentin Johnston, TCU
Just get this guy a quarterback this year. Johnston consistently gets open but only 73 of his 102 career targets have been catchable. He is a big-bodied receiver who is physical at the top of routes and at the catch-point. Johnston is a deep threat with good straight-line speed. Although he didn’t show much polish as a route runner, he played in a limited passing offense which should open up this season.
8. Keytaon Thompson, Virginia
Perhaps the most fun player in all of college football, Thompson is a converted QB who began his career at Mississippi St. He is the swiss-army knife of the Virginia offense, lining up all over the field at every receiver position, as well as RB, H-back and wildcat QB. Last season, his position on the team website was FBP for Football Player. He is a smart player who knows how to get open and has good body control. He is capable of making highlight-reel plays, but has also had some excruciatingly bad drops. Thompson is most dangerous with the ball in his hands, leading all of college football in broken tackles in 2021.
9. Rakim Jarrett, Maryland
Jarrett was heavily utilized as an underneath and behind the LOS weapon for the Terps in 2021. He lined up almost exclusively in the slot until Dontay Demus Jr. went down with an injury in week 5. After that, he spent most of his snaps out wide where he struggled to create separation consistently. This season, he will be back in his more comfortable position and will allow the Maryland offense to be more dynamic. There is a suddenness to Jarrett’s game as a route runner and he is a home run threat every time he touches the ball.
10. Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, Houston
Listed at just 5’10 159, the diminutive “Tank” is an expert at creating space for himself on the field. Probably best suited for the slot, Dell has elite-level quickness to make an impact on all three levels of the field. He has outstanding burst, and is almost impossible to catch when he turns on the jets. The leader in FBS in forced missed tackles in 2021, Dell is electric after the catch with the ball in his hands. He had 10 drops last season which he will need to clean up, but Dell will be a difference maker for the Cougars.
Transfers to keep an eye on
- Mario Williams, USC
- Jermaine Burton, Alabama
- Jacob Cowing, Arizona
- Mitchell Tinsley, Penn State
- Isaiah Neyor, Texas
Data from Sports Info Solutions