Which SEC returning Wide Receivers are primed for a breakout year?

TAMPA, JUNE 13, 2018 – Like it’s been the last decade or so, the NFL Draft has garnered a large number of widely diversified and talented wide outs from their SEC schools for their expected further maturation into the professional ranks.  All those who follow both pro and college football know the names Julio Jones (Alabama / Falcons), Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU / Giants), Jarvis Landry (LSU / Browns from Dolphins) and Amari Cooper (Alabama / Raiders), who have made a mark in the NFL the past few years and are well on their way to further accolades and larger contracts… if not inclusion into the Halls of Canton in Jones’ case.

This past spring’s 2018 NFL Draft was no different, as Alabama bid farewell to Calvin Ridley who went to join his Crimson Tide brother Jones in Atlanta; LSU’s D.J. Chark will make a short ride down the I-10 to his new team in Jacksonville; Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk will be catching passes from a quarterback yet to be determined in Arizona – likely Sam Bradford – after charges of him throwing rocks in a February incident were dismissed; even the Browns took a flyer (pun most definitely intended) on the troubled yet talented Gator speedster Antonio Callaway, who if he stays away from distractions may be the steal of the draft.

After these receivers have left to garner the big paydays of the NFL, it’s up to their schools to find adequate if not better men to handle the load.  “Good hands, Speed and Precise Route-Running” are hallmarks for breaking out in what is considered the best conference for producing star athletes – the SEC.  So who could we anticipate to possibly fill those fleet shoes in and breakout to be the class of the Southeast Conference in 2018? Let’s take a look…

Ryan Davis (Auburn) – If you caught last year’s Iron Bowl, watching as Alabama was defeated by in-state rival Auburn, you witnessed the record-setting feat of Davis wrecking the Crimson Tide’s defense to the tune of 11 catches for 139yards.  As a junior, Davis was Auburn’s primary receiving threat for the Tigers in 2017 as he tripled his reception total from 2016, going from 25 catches for 194yds (7.8yd avg) and one touchdown to a robust 76 receptions for 768yds (10.1yd avg) and five touchdowns.  Davis likely won’t again triple his receptions or total yards in 2018, but it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll be a big part of the Tigers’ offense as they look to win the SEC West from Alabama for a second straight year.

A J Brown (Mississippi) – Like Davis at Auburn, Brown led his team’s production in receptions in 2017, as his 75 catches were one less than the Tiger Wide out.  Brown’s yardage totals however were almost double what Davis gave Auburn, with his 1252yds (16.7yd avg) and 11 touchdowns making him one of the most productive receivers in the conference last year.  What’s even more surprising is Brown blew through the SEC as a sophomore, so coming back to the Rebels as a junior was a godsend to the Ole Miss squad.   Another year like 2017 may see Brown getting a first-round call out in next year’s NFL Draft, although he may still be growing into his 6’1”, 225lb frame.

Terry Godwin and Riley Ridley (Georgia) – Unlike Ole Miss and Auburn, the SEC Champion Bulldogs did need to replace their most productive receiver as Javon Wims (38 receptions / 631yds / 16.6yd avg / 6 TDs) is now a member of the Chicago Bears.  Unlike the Rebels and Tigers, they have two VERY qualified and productive candidates to take on the role, as Terry Godwin returns for his senior year after steadily increasing his yardage totals each year at Georgia (379/397/540yds) with virtual increases in Yard per catch avg (10.8/10.4/18.6), although the latter total came at a decrease in receptions (35/38/29).  Look for the 5’11”, 185lb receiver to be a major cog to the Bulldogs’ hope to repeat as SEC East Champs.

Ridley on the other hand will be widely captured via the TV lens, as many will gawk to see if he is good as or better than his famous now-departed brother Calvin from Alabama.  Ridley, now a junior, is actually thought to be a better prospect than his older brother, with Riley noted at 6’2”, 200lbs, although his totals as a sophomore declined from his freshman totals (12/8 receptions, 238/136yds, 19.8/17.0 yd avg) as his touchdown totals stayed the same at two.  Ridley will certainly be a major target for Jake Fromm in 2018.

Tyrie Cleveland (Florida) – When we last saw Tyrie Cleveland in his most memorable receiving stance last year, he was being mobbed by teammates following his epic 63yd haul from quarterback Feleipe Franks as the Gators stunned the Vols with exactly 00:00 showing on the Florida Field clock.  Childs play in comparison for what he’ll be expected to carry this year for the Gators, who were an abysmal 4-7 in 2017 (with their September 9th game against North Colorado cancelled).  Cleveland did lead the Gators in yards by receivers in 2017 (410yds), but had half as many receptions (22) as departed Brandon Powell (42) and suspended wunderkind Antonio Callaway.  Cleveland was second on the team with those 22 grabs, and his 18.6yd avg led the team for receivers having 10+ catches.  Look for Cleveland to have many more memorable touchdown grabs in 2018 than his two in 2017, as the fleet-footed yet brutish 6’2”, 205lb receiving threat will assuredly be a constant in a Gator offensive resurgence.  Coach Dan Mullen looks to restore the offenses which brought the Gators National Championships under Urban Meyer as their offensive coordinator.

Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor