I have come out of hiding as far as articles go. This list was difficult to put together as many of the top players either graduated or left for the NFL early. The 2016 season will have some new faces near the top but also some seasoned veterans. There are some surprise players who returned for their senior season, and there are some breakout freshmen who are looking to avoid a sophomore slump. Either way, 2016 is left in great hands (or with great hands).
1. Corey Davis, Western Michigan- In what seemed like a lock, Davis decided to stay in school another season and pass on the 2016 NFL Draft. Western Michigan isn’t complaining about his decision as Davis has amassed 235 receptions, 3,785 yards and 33 touchdowns in his first three seasons in Kalamazoo. Davis will indeed be a top prospect for the 2017 NFL Draft and should be able to at least duplicate his success from 2015 now that fellow receiver Daniel Braverman has decided to enter the draft. Quarterback Zach Terrell also returns for his senior season only helping Davis’ case for 2016.
2. Keevan Lucas, Tulsa– For those of you that have followed me since the beginning, you know this is definitely a biased pick. I have been conducting the Keevan Express since before the 2014 season. Although this ranking may be a little biased, it is hard to argue it as Lucas had a monster 2014 season and entered last season as a top 3 WR. Unfortunately, he sustained a knee injury in the 4th game of the season. In the limited time, he averaged about 7 receptions, 100 yards and a touchdown per game. Quarterback Dane Evans returns for his senior season and although he isn’t on NFL draft boards, he fits the offense and knows how to get Lucas the ball.
3. Richie James, Middle Tennessee- James was named a freshman All-American in 2015. He totaled 108 receptions, 1,346 yards and eight touchdowns in his freshman campaign. Look for his stock to only rise with the arrival of new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. Franklin comes from Cal, where he coached top draft prospect Jared Goff. The move may seem odd, but, nonetheless, the Blue Raiders and James benefit greatly.
4. JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC- The Trojans just seem to churn out top WR talent year in and year out. Smith-Schuster is surprise here as he had a great 2015 campaign. As was last season, Smith-Schuster should undoubtedly be the Trojans leading receiver again in 2016. Although he led USC in receiving in 2015, he did so while battling a hand injury in which he actually had surgery on mid-season. The surgery took place on November 2nd and he played on November 7th and tallied 8 receptions, 138 yards and a touchdown. He was basically playing wide receiver with just one hand. He played in all 14 games showing that is willing to play through pain. Look for another good season from JuJu.
5. Gabe Marks, Washington State- Marks has had an interesting career at Washington State. His 2013 season led everyone to believe that 2014 was going to be his breakout year. He started the season with a mystery injury/suspension which ended up with Marks taking a redshirt. This turned out to be great for us as he had that 2014 breakout a year later. His 2015 season ended with 104 receptions and 15 touchdowns. The targets will always be there in this offense and Marks is undoubtedly the lead horse in the stable of WRs in 2016.
6. Thomas Sperbeck, Boise State- Sperbeck has been a nice replacement for Matt Miller in the Broncos’ offense. He led the team in receptions and yards with 88 and 1,412 respectively. He even had a 20 catch game in 2015 against New Mexico. In addition to being the leading pass catcher, Sperbeck also throws the occasional pass in the tricky Broncos’ offense. The most important thing to know here is the fact that Sperbeck absolutely took it to another level when Brett Rypien became the starter at QB for the Broncos. In the 10 games that Rypien started for Boise State, Sperbeck totaled 76 receptions, 1,272 yards and all 8 of his touchdowns. Look for this combination to only become stronger in 2016.
7. James Washington, Oklahoma State- Washington was a boom or bust player in 2015 and you were rewarded greatly if you played him on the right weeks. He only had 53 passes but went over 1,000 yards and found the endzone 10 times. With fellow receivers Brandon Shepard and David Glidden departing, Washington should be tkaing his game to another level in 2016.
8. KD Cannon, Baylor- Cannon is kind of the default pick from the high-octane Baylor offense. As with every year, there are multiple guys that could make this list from that team but my choice is Cannon. He suffered a slight regression in 2015 but still respectable. He has all the tools to be the next great Baylor WR and I don’t see why he can’t in 2016.
9. Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky- I was reluctant to include Taylor on this list at first due to the loss of QB Brandon Doughty, but I think this offense is about as plug and play as it gets in Conference USA. Also, former Louisville star Brian Brohm was just hired to be the new QB coach for the Hilltoppers so hopefully the transition will be simple to the next guy. Taylor’s 2015 season was a great one as he finished just shy of 1,500 yards and hauled in 17 touchdowns. These stats probably shouldn’t be expected again but I don’t think it is too far-fetched to see him reach 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016.
10. Darren Carrington, Oregon- I had a difficult time rounding out this top 10 list but I went with a more outside the box pick. As you may recall, Carrington was suspended just before the national championship in 2014 for a failed drug test. This caused him to be suspended for the first half of the season in 2015 (6 games). He only played the last seven games of the season for the Ducks but in that time, he caught 32 passes for 609 yards and six touchdowns. He does, however, lose Vernon Adams to the NFL but incoming QB Dakota Prukop looks to pick up where Adams left off. Assuming Carrington can play in all of the Ducks’ games in 2016, he should be a very good WR to have in 2016.
Honorable Mention: Trent Taylor (LaTech), Mike Williams (Clemson), River Cracraft (Wazzu), Penny Hart (GASt), Travis Rudolph (Florida St.)