June 27, 2008

SEC position rankings: Wide receivers

Wide receivers

SEC West

1.] LSU
Projected starters: Brandon LaFell, Demetrius Byrd.
Next up: Jared Mitchell, Terrance Tolliver.
Best of the bunch: Although he caught 15 fewer passes than LaFell, Byrd is more of a big-play threat and should be the Tigers' primary playmaker at receiver.
Key loss: Early Doucet[db].
Round Table Ranking:
2007 By the numbers: 24.9 (Tolliver averaged a whopping 24.9 yards per catch, 10 for 249).
2007 high point: Led by Byrd (6 catches, 144 yards, TD), LSU receivers accounted for 265 of the team's 388 passing yards against Alabama.
2007 low point: South Carolina essentially shut down LSU's receivers as the Tigers completed just eight passes for 70 yards, and half of that production went to the tight end.
Spring postcard: Byrd led all receivers in LSU's spring game with 132 yards on four catches, with one touchdown.
Biggest concern: None.
Biggest reason for optimism: Although the loss of Doucet will be felt, LSU's new quarterback - whoever it is - will have outstanding targets to throw to. Byrd, LaFell and Tolliver give LSU the strongest trio of receivers in the division.

2.] Ole Miss
Projected starters: [db]Shay Hodge, Michael Wallace.
Next up: Michael Hicks; Dexter McCluster.
Best of the bunch: Wallace is the deep threat here and averaged more than 18 yards per catch last year. He could contend for a 1,000-yard season.
Key loss: None.
Round Table Ranking:
2007 By the numbers: 6 (Hodge and Wallace had six TD catches each last year to tie for the team lead).
2007 high point: Hodge, Wallace and Marshay Green combined for 17 catches for 240 yards and two scores against Missouri.
2007 low point: No receiver had more than two catches for more than 29 yards in a disappointing effort against rival Mississippi State.
Spring postcard: McCluster's 8-for-106 receiving day led all Rebels pass catchers in the spring game.
Biggest concern: Ole Miss' passing game went largely in the tank over the second half of last season, and it may take some time for the Rebels' pass catchers to find a rhythm with a new signal-caller.
Biggest reason for optimism: Keep an eye on McCluster. He'll be on the field in a do-it-all role, according to new coach Houston Nutt, that will include some action at receiver, running back and even quarterback.

3.] Auburn
Projected starters: Rod Smith, Robert Dunn, Montez Billings.
Next up: Terrell Zachery, James Swinton, Quindarius Carr.
Best of the bunch: Smith led the Tigers in every receiving category last season.
Key loss: None.
Round Table Ranking:
2007 By the numbers: 705 (Smith's 705 receiving yards was more than twice as much as the next man on AU's receiving list).
2007 high point: Smith had a season-high nine grabs against UF and was complemented by Billings' 3-for-56 effort.
2007 low point: All it took to lead AU's dismal receiving effort against Arkansas was 31 yards (Billings).
Spring postcard: Zachery got plenty of reps in the spring and made an impressive depth-chart move after sitting out last season with academic woes.
Biggest concern: Spread offenses need deep threats, and AU didn't have a single wide receiver with an average per catch above 14 yards last year. Smith could be one, but none else have shown much potential to get deep.
Biggest reason for optimism: The excitement surrounding the new offense has AU's receivers buzzing, which will make for spirited competition in fall camp.

4.] Alabama
Projected starters: Mike McCoy, Nikita Stover.
Next up: Will Oakley, Darius Hanks, Earl Alexander, Marquis Maze, Brandon Gibson, Chris Jackson.
Best of the bunch: While Hanks may have the most high-end potential of the above listed, give McCoy the edge as he was the only returner to get consistent playing time all season.
Key loss: DJ Hall[db].
Round Table Ranking:
2007 By the numbers: 67 (Hall's 67 receptions broke a school record previously held by Freddie Milons).
2007 high point: In a win over Arkansas, not only did Hall light it up for 172 yards and two scores, but Matt Caddell made nine grabs for 91 yards, including the game-winner.
2007 low point: Hall had his worst game of the season (3 for 29 and an endzone drop), and no other receiver stepped up to fill the void.
Spring postcard: Hanks' 102-yard effort on A-Day gave fans a glimpse of a much-needed deep threat.
Biggest concern: Who will be the No.1, go-to guy in this unit? Entering fall camp, nothing appears obvious on that question.
Biggest reason for optimism: Five-star recruits [db]Julio Jones and Burton Scott should have every chance to make an early impact among a largely unproven group.

5.] Arkansas
Projected starters: London Crawford, Marques Wade.
Next up: Reggie Fish, Rod Coleman.
Best of the bunch: Crawford is a solid player who never got the chance to show how good he can be under former coach Houston Nutt.
Key loss: Marcus Monk[db].
Round Table Ranking:
2007 By the numbers: 203 ([db]Robert Johnson led all Arkansas receivers with 203 yards last season.
2007 high point: Arkansas wide receivers pulled in three touchdown passes against Mississippi State, including two by Johnson.
2007 low point: Lucas Miller led the unit with just two catches and 25 yards in a loss to Auburn.
Spring postcard: Reserve Carlton Salters posted a strong spring and caught seven balls for 108 yards in the spring game.
Biggest concern: Here's all you need to know about where the Arkansas passing game is coming from: Last year, the Hogs threw more than twice as many completions to their top three rushers (86) than to their top three receivers (40). How will this group react to being a major key to the offense for the first time in their careers?
Biggest reason for optimism: Petrino's offensive mind knows how to get the ball to wide receivers in space, and his history at Louisville predicts big offensive numbers. If the Hogs' receivers can take advantage, the opportunities will be there.

6.] Mississippi State
Projected starters: Jamayel Smith, Co-Eric Riley.
Next up: Brandon McRae, Aubrey Bell.
Best of the bunch: Smith led the Bulldogs in every receiving category last season.
Key loss: Tony Burks[db].
Round Table Ranking:
2007 By the numbers: 39.2 (Smith's yards-per-game average).
2007 high point: Smith torched Arkansas for 208 receiving yards on 10 catches for two touchdowns.
2007 low point: MSU receivers caught just four passes against Auburn, for a total of 39 yards.
Spring postcard: Riley pulled in an overtime touchdown pass to break a scoreless tie in the MSU spring game.
Biggest concern: Aside from Smith's dream game against Arkansas, there is no sign of a game-breaker in this group. Nothing says that like a spring game going to overtime at 0-0.
Biggest reason for optimism: Between Smith, Riley and Bell, there is a trio of seniors who should be in a leadership position to help a young quarterback. Bell gives MSU a big third-down target.

SEC East

1.] Florida
Projected starters: [db]Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, Deonte Thompson.
The bottom line: Harvin is the most explosive offensive skill player returning to the league this season, coming off a season in which he rushed and received for more than 800 yards each. He is a game-breaker in every sense. Murphy had a solid junior year with 37 receptions as UF's No.3 option, and should step forward into a No.2 role behind Harvin in 2008. Thompson hasn't had the chance to show it yet, but he is another UF speed merchant who has UF insiders excited.

2.] Georgia
Projected starters: Kris Durham, Mohamed Massaquoi.
The bottom line: Massaquoi looked like a star in the making as a true freshman, but has yet to realize any such potential. He had a solid year in 2007 with 32 receptions, but UGA will need more of a playmaker as its top receiver, and the onus is on Massaquoi to be that guy. Durham provides a great target at 6-foot-5, but isn't a go-to guy, either. A host of freshmen are expected to contend for playing time, and the best playmaker among them should have a chance to make a first-year splash.

3.] Tennessee
Projected starter: Lucas Taylor, Gerald Jones, Josh Briscoe.
The bottom line: Nothing wrong with this threesome, which includes a proven, 1,000-yard man in Taylor, a quick, sure-handed option in Briscoe, and one of the league's most exciting young players in Jones. Taylor is the complete package and his 73 receptions last year made him Erik Ainge's favorite target. Don't be fooled by Jones' modest numbers from a year ago (11 catches, 111 yards). He is an explosive threat who showed well with an occasional rush (8 for 58, 2 TDs) and seemed to always be involved when UT's offense was at its best.

4.] South Carolina
Projected starter: Kenny McKinley, Dion Lecorn.
The bottom line: McKinley is among the league's very best receivers, while Lecorn is one of its real up-and-comers. His numbers (77 catches, 968 yards) were right there with UT's Lucas Taylor, but McKinley's year was more impressive because he didn't have an Erik Ainge to get him the ball. Lecorn caught 27 passes for three touchdowns to earn Freshman All-SEC honors from The Sporting News. Lecorn is a rare mix of size (220 pounds), quickness and fantastic hands.

5.] Kentucky
Projected starter: Dicky Lyons, DeMoreo Ford.
The bottom line: The Wildcats lost their top two receivers from 2007, including standout Keenan Burton. Lyons returns after catching 56 balls a year ago and figures to be the No.1 target. Ford has no such experience under his belt, and enters a much more important role in the offense. One to watch for is Aaron Boyd, a high-regarded true freshman who should have a good chance for early playing time.

6.] Vanderbilt
Projected starter: Sean Walker, Justin Wheeler.
The bottom line: The Commodores begin the Post-Earl Bennett Era with Walker as their centerpiece at this position, a decent speed threat who pulled in 20 catches for 270 yards last year. He benefited greatly from double-coverage on Bennett, however, and will now learn what it's like to get open without one of the league's best playing the opposite side. Wheeler pulled in 10 catches last year, but this is a position where Vanderbilt is short on proven depth.

BOL's top five overall

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