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August 17, 2011

Preseason top 20: Wide receivers

This is shaping up as college football's year of the receiver.

When Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd decided to stay in school rather than enter the NFL draft, it left college football absolutely loaded at wide receiver.

Each of the four most prolific receivers from the six major conferences is back this season: Blackmon (111 catches, 1,782 yards, 20 TDs), Broyles (131-1,622-14), South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery (88-1,517-9) and Arizona's Juron Criner (82-1,233-11).

Blackmon received the Biletnikoff Award last season as the nation's most outstanding receiver. This list of the nation's best receivers shows that he will have some stiff competition in his attempt for a repeat.

We continue our breakdown of the nation's best players at each position with a look at wide receivers. "Best" doesn't necessarily mean the most pro potential or even the most talent. Instead, it's a mix of what the player has accomplished and how we think the player will do this season. But production does trump potential.

We will look at a position a day until Aug. 29, when we rank all 120 of the nation's quarterbacks. Thursday, we will look at tight ends. Here are the wide receiver rankings.

20. DARIUS JOHNSON, SMU
THE PARTICULARS: 5-10/169, Jr.; Missouri City (Texas) Hightower
THE BUZZ: June Jones' Run-'n'-Shoot loses its top receiver (Aldrick Robinson), but the Mustangs return Johnson (78 receptions) and Cole Beasley (87 receptions). After catching 18 passes and 257 passes in SMU's final two games (UCF and Army) last season, Johnson seems poised to take over Robinson's role and be a 100-catch guy.

19. T.J. MOE, MISSOURI
THE PARTICULARS: 6-0/195, Jr.; O'Fallon (Mo.) Fort Zumwalt West
THE BUZZ: Only Biletnikoff finalists Ryan Broyles and Justin Blackmon caught more passes than Moe (92) in the Big 12 last season. Not bad for a player who had caught just two passes a year earlier. Moe finished last season with 1,045 yards and six touchdowns.

18. DAMARLO BELCHER, INDIANA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/213, Sr.; Fort Wayne (Ind.) North Side
THE BUZZ: Belcher should benefit from the arrival of new coach Kevin Wilson and his high-powered offense. Belcher already is one of the top receivers in the Big Ten. He caught 78 passes for 832 yards and four touchdowns last season for an IU team that struggled to run the ball.

17. MARQUESS WILSON, WASHINGTON STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/183, Soph.; Tulare (Calif.) Union
THE BUZZ: Wilson was the only freshman to top 1,000 receiving yards last season, when he had 1,006 yards and six touchdowns on 55 catches last season. His 18.3-yards-per-catch average led the Pac-10.

16. JERMAINE KEARSE, WASHINGTON
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/208, Sr.; Lakewood (Wash.) Lakes
THE BUZZ: Washington's top receiver in each of the past two seasons, Kearse has a knack of catching touchdowns in bunches (four against Oregon State, three against Syracuse). He's a big-play receiver who has averaged 16.3 yards per catch in his career.

15. GREG CHILDS, ARKANSAS
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/217, Sr.; Warren (Ark.) High
THE BUZZ: Childs was on his way to a career year when he suffered a season-ending knee injury Oct. 30. Childs caught 46 passes for 659 yards with six touchdowns in eight games before his year was cut short. He'll lead perhaps the nation's deepest group of receivers this season but with a new quarterback, Tyler Wilson.

14. LANCE LEWIS, EAST CAROLINA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/212, Sr.; East Mississippi CC, preceded by Concord (N.C.) High
THE BUZZ: Lewis, who is both physical and fast, was a great fit in ECU's pass-happy attack last season, his first after transferring in from a junior college. He finished with 89 receptions for 1,116 yards and a school-record 14 TDs. Last season, he was the Pirates' No. 2 receiver; this season, he'll be the go-to guy. He had five 100-yard games and four two-TD games in 2010.

13. PATRICK EDWARDS, HOUSTON
THE PARTICULARS: 5-9/175, Sr.; Hearne (Texas) High
THE BUZZ: Edwards has recovered from a gruesome leg injury in 2008 to become one of the nation's most productive receivers. He had 71 catches for 1,100 yards and 13 TDs last season despite Houston's quarterback issues and heads into his senior season with 202 receptions for 2,755 yards and 23 touchdowns. In high school, he also starred in basketball, baseball and track – and had a perfect attendance record.

12. ERIC PAGE, TOLEDO
THE PARTICULARS: 5-10/180, Jr.; Springfield (Ohio) High
THE BUZZ: He has been hugely productive since stepping on campus, with 181 receptions for 2,264 yards and 15 TDs in two seasons. He had 99 catches for 1,105 yards and eight TDs last season; he also returned three kickoffs for TDs and averaged 31.3 yards per return. He has caught at least two passes in each of his 24 games and already is seventh in school history in receiving yardage and eighth in receptions.

11. DEREK MOYE, PENN STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/202, Sr.; Rochester (Pa.) High
THE BUZZ: Moye has good size and will be one of the top deep threats in the Big Ten this fall. Moye has improved at getting off man coverage and also has honed his route-running abilities. He enters 2011 with 104 career receptions for 1,741 yards (16.7 ypc) with 15 touchdowns. He has led the Nittany Lions in receiving in each of the past two seasons.

10. JAMES RODGERS, OREGON STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 5-7/188, Sr.; Richmond (Texas) Lamar Consolidated
THE BUZZ: A knee injury ended Rodgers' 2010 season prematurely and there's still a question as to whether he will be at 100 percent when this season starts. Rodgers is one of the most versatile and explosive players in the country and has 5,630 career all-purpose yards, which is second in the nation among active players. He has Oregon State's record for season receptions with 91 and needs 50 more to tie the career record of 220.

9. T.Y. HILTON, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
THE PARTICULARS: 5-10/183, Sr.; Miami Springs High
THE BUZZ: Hilton is the reigning Sun Belt Conference player of the year. He scored 11 TDs last season – five as a receiver, four as a rusher and two as a kick returner – when FIU made its first bowl appearance. He is responsible for 29 TDs in his career, including 17 as a receiver. He plays in a ground-oriented offense, but had 59 catches for 848 yards and the five TDs last season.

8. ROBERT WOODS, USC
THE PARTICULARS: 6-1/185, Soph.; Gardena (Calif.) Serra
THE BUZZ: Woods, a five-star recruit, had a great true freshman season last fall. He broke out midway through the season with 12 catches for 224 yards against Stanford and kept getting better on the way to making virtually every freshman All-America team. He finished with 65 receptions for 792 yards and six scores. Speedy and elusive, he established himself as a big-play threat as a receiver and on kickoff returns, where he averaged 25.6 yards and had a touchdown.

7. DeVIER POSEY, OHIO STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/210, Sr.; Cincinnati LaSalle
THE BUZZ: Posey will sit out the first five games of the season for breaking NCAA rules by accepting extra benefits. Posey has excellent hands and instincts, and he also has a knack of being able to break off routes and get open. Posey caught 53 passes for 848 yards and seven touchdowns last season, giving him career totals of 124 receptions for 1,793 yards and 16 touchdowns.

6. JEFF FULLER, TEXAS A&M
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/215, Sr. McKinney (Texas) Boyd
THE BUZZ: He is a playmaker who creates all kinds of coverage problems for smaller cornerbacks. Receiver was a major problem position for A&M before Fuller's arrival, but Fuller has had more than 40 catches in each of his three seasons and last season earned all-conference acclaim after averaging 14.8 yards on 72 catches. He also had 12 TDs last season – one of every six receptions.

5. JURON CRINER, ARIZONA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/215, Sr.; Las Vegas Canyon Springs
THE BUZZ: Criner is a big, physical receiver who had one of the best seasons in Arizona history in 2010. He had 82 catches for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had five 100-yard games last season and has 20 TD catches in the past two seasons.

4. MICHAEL FLOYD, NOTRE DAME
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/227, Sr.; St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall
THE BUZZ: Floyd should end his career as the most productive receiver in Notre Dame history. He owns the school record with 28 career touchdown catches and is second on the school's list in career receptions (171) and 100-yard receiving games (13). He is third in career receiving yards (2,539). He needs two more 100-yard games, eight more catches and 168 receiving yards to match the school records in all three categories.

3. RYAN BROYLES, OKLAHOMA
THE PARTICULARS: 5-10/188, Sr. Norman (Okla.) High
THE BUZZ: OU coaches didn't have to spend much of their recruiting budget on convincing Broyles to stay at home for college. Last season, Broyles led the nation with 131 receptions, for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns; he had 21 plays that gained at least 20 yards and had at least one play of at least 25 yards in 11 games. As a sophomore in 2009, Broyles had 89 catches for 1,120 yards and 15 TDs.

2. ALSHON JEFFERY, SOUTH CAROLINA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/229, Sr.; St. Matthews (S.C.) Calhoun County
THE BUZZ: Jeffery has great size and usually can simply overpower opposing defenders. But he also has good hands and is fast, making him a matchup nightmare. He had 88 receptions for 1,517 yards and nine TDs last season. He has at least one reception in 23 consecutive games,. Just think what he could do if he worked with a more consistent quarterback.

1. JUSTIN BLACKMON, OKLAHOMA STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-1/215, Jr.; Ardmore (Okla.) Plainview
THE BUZZ: After a non-descript redshirt freshman season in which he had 20 receptions, Blackmon blossomed into a star last fall. He had 111 receptions for 1,782 yards (16.1 yards per catch) and 20 TDs. He won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver, and his totals were sixth-best in NCAA history in yardage, 15th in receptions and seventh in TD catches. He was the first receiver in Big 12 history to be named the league's offensive player of the year.

Rankings and player capsules compiled by Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.



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