It’s a great year for receivers/tight ends in the SEC.
Six wide receivers and two tight ends made my list of the top 25 players in the league heading into the 2010 season.
Here’s how the receiving corps, including the tight ends, rank in the SEC:
1. Arkansas: The Hogs have five players returning who combined for 22 touchdown catches last season. Junior receiver Greg Childs led the SEC in league games in receiving yards, yards-per-catch and touchdown receptions. D.J. Williams is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country, and junior receiver Joe Adams has few peers after the catch. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino says sophomore Cobi Hamilton might be the best of the bunch. In short, Ryan Mallett will have his pick of who to throw to this season.
2. Georgia: Junior receiver A.J. Green is one of the most feared offensive threats in the SEC and is considered by many to be the top receiver in the country. If you get the ball in the vicinity, he’s going to catch it. The Bulldogs will have more than just Green, too. Tight end Orson Charles is a mismatch nightmare for defenses, and receivers Tavarres King and Kris Durham will also make their share of plays. The Bulldogs go three-deep at tight end with Aron White and Bruce Figgins backing up Charles.
3. South Carolina: If you have smaller cornerbacks, you want no part of the Gamecocks’ twosome of Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley. Jeffery’s 6-foot-4 and Gurley is 6-5, and they both can go get the football. Jeffery finished his freshman season with six touchdown catches and has NFL written all over him. Sophomore receiver D.L. Moore, another 6-4 guy, was one of the stars of the spring, and the Gamecocks have a couple of options at tight end, although Weslye Saunders may be in hot water with the NCAA. Even so, former fullback Patrick DiMarco ended the spring No. 1 on the depth chart at tight end.
4. Alabama: The best thing about Alabama’s passing attack last season was the way Greg McElroy was able to spread the ball around. And when the Crimson Tide needed a play, it was always somebody different stepping up. Julio Jones is healthy now and should return to his freshman form. He’s one of the league’s most physical receivers and a tough matchup for anybody one-on-one. His running mates at receiver, Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, are also big-play threats in their own right. They combined for five touchdown catches a year ago, and each averaged more than 16 yards per catch.
5. LSU: Even with Brandon LaFell's departure, the Tigers are still brimming with talent at the receiver position. Terrance Toliver returns for his senior season after catching 53 passes for 735 yards a year ago. The 6-5, 206-pound Toliver will have plenty of help, too. Russell Shepard has moved to receiver full time after spending most of his freshman season at quarterback. Shepard is a dynamic athlete who just needs to learn the ins and outs of the position. Also look for receiver Rueben Randle to make a big jump from his freshman season. Randle has the size and speed to be a great one.
6. Auburn: Darvin Adams didn’t get the credit he deserved last season after catching 10 touchdown passes and coming out of nowhere to be the Tigers’ go-to guy in the passing game. He’s not going to surprise anybody this season, not after the way he flourished a year ago in Gus Malzahn’s system. Terrell Zachery also returns after catching five touchdowns and averaging 18.3 yards per catch. Emory Blake and DeAngelo Benton are two more wideouts the Tigers expect big things out of along with tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen. The newcomer to watch is freshman slot Trovan Reed.
7. Florida: When you consider all of the great receivers the Gators have had over the years, it’s a little strange to see them in the middle of the pack. The potential is there for a breakout year, but there’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered. Can Deonte Thompson be more consistent? Is Andre Debose as good as everybody around the program thinks he is, and how do the Gators ever replace Aaron Hernandez’s production at tight end?
8. Tennessee: It’s always nice to have a tight end who can make things happen after the catch, and senior Luke Stocker returns as one of the steadiest playmakers on the Vols’ roster. Senior receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore have also made their share of plays the past few seasons. Moore is the faster of the two, but Jones is crafty in the open field and can turn short tosses into big gains. The Vols also can’t wait to get a look at freshman Da’Rick Rogers in an orange jersey. He’s one of the highest-rated freshman receivers coming into the league.
9. Kentucky: Randall Cobb alone probably merits a higher ranking. He’s that good and one of those guys who’s always ending up in the end zone. Cobb scored 15 touchdown last season. Chris Matthews (6-5, 222 pounds) has great size and can also run. The second season in the program is when junior college transfers typically catch on, and Matthews showed this spring that he might be ready to take some of the pressure off Cobb. The Wildcats still need some of the other younger receivers to make a move this season and build more depth.
10. Ole Miss: The starters are seniors Markeith Summers and Lionel Breaux, and both were regulars in the rotation a year ago. But Summers is the leading returning receiver on the team, and he caught 17 passes, which tells you what a big part of the passing game the Rebels are losing in Shay Hodge. Summers has big-play ability and averaged 23.2 yards per catch last season. The player who could really jump-start the Rebels’ passing game is sophomore Jesse Grandy. He was electric as a return specialist a year ago, but only caught four passes.
11. Mississippi State: Chad Bumphis was one of the most promising freshman receivers in the SEC last season, and junior college newcomer Leon Berry also made an immediate impact in his first season in Starkville. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen will be the first to tell you that the Bulldogs are still a little thin at receiver, especially running the spread. Junior Marcus Green is solid at tight end.
12. Vanderbilt: As much as Larry Smith struggled at quarterback last season, it wasn’t like he had a bevy of big-play targets to throw to. John Cole was the Commodores’ most consistent receiver, but he couldn’t do it alone. This season, they’re hopeful that redshirt freshman Brady Brown can keep coming and that a pair of 6-4 true freshmen, Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, can make immediate impacts. There’s not a player on the team who caught more than one touchdown pass a year ago. Tight ends Brandon Barden and Austin Monahan will also play key roles.