NCF Nation: Eric Waters

Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- On paper, Missouri's group of wide receivers bleeds inexperience.

Outside of veteran T.J. Moe, who will be a senior this fall, Missouri's returning receiving targets have combined for 51 catches for 712 yards and five touchdowns in their careers.

But when you talk to players and coaches at Missouri, those numbers tell a much different story. They say that while the returners aren’t burning up the stat sheet, it hasn't been because of a lack of talent.

"It's only unproven because guys haven't got the chance to do anything yet," Moe said. "We have a lot of good receivers out here and we have a lot of guys out here who have made plays."

Last year, Moe led the Tigers with 54 receptions and 649 yards. Behind him, Missouri had former All-American tight end Michael Egnew (50 receptions) and seniors Wes Kemp (29 receptions) and Jerrel Jackson (17 receptions), who combined for 36 starts.

"It's hard to beat those guys out because they do all the right things," offensive coordinator David Yost said.

While most of the talk concerning Missouri's receivers has revolved around inexperience and numbers, Yost and Co. are excited about what this group can do.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Lucas
AP Photo/Matt YorkMissouri will be counting on speedy WR Marcus Lucas to make a significant impact in 2012.
Coaches and players think they have bona fide deep threats in rising juniors Marcus Lucas and L'Damian Washington. Lucas was fourth on the team in receiving last year (23 catches for 414 yards) and tied for first with five touchdowns. Washington was fifth with 20 catches for 364 yards and three scores.

Yost said both received more time as the season went on because of how explosive they were (Lucas has been clocked running a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash). Both ended the year averaging 18 yards per catch.

Washington was banged up this spring, but Lucas said he took full advantage of his time on the field. With more reps, Lucas said he shook the laziness that hurt him last year. His jogging and trudging around the field turned into sprints, his head stopped swimming and he finally learned how to finish plays after getting more comfortable in Missouri's offense.

"It comes with confidence, really," said Lucas, who caught four passes for 81 yards in Missouri's spring game. "When you don't really know exactly [what's going on] and you're guessing on what your exact assignment is it slows you down. Whenever you're out there just playing, you can play at your top-end speed."

Players like Bud Sasser, who worked at the Y position/tight end position, Gahn McGaffie and Jimmie Hunt, who caught an 88-yard touchdown in the spring game, all impressed this spring. So did tight end Eric Waters, who will now take over for Egnew, before he went down with an MCL injury that required surgery. Coach Gary Pinkel said Waters, who has two career catches, will be a key cog in the offense and should be back up to speed in three months.

Upperclassmen Rolandis Woodland, Jaleel Clark and Kerwin Stricker should also contribute more this fall and much ballyhooed recruit Dorial Green-Beckham, known around the program as "the big guy," will be on campus this summer.

"We're in pretty good shape," Pinkel said.

Before spring practice, 7-on-7 sessions helped build receiver chemistry, but what really brought this group together was not having quarterback James Franklin healthy this spring. After being sidelined with a shoulder injury, the receivers were forced to work with backups Corbin Berkstresser, Alex Demczak and Ashton Glaser.

Lucas said it was tough building chemistry with the other quarterbacks at first, but it forced the receivers to be more vocal in film sessions and in the huddle with the QBs

It also helped the receivers learn to take on more responsibility in the offense. They felt as though they were the voices this spring, and Lucas said that will be more beneficial for this group than in past seasons.

"We just want to be dominant," he said.

"We're kind of like the motor for [the offense]. We run the pace out there. If the wideouts are having a good day, it feels like the offense is having a good day."
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- I made it out to the new Columbia to check out the new Tigers in the SEC Tuesday. It was my first time visiting the city and school and it was the first time I had ever spoken to coach Gary Pinkel.

Immediately, I could tell that he wasn't afraid of his new surroundings. Not one bit. He's been at Missouri for 11 seasons and after some thought he'd be run out of Columbia before he even figured out where his office was he'll enter the 2012 season with 85 wins at Missouri. He's also taken the Tigers to seven straight bowl games.

[+] EnlargeGary Pinkel
Dak DillonGary Pinkel has led the Tigers to double-digit wins in three of the past five seasons.
So when the coach with 21 years of head-coaching experience was asked about adjusting to the SEC, it was no surprise that he didn't budge much. He gives the SEC a ton of respect, but thinks his team can earn some with the move.

"It's hard to argue with anybody and say the SEC's not the best league in the country, consistently," Pinkel said. "There's no argument.

"I understand we're going into a great league this year, but we go in with some credibility and some success."

The Tigers have reached double-digit wins in three of their past five seasons, so there's no doubt this team will get some respect, but earning it means adjusting to life in a league that lives and dies by line play. That's where things might get a little tricky for the Tigers.

Missouri has to replace six linemen on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Missouri has been without defensive linemen Brad Madison and Sheldon Richardson this spring due to injuries. It hurts because both are expected to contribute a lot this fall, but it has helped get younger players more reps, especially end Kony Ealy who should give Madison a real run for his spot when the senior-to-be returns.

On the offensive line, the Tigers were fortunate to get wise, old Elvis Fisher is back after he was granted a sixth year by the NCAA, following a devastating knee injury that end his 2011 season during fall camp. They also return a group of players that might not have started every game, but got good game experience last year.

To the coaches, the Tigers aren't exactly losing three starters on the offensive line. Offensive coordinator David Yost acknowledges that Jayson Palmgren, Austin Wuebbels and Dan Hoch are all gone, but he also considers guard Jack Meiners a starter from last year and Fisher is considered a returning starter as well. It also helps that Justin Britt started at left tackle last year, essentially giving Missouri two left tackles and containing the edges on this year's line. That's big because Missouri doesn't use an attached tight end much.

Speaking of tight end, Eric Waters, who is replacing All-American Michael Egnew, underwent surgery to repair a torn MCL in his knee Tuesday and Pinkel said he's out for three months. He should be ready for the season opener.

As for tweaking the offense and making sure Missouri is fit to run its true spread in the SEC, the players and coaches aren't worried. In fact, they're pretty confident in their scheme and they're not changing from being a true spread team.

"Until you play us, it's different than what other people do and how they do it," Yost said. "We have our system, and we're going to stick with it. Their challenge is to do what they do and have their stuff mesh to what we do."

The Tigers will have to have a balanced attack like they did last year.They'll have quarterback James Franklin back for the opener and think he'll help guide their group of unproven wide receivers. Missouri can also go four or five deep at running back, even without Henry Josey, who likely won't see the field this fall following that devastating knee injury.
James Franklin understands that from the outside, Missouri's wide receiver corps doesn't appear to be very polished.

Three starting pass-catchers from 2011 are gone and the leading returning receiver (T.J. Moe) caught 54 passes last year. After that, Missouri's returners have just 77 career catches combined.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Moe
Photo by Scott Rovak/US PresswireT.J. Moe, Missouri's top returning receiver, caught 54 passes in 2011.
But for Franklin, who enters his second year as Missouri's starting quarterback, he's fine with the personnel he's passing to. Players might not have excelled in games, but he saw the talent and potential just about every day in practice last fall.

"Thankfully, it's been good to have so much depth at receiver," Franklin said.

"There's just not enough positions on the field to play them all."

There will be plenty of room in 2012.

Moe already has his place carved out in Missouri's starting lineup, but he isn't the only one defenses will have to account for. Junior Marcus Lucas showcased his deep threat skills last year and will see his role expand on the outside this fall, Franklin said. He's also expecting bigger things from outside threat L'Damian Washington, who caught 25 passes in 2011.

But those are names that people are familiar with. Franklin said there is still a heap of players who should gain more attention this fall.

There's Bud Sasser, who Franklin said really caught his eye during 7-on-7 drills but is dealing with a hamstring injury, Jimmie Hunt, who caught one pass for a 54-yard touchdown and has the ability to challenge as one of Franklin's deep-threat targets, and tight end Eric Waters, who is now out of Michael Egnew's shadow.

Franklin said he was impressed by the way his receivers and tight ends performed during 7-on-7s, but he was also thrilled by how fast the chemistry started to develop with them. Chemistry, Franklin said, will boost Missouri's passing game going after losing key components from a year ago.

"Obviously, we don't have telepathy," Franklin said, "but we know what the other guy is going to do in any given situation."

What else will help is having a big, talented youngster in top wide receiver prospect Dorial Green-Beckham coming in this summer. The hype machine has been pumping away when it comes to Green-Beckham and Franklin can't help but be excited about the chance to work with the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder.

Franklin said bringing Green-Beckham in will improve Missouri's passing game in multiple ways. First, he's a bigger, faster target for him to use vertically. Secondly, he's going to grab a lot of defensive attention. He can be used as a decoy at times, which should help open things up for other players.

"Really, it opens up everyone on the field to where [the defense] is going to have to start playing each side evenly, as if everyone were the same, and that's going to open up those opportunities because we have a lot of good route runners and a lot of good playmakers," Franklin said.

It's also going to push the handful of receivers already on campus. Franklin said there are some players who are a little worried about Green-Beckham coming in and taking playing time, but he's seen that motivate players to work just a little harder.

The Tigers will face a few more questions as they make the transition to the SEC, but Franklin assures the passing game won't be an issue this fall.

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