SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Paul Myerberg breaks down his college football offseason rankings
USA TODAY Sports is getting ready for the 2019 college football season by breaking down the best players at each position in the Bowl Subdivision. Up next: the wide receivers and tight ends.
There’s enough talent at Alabama and Clemson alone to populate a majority of the list of the top receiving talent — the two powers have at least five contenders for a spot among the nation’s best. Joining names from the Tide and Tigers are standouts from Oklahoma State, Colorado, Purdue and others.
1. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama (Jr.)
Jeudy’s 2018 numbers speak for themselves: 68 grabs for 1,315 yards and 14 scores, with the yardage and scores ranking second in the program’s single-season record book. Equally impressive is how Jeudy took home the Biletnikoff as the nation’s top receiver while rarely taking key snaps in the fourth quarter during the regular season. Jeudy is set to do the same as a junior.
2. Laviska Shenault, Colorado (Jr.)
Shenault was among the impact players in college football across the first month-plus of last season before injuries slowed his stride in October. Even still, he manged five games of 100-plus yards and five games with double-digit receptions across his nine appearances. If he’s healthy, Shenault may very well be the best of the bunch.
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3. Rondale Moore, Purdue (So.)
Few players are a better fit for their offensive scheme: Moore slid right into a prime spot in Purdue’s system and capitalized to the tune of 114 catches for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns, all numbers good for the top spot in the Big Ten. While the Boilermakers could stand to lend Moore a hand, there’s no doubting his ability to put the offense on his back and help lead Purdue back into bowl play.
4. Tee Higgins, Clemson (Jr.)
Higgins tapped into his immense skill set during a 2018 campaign that saw the then-sophomore lead the Tigers in receptions and touchdowns. While Clemson is loaded at the position — right alongside Alabama even after losing Amari Rodgers to injury — Higgins is the centerpiece of the receiver corps due to his reliability and NFL-ready frame.
5. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State (Jr.)
Few outside of Stillwater could’ve seen this coming: Wallace went from an impressive but underused freshman to one of college football’s most productive skill players in 2018, earning a spot as a Biletnikoff finalist after posting 86 catches for 1,491 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was a true big-play threat, topping the nation with 63 grabs for 10 or more yards and leading all players with at least 80 receptions with 17.3 yards per catch. He’s no longer flying under the radar.
6. Justyn Ross, Clemson (So.)
Ross had his coming-out party in the College Football Playoff, with a combined 12 receptions for 301 yards and three scores as Clemson claimed its second national title under Dabo Swinney. That he’s ranked behind his teammate is due only to consistency: Ross has every skill you’d want from the position but must put an entire season together before cracking the upper echelon of the list.
7. CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma (Jr.)
Look for Lamb’s workload to increase as the Sooners move on without Marquise Brown, and look for Lamb to be up for the challenge. While slightly overshadowed by his NFL-bound former teammate, Lamb put up similar numbers across the board in 2018. His consistency will be key as the Sooners transition to Jalen Hurts at quarterback.
8. Jalen Reagor, TCU (Jr.)
Reagor will continue to put up crooked numbers despite drawing the lion’s share of attention from opposing defenses. Last year, for example, the junior accounted for roughly a third of the Horned Frogs’ team receptions, nearly 40 percent of the team’s receiving yards and half of the receiving touchdowns. Blur-quick as both a receiver and runner, he’s a legitimate All-America threat.
9. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (So.)
This spot could’ve gone to another Alabama target, Henry Ruggs III, who finished second on the team in 2018 in receptions and touchdown grabs. But Waddle gets the nod for his ability to tear the top off opposing defenses in the Tide’s downfield passing game. In addition, Waddle has been electric in the return game.
10. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Southern California (So.)
This is based primarily on promise, even if Brown met his five-star expectations during the Trojans’ dreadful 2018 season. Look for Brown to mesh with Graham Harrell’s new offensive scheme and continue building a rapport with quarterback JT Daniels as he challenges for the top spot in the Pac-12 in all meaningful receiving categories.
Five also just missing out
Rico Bussey, North Texas; K.J. Hill, Ohio State; Justin Jefferson, LSU; Collin Johnson, Texas; Henry Ruggs III, Alabama.
The overall talent level of FBS tight ends will take a hit after an exodus of All-America contributors to the NFL, including two from Iowa alone in the first round of the recent draft. But there are a number of draft-eligible options set for heavy NFL attention, led by Missouri junior Albert Okwuegbunam.
1. Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri (Jr.)
Okwuegbunam is set for increased exposure without Irv Smith and Jace Sternberger grabbing attention in the SEC. He’s accounted for 72 receptions and 17 touchdowns across his first two seasons, and was set for an impressive set of numbers in 2018 before missing the final four games of the season with a shoulder injury.
2. Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic (Sr.)
Bryant graded out in 2018 as one of the nation’s most complete tight ends, even if it’s his receiving numbers that initially stand out — 664 receiving yards on 14.7 yards per catch, for example. Opting to return for his senior season will vastly increase Bryant’s draft profile heading into next spring.
3. Mitchell Wilcox, South Florida (Sr.)
Once known primarily as a bruising blocker in the Bulls’ running game, Wilcox expanded his reach last fall to make 43 receptions for 540 yards. That makes him the centerpiece of an offense undergoing another offseason change. But with his blocking and receiving skills, Wilcox would be a solid fit in almost any scheme.
4. Matt Bushman, Brigham Young (Jr.)
No tight end seems better at stretching the field: Bushman averaged 17.6 yards per reception as a sophomore and has led the Cougars in catches and yardage in each of his first two seasons. Alongside rising sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson, a bit of a revelation in 2018, Bushman gives BYU’s offense reason for optimism as it prepares for another brutal early-season stretch of games.
5. Grant Calcaterra, Oklahoma (Jr.)
At about 225 pounds as of last season, Calcaterra is less a traditional tight end — in the NFL sense, at least — and more a hybrid in Oklahoma’s electric offensive system. But it’s a role he fits perfectly as a security option for Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and now Jalen Hurts.