Notes: These are not college fantasy football or NFL Draft rankings. They are meant to be judging college football performance. ... "YTOP" is yards per team offensive play. It's a good stat because it balances volume with efficiency while taking some of the quarterback's talent out of the equation. This is my favorite stat to loosely compare players across teams and conferences. ... "FPPG" is fantasy points per game. It's useful because it's a volume stat and good players get more volume. ... "ReYD PG" is receiving yards per game. Yardage is more stable than touchdowns are, so that's why it is listed. ... Now, let's get into the rankings!
Tier 1 receivers are borderline unguardable at the college level and are potential NFL WR1s and WR2s. This class, in particular, is ridiculous.
Tier 1 Receivers
Laviska Shenault Jr. (Colorado, JR)
Jerry Jeudy (Alabama, JR)
Rondale Moore (Purdue, SO)
Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State, JR)
Justyn Ross (Clemson, SO)
CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma, JR)
Jalen Reagor (TCU, JR)
Tee Higgins (Clemson, JR)
Henry Ruggs (Alabama, JR)
Laviska Shenault, who played just over half of his snaps in the slot, led college football with 9.6 receptions per game last season. That happened to be the second-most receptions per game among sophomore receivers since at least 2000 (Davante Adams). Shenault did so by catching a whopping 81% of his targets, which also led returning FBS receivers with at least 85 targets. But Shenault was able to create after the catch, too. According to Pro Football Focus, Shenault only trailed Rondale Moore in yards after the catch (639) among Power 5 receivers. As a bonus, Shenault can effectively run the wildcat in short-yardage situations and blocks his tail off. What a stud.
Primary slot receiver Jerry Jeudy had the second-most receiving yards (1,315) and the second-most 25+ yard receptions among returning FBS receivers last year. What makes Jeudy unguardable is his speed -- he’ll probably run sub-4.35 at the Combine -- and his unbelievable route running, a combination that makes him one of the best deep targets and arguably the best receiver over the middle in college football. Jeudy is not the favorite to lead the country in receiving -- there are a lot of mouths to feed at Alabama as you’ll see -- but he deserves to be the slight favorite for the first receiver off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft because of his talent.
Slot receiver Rondale Moore had the second-most receptions (114) among freshmen receivers since at least 2000 (Michael Crabtree). The freshman had the third-highest team share of receptions (22%) in 2018 among returning FBS players, and after he caught a pass, Moore was electric. According to Pro Football Focus, Moore led college football in yards after the catch (892), averaging 7.8 yards after the catch per reception. Moore also led FBS receivers in fantasy points, narrowly beating Tylan Wallace for the top spot. Not a bad start to his collegiate career. If there’s room to grow, it’s in terms of expanding his route tree beyond 10 yards, but he’s still an elite college player without it.
Tylan Wallace had the most receiving yards (1,491), receiving yards per game (114.7), and first downs (67) among returning FBS receivers last year. Wallace also had the most yards on targets of 20+ yards, according to Pro Football Focus. There are few, if any, that can win at all depths of the field at the rate Wallace does. Wallace is a favorite to lead the country in receiving yards per game.
Justyn Ross is Pro Football Focus’ highest-ranked returning receiver, which is incredible since he was just a freshman last year. Ross did so by posting the highest yards per reception (21.7), the most yards after catch per reception average (9.6), and by logging the highest yards per route run among returning FBS receivers. With Trevor Lawrence expected to play like the best or second-best quarterback` in college football, Ross should absolutely destroy in 2019 and 2020.
CeeDee Lamb finished second in quarterback rating when targeted last year, partially due to his success downfield. Lamb averaged over 20 yards per target on passes that traveled 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. It’s his combination of athleticism and ball tracking that makes him an elite college receiver and first-round NFL prospect.
Jalen Reagor is one of the best receivers to the intermediate and deep parts of the field. Reagor had 11 plays of 25+ yards last year, placing him near the top 10 among returning FBS receivers. But his quickness and lateral ability also make him a threat at the line of scrimmage. Clearly the best offensive player on TCU, Reagor will be getting schemed against every week, but he’ll still be one of the most productive players in the country. If you are on #TeamSeparation, then you are on #TeamReagor.
Tee Higgins had one of the lowest drop rates among Power 5 receivers, but he’s also explosive and physical. In the red zone last year, Higgins scored on eight of his 11 receptions, giving him the second-most RZ touchdowns among returning FBS receivers. Higgins can also win between the 20s, especially as a lid-lifter and over the middle. His size (6’4/210), athleticism, and basketball background jump off the screen.
Henry Ruggs finished with an elite 8.3 yards after the catch per reception last year, and that’s not surprising if you’ve seen him run. What was surprising to me was how Alabama used Ruggs last year. According to Pro Football Focus, only 14% of his targets last year were on passes that traveled more than 20 yards downfield. I’m guessing that number goes up this season with another offseason to work on the technical aspects of the position.
Tier 2 receivers are NFL prospects -- some of them in 2021 however -- and are a threat for 100 yards and a score in most games. Most of the sophomores listed here will be next year’s Tier 1 receivers.
Tier 2 Receivers
Tyler Johnson (Minnesota, SR)
Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt, SR)
Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC, SO)
Jaylen Waddle (Alabama, SO)
Devonta Smith (Alabama, JR)
KJ Hamler (Penn State, SO)
J.D. Spielman (Nebraska, JR)
K.J. Hill (Ohio State, SR)
Bryan Edwards (South Carolina, SR)
Denzel Mims (Baylor, SR)
Collin Johnson (Texas, SR)
Michael Pittman Jr. (USC, SR)
Tamorrion Terry (Florida State, SO)
Tyler Johnson had the highest team share of receiving yards (43%) and the second-highest team share of receptions (23%) in 2018 among returning FBS players. But the best part of his game last year was in the red zone, where he scored a nation-leading 10 touchdowns. A crafty route runner, Johnson can win in both the short and intermediate parts of the field. Johnson will be one of the most productive Power 5 players once again.
Kalija Lipscomb had the fourth-highest team share of receptions (21%) in 2018 among returning FBS players. Primarily used as an underneath-and-intermediate receiver, Lipscomb caught 71% of his 124 targets last year. However, Lipscomb is more than a check-down receiver because he can win in the red zone. Last year, Lipscomb scored on six of his seven red zone receptions.
Primary slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown caught 70% of his 86 targets, leading him to one of the most efficient freshman seasons of 2018. A stud in terms of yards per route run, St. Brown should have no problems becoming the Trojans best offensive weapon in 2019, especially with a modified Air Raid system spreading out opposing defenses. He’s a very balanced and agile athlete.
Slot receiver Jaylen Waddle was Pro Football Focus’ second-highest graded receiver among returning FBS receivers with at least 50 targets last year. He was graded highly because he caught 75% of his targets and because he averaged 8.0 yards after the catch. Waddle’s burst looks video enhanced on replays and he's a threat to score every play, whether that’s on a crossing route or on a go.
Devonta Smith led the country in quarterback rating when targeted, caught 72% of his targets, and only dropped one target in 2018. With Jeudy, Ruggs, Waddle, and other targets to feed, Smith will be a lot more efficient than productive.
Slot receiver KJ Hamler has the juice, but he’ll need to clean up his game to live up to this ranking. But I believe in him. Hamler was second on this top 50 ranking in yards after the catch per reception (8.6) and he should morph into one of the top slot receivers in the country. If he has a step on a defender, it’s a touchdown.
Slot receiver J.D. Spielman caught 71% of his targets and he’s certainly athletic enough to avoid tackles and create after the catch, which led to a nice finish in PFF’s yards per route run. Now the clear-cut top target, Spielman should be one of the most productive receivers in the country, especially with Heisman long-shot Adrian Martinez throwing passes for the Huskers. Look for Nebraska to get Spielman the ball at the line of scrimmage for easy yards.
Slot receiver K.J. Hill caught 71% of his targets last year, leading him to a high-end finish in yards per route run. While not as extreme as Parris Campbell, Hill was rarely targeted downfield, but that’s okay since he’s really elusive underneath.
Bryan Edwards has enough size, speed, and route-running skills to play like a Tier 1 receiver at times (especially when he’s running deep routes), but he’s not as polished and has had issues with drops. However, at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, he’ll continue to physically dominate defenders in college. Last year, Edwards averaged 18.2 yards on targets traveling 20+ yards downfield.
Denzel Mims has a track and basketball background, and it’s easy to see that on tape. He works well in space and can jump with the best of them, making Mims a threat to beat defenders downfield and over the middle. However, Mims is not as consistent as the receivers ranked ahead of him, especially in traffic. I believe Mims can actually improve on that given his size (6’3/205) and athletic ability, but I couldn't justify ranking him higher. If Mims plays to potential, he can be a Day 2 pick next year.
Collin Johnson has size (6’6/220) and reliable hands, making him one of the better deep threats in the Power 5. His size, however, prevents him from making sudden movements, so he’s best utilized in jump ball situations or when he’s given time to build up some speed. With Lil’Jordan Humphrey in the NFL, Johnson will become the clear-cut No. 1 target for Sam Ehlinger, who is my No. 3 college quarterback entering the season. They should connect for double-digit touchdowns in 2019.
Michael Pittman Jr. only had one drop in 2018 despite only catching 53% of his 77 targets. Part of that falls on J.T. Daniels -- historical data suggests Daniels will be better in 2019 -- but it’s just the nature of how Pittman is used at USC. 37% of Pittman’s targets last year came on passes traveling more than 20 yards downfield, so his completion percentage will remain low. But don’t get that confused with skills. On Pittman’s 29 deep targets, he averaged 12.7 yards.
Tamorrion Terry had the second highest yards per reception (21.3) among returning FBS receivers, and he’ll likely remain towards the top of the leaderboard with how Florida State used him last year. Terry finished with the second-highest percentage of targets that traveled further than 20 yards downfield, only trailing USC’s Michael Pittman among my top 50 receivers.
Continue to Tiers 3 and 4.