Monday, July 4, 2022

Ohio State, USC headline five best college football wide receiver rooms entering 2022 season

Ranking the best wide receiver rooms in college football has taken on a greater weight in the modern game, as the offensive innovations and rule changes have favored the passing attack. The ability to overwhelm opponents with elite pass catchers has proven to be a difference maker, and the recent NFL Draft success of wide receivers has only added positional emphasis to the position at every level. 

Thanks to the 7-on-7 circuit and the proliferation of specialized coaching, wide receivers are more advanced in their development than ever before. If coaches can put multiple high-level pass catchers on the field at the same time, there aren’t many defenses in the country that can counter man-to-man with high-level defensive backs. So the teams that have the best wide receiver rooms, built through a combination of recruiting and player development, have a decided advantage in one of the most important aspects of the modern game. 

For the purposes of these rankings we wanted to bring the tight end position into the mix as well, though as you can see below the teams highlighted are mostly elevated because of wide receivers. If this was a tight end room ranking there would not be much of a challenger to Georgia — the Bulldogs have multiple players of Power Five starter caliber with Brock Bowers, Darnell Washington and Arik Gilbert — but as it stands that strength has the reigning champion Bulldogs just outside the top five of our rankings. 

1. Ohio State 

On its face, it sounds crazy for a team that just lost two first round NFL Draft picks at wide receiver to return to the next season with the best room of pass catchers in the country. But it’s not crazy, it’s the byproduct of Ryan Day prioritizing the position on the recruiting trail and the Buckeyes having one of the top wide receiver coaches in the sport in Brian Hartline. Jaxon Smith-Njigba already had his breakout performance in the Rose Bowl win against Utah, but opponents can’t zero in exclusively on him because there’s future pros lined up all across the offense. Sophomore Emeka Egbuka and junior Julian Fleming were both five-star prospects coming out of high school, and Marvin Harrison Jr. proved in 2021 he’s ready for the spotlight as one of just three pass catchers to appear in all 13 games for the Buckeyes (11 catches, 139 yards, three touchdowns). 

2. USC 

There was no Lincoln Riley bonus applied to the Trojans’ spot in these rankings, unless you count the recruiting he did to load up this room with high-profile transfers. USC’s got a strength in numbers situation at wide receiver, creating intrigue for who will get a majority of the playing time and how Riley might use the different weapons to create mismatches in the framework of his historically prolific offense. The headliner is the most recent addition to the room, with Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison transferring from Pitt in May. The group he joins already had multiple newcomers with Power Five starting experience, including Mario Williams (Oklahoma), Brenden Rice (Colorado) and Terrell Bynum (Washington). But while those transfer portal additions come with an added buzz they still have to beat out incumbent starter Gary Bryant Jr. and battle against notable returnees like Kyle Ford and Michael Jackson III.  

3. Maryland 

Most of the teams on this list have loaded up the wide receiver room and hope to ride that advantage to conference and/or national championship contention. Maryland is not going to lead anyone’s list of playoff favorites, but the potential of this passing attack makes the Terps a must-watch team for entertainment value. Washington, D.C.’s own Dontay Demus is back for a fifth year after suffering a season-ending injury in 2021, though the 6-foot-4, 215-pound big-play threat was still productive enough in five games to earn all-conference honorable mention honors for the third straight year. A former three-star prospect, Demus has developed into an NFL Draft target with the potential to be one of the best wide receivers in the country this season. He’s joined in the room by returning leading receiver Rakim Jarrett and the versatile Jeshaun Jones, who exploded onto the scene as a freshman but has battled injury in recent years. Mike Locksley has continued to build out depth in this room on the recruiting trail and in the transfer portal, adding Jacob Copeland (22 starts at Florida) into the fold for 2022. 

4. Alabama 

Like USC, Alabama has boosted its ranking through the transfer portal with instant impact additions. The Crimson Tide saw multiple pass catchers leave the program after 2021 but the example of Jameson Williams has shown what can happen when you transfer in for even just one season with Bryce Young and the Alabama offense. Now not everyone is going to be an All-American and top-12 NFL Draft pick like Williams, but Jermaine Burton‘s decision to transfer from Alabama and Tyler Harrell‘s move from Louisville both come with similar expectations of being a valued contributor in the Tide’s passing attack this fall. Alabama does still have some competition for those newcomers even after an exodus to the draft and the portal, most notably sophomore Ja’Corey Brooks — a key to the passing attack when injuries mounted late in 2021 — and JoJo Earle, an All-SEC Freshman Team selection as a return specialist with game-breaking speed. 

5. Texas 

Steve Sarkisian wanted to bring some firepower to the passing attack after the promise of an “all gas, no brakes” offense yielded inconsistent results and a 5-7 record. There were highlights and good signs of things to come, like Xavier Worthy earning Freshman All-American honors after totaling 981 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions (both tops among all FBS freshmen wide receivers). Worthy carried a heavy load of the pass catching, but now he’s got some balance with Wyoming transfer Isaiah Neyor, a big play threat who ranked sixth in the FBS in yards per catch (19.95) last season. Worthy and Neyor’s 24 combined touchdown receptions returning makes them one of the better duos in the country, but the room as a whole should provide some quality depth with Jordan Whittington back from injury and the addition of tight end Jahleel Billingsley from Alabama.     

Honorable mention 

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