1. Colorado Buffaloes
The Buffs are loaded at the receiver spot for next season, headlined by big-time play-maker Shay Fields, who caught 56 passes for 883 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2016. As a rising senior, Fields may be one of Colorado’s best offensive NFL prospects for next year’s draft, along with guard Jeromy Irwin and running back Phillip Lindsay. Besides Fields, the Buffs still have Devin Ross, the team’s leading receiver from a season ago at their disposal, as well as the trio of Juwann Winfree, Kabion Ento and Bryce Bobo, who are all suitable targets in their own right. Winfree is a solid-sized pass-catcher who is returning from a torn ACL, while Ento has already been labeled as the surprise of the spring practices for Colorado. As for Bobo, he’ll add another piece of depth to one of the deepest receiving corps in all of college football, that could also mix in four-star recruit K.D. Nixon, pending they choose not to red-shirt the Texas native.
2. California Golden Bears
They may be young, playing under a first-year head coach, devoid of a starting quarterback and without the league’s top receiver from a season ago, but there’s still enough talent within this California receiving corp to solidify them as the league’s second-best unit. The names may not be household ones (just yet) but in a case of where “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, California’s pass-catchers have both the quality and quantity to be the bright spot on what might be a very under-performing Golden Bears roster. The group is led by a duo of rising sophomores in Demetris Robertson (50 catches, 767 yards, 7 TD’s) and Melquise Stovall (42 catches, 415 yards, 3 TD’s) but don’t sleep on Jordan Duncan, who snagged two scores in Cal’s spring game.
3. Colorado State Rams
Colorado State may have arguably the most difficult individual match-up for Oregon State’s secondary in high-volume target Michael Gallup, a 6’ 1” play-maker who caught a team-high 76 passes a season ago in his first year with the Rams. Gallup, who will be a senior in the fall after transferring to Colorado State for his junior campaign, established a serious connection with quarterback Nick Stevens down the stretch last season and with another year of development under his belt, he could emerge as one of the best receivers in all of college football. While it’ll be hard to top his 1,272 yards and 14 touchdowns from a year ago, especially as opposing defenses put an emphasis on locking-down Gallup, some key alternative options will need to fill larger roles on the fly for Colorado State. That being said, players like Olabisi Johnson and Detrich Clark need to be more reliable targets behind their sure-fired star in Gallup.
4. Washington Huskies
In a similar fashion to California, Washington is faced with the task of replacing their top receiver from a season ago, as speedy John Ross III is now with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Huskies still have a return trip to the College Football Play-Off on their mind. While the focal points in their offense, particularly quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin are still around, it’s the play of their pass-catchers that will be crucial to the long-term success of this group. Luckily for the Huskies, they have another All-Pac-12 level talent in Dante Pettis ready to take on the number one receiver role, while Chico McClatcher, a smaller and quicker slot target, can fill the second-choice option behind Pettis. Although, the depth chart gets a bit more murky from there, with second-year player Aaron Fuller, red-shirt sophomore Andre Baccellia and 6’ 5” target Brayden Lenius, all fighting for a regular spot in the rotation.
5. Oregon Ducks
Positions can be a bit hard to define sometimes in Oregon’s offense, as you’ll see many of the Ducks versatile pieces line-up in different spots all over the field. However, with many tweaks to Oregon’s high-octane approach coming under new head coach Willie Taggart, there’s a chance that some of the Ducks’ more stable receiving targets in Darren Carrington II and Charles Nelson, may actually emerge as more well-rounded, route-running options. Both Carrington II and Nelson finished in the Top 20 in the league in 2016 in overall receiving yards, while sharing the workload with five other players who caught between 17 and 33 passes on the season. With two of those main pieces in Johnny Mundt and Pharaoh Brown having departed Eugene, the chance for a more top-heavy workload may favor the Ducks’ fortunes. At the end of the day though, Oregon may have to try just about anything to rebound from last year’s shocking four-win campaign.
Stanford Cardinal: With a bit more offensive consistency, Stanford’s group probably would’ve made the “Top 5”, as the Cardinal have some intriguing talents which should only help with their fluid quarterback situation in 2017. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is a budding star who posted two 100+ yard receiving outings in 2016, while Trenton Irwin is a strong pass-catcher, who snagged 37 grabs, tallying 442 yards a season ago. Tight end Dalton Schultz is also an integral member of this improving corp.
UCLA Bruins: The Bruins top-heavy unit should be aided by the return of a healthy Josh Rosen at quarterback, which will give these Bruins receivers a strong and stable arm delivering them the ball. The good news for head coach Jim Mora is that his top two targets in Darren Andrews and Jordan Lasley combined for 96 catches and 1,329 yards a season ago. The bad news is that he still has some figuring out to do on the depth chart behind that duo.