The SEC is known for its tough defense and physical running backs, but the conference has also had an impressive string of elite wide receivers make its way through the league over the past few seasons.
Just look at the former greats like Alabama’s Amari Cooper, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell. It’s an impressive group.
But who will be the next great wide receivers that will ultimately make the jump to the NFL? Let’s take a look at who we think will eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in 2016.
Antonio Callaway, Florida
Callaway’s place on this list comes with some pause, as the rising sophomore is currently suspended indefinitely and his status for this fall remains unclear. However if Callaway is reinstated before the season opener, he has all the talent to take a big step forward in production in 2016.
During his freshman year, Callaway became a consistent playmaker for a Florida offense that struggled following Will Grier’s season-ending suspension. The 5-foot-11, 198 pounder caught 35 passes for 678 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman, and some consistency at quarterback for the Gators should give him more opportunities this season.
Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
No freshman was as electric in his debut season than Kirk. The 5-foot-11, 200 pounder made a huge impact for the Aggies in the return game as well as at wide receiver. Kirk finished the season third in the SEC in receiving yards, as he racked up 1,009 yards on 80 receptions and also had seven receiving touchdowns.
With Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil also in the mix for Texas A&M as well as Trevor Knight looking to provide some stability to the quarterback position, it will be difficult for teams to double Kirk, which should lead to another big season in the SEC.
Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Like Kirk, Ridley did not allow his inexperience to hinder him during his first season at Alabama. Ridley finished second in the conference with 1,045 receiving yards. He also had 89 receptions and seven receiving touchdowns.
Who will be throwing the ball to Ridley is still a question as the Crimson Tide look for someone to emerge in the quarterback battle this fall, but if Alabama can get steady play at quarterback, Ridley should be in for another year near the top of the SEC in receiving.
Fred Ross, Mississippi State
Ross might have the most difficult time of anyone on this list of getting to 1,000 yards, but it isn’t for a lack of talent. The rising senior had a tremendous season in 2016, totaling 88 receptions for 1,007 yards and five touchdowns.
However, Ross won’t have Dak Prescott throwing to him next season, and De’Runnya Wilson (NFL draft) as well as Fred Brown (dismissed from team) aren’t there to draw attention away from Ross. If the Bulldogs can find consistent quarterback play and Ross can handle double teams, he can put together another 1,000-yard season.
Damore’ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss
The Rebels lost its top two wide receivers from last season in Treadwell and Cody Core, but there’s plenty of talent to fill the gap behind those guys. It all starts with Stringfellow, who many think has the ability to take over games like Treadwell did throughout his Ole Miss career.
Stringfellow totaled 36 receptions, 503 yards and five touchdowns in 2016, but those numbers should increase with a bigger role within Hugh Freeze’s offense this fall. Add in the fact that he’ll have Chad Kelly, the SEC’s top returning quarterback, throwing to him, and it’s easy to see how Stringfellow could get to 1,000 yards.
Preston Williams, Tennessee
Although he only had seven receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns during his freshman season, Williams has the ability to be one of the best wide receivers in the SEC, and the Vols are expecting a big step forward in production for the 6-foot-4, 209-pound underclassman.
With Joshua Dobbs back at quarterback and a running game which should be among the best in the SEC, there should be plenty of opportunities for Williams to take advantage of 1-on-1 situations and become a steady playmaker for the Tennessee offense.
Also considered: Drew Morgan, Arkansas; Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M; Malachi Dupre, LSU; Garrett Johnson, Kentucky; Dominique Reed, Arkansas