“Electrifying offenses,” “high scoring shootouts,” and “crazy pass-happy league” are common phrases that are often stated when one talks of football in the Big 12 Conference. Most won’t argue that the quarterback is the single most important position on the field, but without wide receivers, even the golden boy of the offense wouldn’t be the king of the campus. Like a point guard needs a power forward to complete a rim rocking alley-oop, a quarterback needs a playmaker at the wide out position to haul in anything and everything from a screen pass to a back-shoulder fade that eludes the defenders hand by fractions of an inch. You may consider them the “divas of the gridiron,” but that does not decrease the value of their presence on the field. These young men are the reason defensive coordinators lose sleep at night… the reason that you spill your beer and nachos all over the family in front you when a 5-yard slant turns into a 70-yard race for the end zone. So, fans, hold onto your beverages, and defensive coordinators, close your eyes as I countdown from 10 to 1, the 2017 Big 12 wide receivers (by group).
10. Kansas Jayhawks
STAR: (5’10-JR) STEVEN SIMMS JR
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: (6’0-RS SOPH) DAYLON CHARLOT
RETURNING PRODUCTION: 118 REC- 1,270 YARDS- 9 TDS
With the departure of LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Steven Simms Jr. will have to be the man and then some this season for the Jayhawks. Steven Simms Jr. returns as the leader in receptions (72), yards (859) and touchdowns (7) for Kansas and he may have to increase those numbers for his team to win some games this season. Out of all the returning Big 12 wide receivers, only three receivers had more receiving yards than Steven Simms Jr. did last season. With the loss of Gonzalez, newcomer and former Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot will have to step up to be that number two option for either Peyton Bender or Carter Stanley. Behind these two, Tyler Patrick (6’0-JR) and Bobby Hartzog Jr. (5’11-SR) need to play bigger roles in to take that next step for Doug Meacham’s new offense. Even though they are ranked last on this list, this is still David Beaty’s best group of receivers since he has been in Lawrence.
9. Baylor Bears
STAR: (6’3-SOPH) BLAKE LYNCH
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: (6’2-FR) RJ SNEED
RETURNING PRODUCTION: 95 REC- 1,321 YARDS- 9 TDS
Going into the 2016 season, Baylor lost their best receiver in school history and now Cleveland Brown wide receiver, Corey Coleman. Fortunately for Baylor, KD Cannon had a monster year and led the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns last season, but now he too has gone to the NFL. Who will step up for Baylor and be that go-to target this year in a new offense? The answer is 6-foot 3-inch sophomore Blake Lynch. Lynch has that big frame to be a dominate target on the outside for this offense and he showed some flashes in 2016. You could easily make the same argument for the speedy receiver Chris Platt (one of the fastest guys on the team) to be that go to guy because he averaged 16.2 yards per reception last season on 35 catches. Other options for whoever wins the QB battle in Waco will include Pooh Stricklin (6’2), Denzel Mims (6’3) and Jared Atkinson (6’3) who all have good size for this spread pro-style offense. This is a very green group for new Head Coach Matt Rhule and they will need to mature quickly to get some more production from these younger guys.
8. West Virginia Mountaineers
STAR: (6’1-RS SR) KA’RAUN WHITE
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: (6’5-JR) DOMINIQUE MAIDEN
RETURNING PRODUTION: 99 RECEPTIONS- 1,174 YARDS- 10 TDS
After losing Mr. do-it-all Shelton Gibson (leader in Rec, yards & touchdowns in 2016) and their second-leading receiver Dakiel Shorts, it is time for some guys to step up to the challenge. Last season on this same ranking, I said that it was time that Ka’Raun White step up like his brother Kevin did back in the 2014 season for the Mountaineers. Well, White didn’t have a great year but he did take a step forward last season with 48 receptions for 583 yards and 5 scores. He returns for his final year in Morgantown as the leading receiver and he may have to break the 1,000 yards mark this season. There is a huge question mark for the Mountaineers as big play threat Jovon Durante has been dealing with a personal issue and has not yet reported to fall camp. His return time is unknown and if he doesn’t come back this group may slide down a notch further. Without Jovon, there are only 3 receivers who have recorded a catch in 2016 that are coming back in 2017 (Yikes). If Gary Jennings and Marcus Simms don’t step up this year, West Virginia will have to rely on a pair of quarterbacks turned wide receivers in David Sills and William Crest. Also keep an eye on Reggie Roberson and JUCO transfer Dominique Maiden to help contribute this season
7. Oklahoma Sooners
STAR: (6’0-SR) JEFF BADET
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: (6’0-SR) JEFF BADET
Returning Production: 40 RECEPTIONS- 453 YARDS- 5 TOUCHDOWNS
Much like Baylor, Oklahoma has lost its top receiver for the second-straight season heading into 2017. Gone is their workhorse and Heisman finalist Dede Westbrook and with Nick Basquine out for the year with due to injury, the Sooners have some big shoes to fill. Sooner fans should say their prayers and count their blessings that Kentucky transfer Jeff Badet is wearing the crimson and cream. At Kentucky, Badet lead the SEC in yards per catch (21.6) and lead the Wildcats in receiving yards (670) last season. He will be relied upon as Baker Mayfield’s go to option from day one and he is capable to be that deep threat like Westbrook was. Beyond him is where things get shaky for this bunch. The rest of the receivers (Jeffery Mead, A.D. Miller, Mykel Jones and Jordan Smallwood) combine for a total of 453 yards and 5 touchdowns from last season which is less than what Jeff Badet put up at Kentucky in 2016. While those stats may be concerning, at least those four guys are veterans in this program. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some freshman such as CeeDee Lamb and Charleston Rambo get some early playing time.
6. Kansas State Wildcats
STAR: (6’2-JR) BYRON PRINGLE
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: (6’4-RS SOPH) CARLOS STRICKLAND II
RETURNING PRODUCTION: 12O RECEPTIONS- 1,355 YARDS- 9 TOUCHDOWNS
Around this time last year, I picked Byron Pringle to be the Big 12 newcomer of the year for the 2016 season. While he did have a good year (39 receptions for 631 yards & 4 touchdowns), I think I may have jumped the gun a little bit on him. This is the year where Byron Pringle becomes a household name in the Big 12 as he will not only be the Wildcats number one option in the passing game, but in the return game as well on special teams. Jesse Ertz will have some decent targets to throw to besides Pringle such as Dominique Heath and Isaiah Zuber but all eyes will be on former Cal transfer Carlos Strickland II, who looks to be a fixture in the starting lineup. While this may be a small bunch for Bill Snyder, this particular group could be the best he has had at Kansas State in the last few seasons.
5. Iowa State Cyclones
STAR: (6’5-SR) ALLEN LAZARD
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: (6’4-RS JR) MATTHEW EATON
RETURNING PRODUCTION: 171 RECEPTIONS- 2,318 YARDS- 18 TOUCHDOWNS
For the past two seasons, Allen Lazard has been a superstar in Ames. He has led the Cyclones in every major receiving category since he has arrived on campus back in 2014 and when he hangs up his cleats there, he may walk away with a few school records. Only one other receiver in the Big 12 comes back with more receiving yards than Lazard (James Washington, Oklahoma State) and I am certain that he will have another monster year for his final college season. While having a dominant receiver is nice, you need more than just one guy to be this high on the list. Luckily for Iowa State, they can rely on guys like rising star Deshaute Jones and a veteran Trevor Ryen. These two combined for over 900 yards and 8 touchdowns last season and I expect them both to increase their numbers this season. Be on the lookout for JUCO transfer Matthew Eaton (6’4) and redshirt sophomore Hakeem Butler (6’6) to make their presence felt this season with their basketball type size.
4. Texas Longhorns
STAR: (6’6-SOPH) COLLIN JOHNSON
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: (6’1-RS FR) REGGIE HEMPHILL-MAPPS
RETURNING PRODUCTION: 163 RECEPTIONS- 2,128 YARDS- 16 TOUCHDOWNS
While other teams have more of a one-man band type of guy for their receiving group, Texas spread the wealth out last season throwing the pigskin. Last season, no Texas receiver went over 500 yards but they did have four guys go over the 300-yard mark which only one other Big 12 school accomplished (OSU). Make no mistake about it folks, Collin Johnson is the top dog for the Longhorns passing game. He showed flashes down the stretch last season that he can be a true number one target in any offense. I expect a breakout type year for Johnson and the same goes for the speedy Devin Duvernay who averaged a conference high of 20.6 yards per catch in 2016 (minimum of 10 catches). These two have big playmaking ability like few in this conference have. Rounding out this group will be veterans Armanti Foreman, Dorian Leonard, Lorenzo Joe and Jerrod Heard. It’s not often that two true sophomores are your two best receivers, but that is the case in Austin.
3. Texas Tech Red Raiders
STAR: (5’11-JR) KEKE COUTEE
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: (6’0-FR) XAIVER MARTIN
RETURNING PRODUCTION: 202 RECEPTIONS- 2,675 YARDS- 27 TOUCHDOWNS
This group could have easily been at number two if it wasn’t for the loss of leading receiver Jonathan Giles transferring to LSU (I hear they throw the ball 5 times a game down on the Bayou). Anyways, this is still a very deep bunch that returns a lot of talent. The Red Raiders have a trio of wide outs that can scare opposing defenses with Keke Coutee, Cameron Batson and Dylan Cantrell. Coutee (55 rec, 890 yards & 7 TDS in 2016) is the home run threat of the group, Batson (61 rec in 2016) constantly moves the chains and Cantrell (6’6) is the primary red-zone target who had 8 touchdowns last season. Throw in Derrick Willies who can do a little bit of everything well and you have a very solid group of receivers. No other group of receivers in the Big 12 brings back more touchdowns this year than the bunch out in Lubbock. There will be a ton of questions for this Texas Tech team heading into 2017, but this gang of receivers shouldn’t be one of them.
2. TCU Horned Frogs
STAR: (6’4-SR) TAJ WILLIAMS
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: (5’11-FR) JALEN REAGOR
RETURNING PRODUCTION: 223 RECEPTIONS- 2,842 YARDS- 15 TOUCHDOWNS
Just like their rival down in Austin, TCU won’t rely on just one or two guys. They will use a plethora of receivers that will touch the football in the passing game. In fact, TCU has five returning receivers that had 20 plus catches last season which ties with Texas for the most in the Big 12. While these two schools have similar stats, the Horned Frogs are a little bit deeper in terms of talent on the depth chart. Taj Williams had an outstanding year in 2016 with 702 receiving yards and 5 scores, averaging an eye popping 18 yards per catch. Senior wide outs, Desmond White and John Diarse look to come out of their shell this year and before I continue, I must mention KaVontae Turpin. Turpin had a coming out party in 2015 and unfortunately, he missed a lot of time last year due to injuries. He is one of the most exciting players to watch with the ball in his hands and TCU would be wise to get the football to him in any way possible. Behind these four, the Horned Frogs have some seasoned veterans with Jaelan Austin, Ty Slanina, Emmanuel Porter and Daniel Walsh. While it is nice to have that experience, some of them need to step up this coming season.
1. Oklahoma State Cowboys
STAR: (6’0-SR) JAMES WASHINGTON
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: (6’1-RS SOPH) TYRON JOHNSON
RETURNING PRODUCTION: 177 RECEPTIONS- 2,708 YARDS- 20 TOUCHDOWNS
Those of you who know a little bit about the Big 12 probably knew exactly who would be number one on this list. What you may not know is just how good this group can be and I would be happy to help shine some light on that. There is no place better to start than the best receiver in the entire Big 12, James Washington. No other returning Big 12 receiver comes back with more yards (1,380) and touchdowns (10) than Washington. He is the best deep threat in the conference and could easily end up as the Biletnikoff Award winner (nation’s best WR) at the end of the year. Usually this is where other teams would have a drop off but not Oklahoma State because Jalen McCleskey, Marcell Ateman and Tyron Johnson have something to say about that. The speedy slot receiver McCleskey led the team in receptions last year (73) and was second in yards (812) and touchdowns (7) as well. After sitting out the entire 2016 season due to injury, Ateman (6’4) looks to return back to his former 2015 self where he recorded 45 receptions for 766 yards and hit pay dirt 5 times that year. The four-headed monster ends with former LSU transfer Tyron Johnson, who has had a ton of buzz surrounding him since he arrived in Stillwater. All I know is from the things that I have heard about him is that it is very possible that he has the most talent in this entire group. I have high expectations from this guy if everything I have heard is true. Also, Chris Lacy and Dylan Stoner will be in the rotation as well this season. It is very rare that you have four guys (Washington, McCleskey, Ateman & Johnson) that could start for probably any team in the entire country all on one roster (it is almost unfair). You are looking at the best wide receiver group in the entire country and Cowboys fans should enjoy every minute of this talented bunch. The only problem is that there is only one football to pass around.
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