Philadelphia, PA – While the focus early on in the recent NFL Draft centered around the quarterback position and its list of productive players making the jump from Saturdays to Sundays, there also was a slew of talented wide receivers moving on.
No need to fret over lost talent on the outside, however, as there is still plenty to be found in the FBS.
ROBERT WOODS: It's almost unfair that the best quarterback in the country (Matt Barkley) will throw to the nation's best wideout. USC is loaded for a run at a national title after serving its two-year bowl ban. Off-season surgery on an ankle shouldn't keep the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Trojan from once again lighting up the scoreboard. The electrifying playmaker finished his sophomore season with 111 catches for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns, ranking fourth nationally in receptions (9.3 per game) en route to consensus All-American honors, as well as being tabbed an All-Pac 12 first-team member. The pitch-and- catch combo at USC is hitting its prime and Woods may go from being a Biletnikoff Award finalist in 2011 to winning the award in 2012.
SAMMY WATKINS: Not your ordinary freshman in 2011, this Clemson Tiger burst on the scene and dominated week-in and week-out. The 6-1, 200-pound youngster heads into his sophomore campaign with a bit of Heisman Trophy hype after putting together a debut season that included team highs of 77 receptions, 1,153 yards and 11 TDs. He was named the ACC Rookie of the Year and picked up Freshman All-American honors. While Watkins could do no wrong on the field, he does begin his sophomore season in a bit of hot water following a recent arrest on drug-related charges. This should serve as a wake-up call for the young man, who has an extremely bright future, both at Clemson and in the NFL.
KEENAN ALLEN: The 6-3, 206-pound California Golden Bear saw his receptions more than double and his receiving yards nearly triple as a sophomore, finishing 2011 with 98 catches, for 1,343 yards and six TDs, en route to All-Pac-12 first-team honors. Chemistry with his new quarterback last year had a lot to do with it, as Buffalo transfer Zach Maynard took over the reins in Berkeley. Maynard is Allen's brother and will be under center again in 2012, setting up what could be another monster season for the gifted wideout, much to the chagrin of the rest of the Pac-12 and the delight of NFL brass.
MARQUESS WILSON: Wilson burst on the scene in 2011, but may still be flying a bit under the radar as he plays in the Pacific Northwest for Washington State. The 6-4, 185-pounder set school records last year as a sophomore, finishing with 82 catches for 1,388 yards, while tying the school record with 12 TDs. A true playmaker, Wilson had five TD receptions of 50 yards or more and was tabbed an All-Pac 12 second-team member. Three of the first four guys on this list reside in the Pac-12, telling you all you need to know about the conference and how the ball will be moved up and down the field on Saturdays out west.
KENNY STILLS: This Oklahoma Sooner has played second-fiddle to one of the greatest receivers in college football history and there is no shame in that. With All-American Ryan Broyles now moving on, and quarterback Landry Jones poised for a strong final season in Norman, the 6-1 Stills could dominate. He became more of a focus of the offense last year with Broyles suffering an injury and finished with 61 catches, for 849 yards and eight TDs, en route to All-Big 12 second-team honors. With the expectation of Oklahoma returning to the national title picture in 2012, Stills will be a factor each and every week.
COBI HAMILTON: The Arkansas Razorbacks lost their Heisman candidate last year when tailback Knile Davis suffered a knee injury. Quarterback Tyler Wilson came to the rescue and Arkansas thrived as a passing team. With a good portion of that receiving crew now gone, the 6-3 Hamilton returns as a the most experienced receiver on the roster. He enters 2012 with 85 career receptions, just over 1,500 yards and 13 TDs. If Arkansas is the team everyone thinks it will be this year, Hamilton has a chance to match his career total in a single season.
TAVON AUSTIN: A terrific all-around player and extraordinary return man, the 5-9 Austin emerged as a dominant playmaker and an integral part of West Virginia's prolific passing attack. As a junior in 2011, Austin finished with a school-record 101 receptions for 1,186 yards and eight TDs. He was a All-Big East first-team selection as a receiver as well as earning Big East Special Teams Player of the Year honors. With the move to the Big 12 and Geno Smith still slinging it for the Mountaineers, expect another big season for the multi-talented Austin.
MARQISE LEE: The 6-0 Lee will likely play Robin to Robert Woods' Batman, but there is still plenty of plays to be made in USC's vaunted passing attack. Lee burst on the scene as a freshman in 2011, finishing with 73 receptions for 1,143 yards and 11 TDs (most by any freshman nationally). With those numbers, it was easy for Lee to earn Freshman All-American honors, as well as being tabbed the Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year. With All-American QB Matt Barkley returning and Woods on one side of the field, putting up big stats once again won't be difficult for this sophomore.
JOSH BOYCE: After earning some Freshman All-American accolades in 2010, the 6-0 Boyce stepped it up in 2011, earning All-Mountain West first-team honors in leading TCU with 61 receptions for 998 yards and nine TDs. With star quarterback Andy Dalton moving onto the NFL last year, the thought was that the Horned Frogs' passing game would be stymied a bit. However, the combination of Boyce and new signal-caller Casey Pachall helped assuage the loss. Look for more of the same from this talented duo in 2012.
RYAN SWOPE: He has steadily improved in his time at Texas A&M, culminating in a junior season in which the 6-0, 205-pounder amassed 89 receptions, for 1,207 yards and 11 TDs (all team-highs). Swope was part of a receiving duo that included the talented Jeff Fuller, but with Fuller moving on, as well as quarterback Ryan Tannehill, it will be up to Swope to carry the load, at least early on for the Aggies. With a proven track record of production, expect nothing less in his senior season.
HONORABLE MENTION: Tavarres King (Georgia), Da'Rick Rogers (Tennessee), Terrance Williams (Baylor), Emory Blake (Auburn), Markus Wheaton (Oregon State), Stedman Bailey (West Virginia). Conner Vernon (Duke), Nick Harwell (Miami-Ohio), Odell Bechkam Jr. (LSU) and Mike Davis (Texas).