2013 Preseason All-American Projections: Wide Receivers

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2013 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and this coming fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2014 NFL Draft.

First-Team Wide Receivers:

Marqise Lee, USC

Lee won last year’s Biletnikoff Award as the best wide receiver in college football. It was well deserved as the sophomore had a prolific campaign to carry USC’s offense. He torched secondaries all season as defenses struggled to matchup with his big-play ability.

Lee put up astounding totals with 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also returned kicks and averaged 28.5 yards per return with a 100-yard touchdown in the season opener. Lee had many huge Saturdays including a record-setting game of 16 receptions for 345 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion against Arizona. That broke the Pac-12 record for receiving yards in a game and was the fifth-largest total in FBS history.

Lee hauled in 12 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon. He had some impressive wins going against Ducks cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, a potential early-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

There haven’t been too many receivers to repeat as All-Americans or Biletnikoff Award winners, but Lee has that ability. Justin Blackmon did it at Oklahoma State, so there is a precedent. Lee (6-0, 190) was so dominantin 2012, he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy; a rare accomplishment for a wide receiver.

The 2013 season will be more difficult and Lee’s numbers are likely to decline. He has a new quarterback, lacks Robert Woods on the other side and will see tons of extra coverage. Still, Lee has the skill set to produce around all of that and be an All-American again.

Sammy Watkins, Clemson

Watkins freshman season made him look like Percy Harvin when he debuted at Florida during their National Championship run in 2006. Watkins was an explosive play-maker who destroyed defenses in 2011 with his ability to produce big plays. The Clemson offense was a point machine with the freshman serving as its No. 1 receiver.

The speedster totaled 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011. He also ran the ball 32 times for 231 yards. On special teams, the versatile receiver averaged 25 yards per kick return with one score.

A drug arrest landed Watkins with a suspension to start last season. He then dealt with injuries and never really got in a groove. DeAndre Hopkins took over as Clemson’s No. 1 receiver and quarterback Tajh Boyd gave Hopkins the lion’s share of the targets. Watkins caught 57 passes for 708 yards and three touchdowns.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Watkins is expected to have a bounce back season this year. Hopkins is playing for the Houston Texans, so once again Watkins will be Boyd’s No. 1 receiver. Watkins plays in a passing offense with a potential first-round pick at quarterback. The junior’s speed and play-making ability should result in him producing a massive season if he is focused on football. The 2012 season should serve as a wake-up call and propel Watkins to a big year to rehabilitate his draft status. I think he is a heavy favorite to be an All-American as the leading receiver in Clemson’s high-powered offense.

Second-Team Wide Receivers:

Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

The Vanderbilt program had an impressive 2012 season and Matthews was a big reason for the success. The Commodores’ offense was a well-balanced attack that featured Matthews with quarterback Jacob Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy. Matthews is the only player to return, so he probably will see a lot of bracket coverage this fall.

Matthews hauled in 94 receptions for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns last year. The junior played well against good competition, opening the season with an impressive performance against South Carolina (8-148). Against Georgia, he had 119 yards on eight receptions. Matthews also played well against Florida with eight catches for 131 yards and a score. He finished the regular season strongly, going over 100 yards against Ole Miss, Tennessee and Missouri.

Defenses really struggled with Matthews’ combination of size and speed. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder is a polished receiver who has been coached well by James Franklin’s staff. Matthews’ numbers could decline as a senior, but he still could be the top receiver in the SEC.

Cody Hoffman, BYU

Hoffman was one of the most consistent receivers in the nation last year despite BYU’s inconsistent play at quarterback. Hoffman hauled in 100 passes for 1,248 yards with 11 touchdowns. He consistently moved the chains for the Cougars’ offense even though defenses were sending extra coverage his direction.

Last year wasn’t the first good season for Hoffman. He had solid sophomore production with 61 receptions for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns. The freshman hauled in 42 catches for 527 yards and four scores in 2010.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder has great size to go along with running good routes and being sure-handed. Hoffman is an excellent weapon in the red zone. The senior doesn’t produce the deep highlight reel plays of Lee or Watkins, so that could hurt Hoffman’s ability to be a first-team All-American. He is a possession receiver who does a lot of the dirty work. Hoffman should produce one more good season to close out an excellent collegiate career.

Third-Team Wide Receivers:

Mike Evans, Texas A&M

Evans took over as the Aggies’ No. 1 receiver last year even though Ryan Swope returned to College Station for his senior season. Evans led Texas A&M with 82 receptions for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder put up solid numbers on a weekly basis. He could have had an even better season, but the Aggies’ offense featured a lot of running led by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Manziel has worked to improve his pocket passing this offseason and Evans could benefit from that. Even though the redshirt sophomore is a big wide out, he has some quickness with the ability to make plays downfield. Evans seemed to be just scratching the surface of his potential in 2012 and could be poised for a huge season. Swope is in the NFL, so Evans figures to be Manziel’s featured receiver.

Amari Cooper, Alabama

Even though the Crimson Tide offense didn’t the throw the ball much last year, Cooper stood out with his mismatch ability. The 6-foot-1, 202-pounder had the speed and quickness to make plays downfield while playing bigger than his listed measurements. The freshman led the team in receiving with 59 receptions for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Alabama’s offense may throw the ball more often in 2013 led by a senior quarterback in A.J. McCarron, and Cooper could be the focal point of the team’s passing offense. He probably won’t see as many targets as the receivers who play at schools with a passing-oriented offense, but the sophomore has the skill set to make the most of limited opportunities.

Honorable Mentions: Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman, Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff, UCLA wide receiver Shaq Harris, LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., LSU wide receiver Jarvis Landry, Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson, Georgia wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker and Alabama wide receiver Kenny Bell.

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