2017 Preseason All-American Projections: Wide Receivers

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2017 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 the stars of next fall could be the headlining players next April in the 2018 NFL Draft.

First-Team Wide Receivers:

Calvin Ridley, Alabama

Under Nick Saban, Alabama has been a factory for NFL talent, including some special first-round wide receivers like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper. Ridley is keeping the tradition alive, as he could be the next Crimson Tide wideout who ends up being a top-20 pick. Like Cooper, Ridley hails from South Florida, and the two receivers have a similar skill set.

Ridley was phenomenal as a freshman in 2015 with 89 receptions for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns as the replacement for Cooper. As a sophomore, Ridley made 72 catches for 769 yards with seven touchdowns. Oddly enough, Cooper and Jones also had less production as sophomores compared to their freshman seasons, but ended up having superb junior years before declaring early for the NFL. The 6-foot-1, 188-pound Ridley is a fast receiver with quality size and big-time play-making potential. He should produce a huge junior year and could be the top wide receiver in college football.

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

Going back to the start of his freshman season, Kirk was a standout even though there were other future NFL wideouts who were older and star recruits of their own. Still as a freshman, Kirk was very impressive, and from the beginning, he was impossible to ignore. Some scouting sources told me that during his freshman season, Kirk immediately jumped out to them as being a special player and their nickname for Kirk was “Baby Beckham” in reference to Odell Beckham Jr.

As a freshman, Kirk caught 80 passes for 1,009 yards with seven touchdowns. He averaged averaged 24.4 yards per punt return, with two taken for touchdowns. Last year, Kirk played well despite inconsistent quarterback play that also stemmed from an offensive line struggling to pass protect. Texas A&M spread the ball around as well, using wide receiver Josh Reynolds, and didn’t give Kirk the number of targets that he should have had. Still, Kirk totaled 83 receptions for 928 yards with nine touchdowns. As a junior, Kirk should be the feature player of the Aggies’ offense. With his tremendous skill set, highlighted by his game-breaking speed, Kirk should be in store for a massive junior year that earns him a lot of postseason honors.

Second-Team Wide Receivers:

Deon Cain, Clemson

Clemson lost Mike Williams and Artavis Scott to the NFL over the offseason, so Cain should be the No. 1 receiver for the Tigers in 2017. Even though they are breaking in a new quarterback with Deshaun Watson now playing for the Houston Texans, the Tigers have fielded a potent passing offense in their spread attack under head coaching Dabo Swinney, regardless of who the quarterback was. Cain (6-1, 210) displayed a good skill set last year by catching 38 passes for 724 yards with nine touchdowns. His speed and play-making potential were illustrated by his average of 19 yards per reception. Cain could produce a big season that leads to him receiving a lot of honors at the end of the year.

Courtland Sutton, SMU

In the preseason of 2016, sources said they had been really impressed with Sutton. One scouting director told WalterFootball.com that in studying up on players before hitting the road for college training camps last year, Sutton’s talent really stood out. As a freshman, Sutton totaled 862 yards and nine touchdowns on 49 receptions with an average of 17.6 yards per catch in 2015. He went on to total 76 receptions for 1,246 yards – 16.5 yard average – with 10 touchdowns last season. The sophomore, who took a medical redshirt in 2014, played well for SMU and could have been a first-round pick if he had entered the 2017 NFL Draft. Sutton (6-3, 205) decided to return for his junior season instead, and it would not be a surprise if he dominates the competition in 2017.

Third-Team Wide Receivers:

James Washington, Oklahoma State

Over the past few seasons, Washington has been a big-play threat for the Cowboys. He made 71 receptions for 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, including a record-setting game against Pittsburgh (9-296-2) and a domination of Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie in the bowl game (9-171-1). As a sophomore, Washington snagged 53 passes for 1,087 yards with 10 scores.

The senior has decent size and can stretch teams vertically with speed. In the Cowboys spread offense, Washington should produce a huge 2017 season with quarterback Mason Rudolph, who is also returning for the Cowboys. Washington could easily end up higher as a Second-Team or First-Team selection this year.

Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame

Sources who did advance work on the 2018 class were really impressed and intrigued with St. Brown. They say he is a super-polished route runner with tremendous speed, athletic ability, body control, and hands. In 2016, St. Brown totaled 58 receptions for 961 yards with nine touchdowns. Scouting sources they think St. Brown could be more fitted and talented than the three wideouts who went in the top 10 of the 2017 NFL Draft, but St. Brown (6-4, 205) sees fewer opportunities to show his talent level. That could be the case again in 2017 as Notre Dame will probably look to run behind a talented offensive line and take the pressure off its new starting quarterback. That signal-caller could also hold back the production of St. Brown, but he definitely could be graded higher by NFL teams compared to other receivers who might receive more postseason awards.

Honorable Mentions: Florida’s Antonio Callaway, Ohio State’s Parris Campbell, LSU’s D.J. Chark, Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings, Indiana’s Simmie Cobbs Jr., Washington’s Dante Pettis, USC’s Deontay Burnett, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel, Pittsburgh’s Jester Weah, Colorado State’s Michael Gallup, Memphis’ Anthony Miller, Middle Tennessee’s Richie James, Toledo’s Cody Thompson, Southern Miss’ Allenzae Staggers, Indiana’s Nick Westbrook and Bowling Green’s Scott Miller.