August 9, 2022

College Football’s 20 best returning wide receivers

Ihmir Smith-Marsette

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette addresses reporters at the Hawkeyes' Media Day Friday August 9, 2019. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

There’s nothing like having a safety blanket to throw the ball to for a quarterback.

Some receivers can beat you with their speed, while others use their size and footwork as an advantage. To be a productive wideout in the Power Five, you have to be able to catch, block and run crisp routes. Rather they are snagging balls out the slot or running fade routes over the top, several of these receivers have their own way of stretching the field on opposing defenses.

They all have unique skill sets, are fresh off of very productive seasons and hope to keep the momentum going this fall.

20. Nico Collins, Michigan: Standing at six-foot-four, Collins is a mismatch on most defensive backs. Collins has 75 receptions, 1,361 yards and 13 touchdown catches over the past two years for the Wolverines. The former four-star prospect caught a touchdown pass against Rutgers, Notre Dame and Michigan State last season. Not to mention the Alabama native had a career-high, three touchdown catches in the win over Indiana. Collins also averaged nearly 20 yards per per reception in 2019, which was second-best in the Big Ten.

19. Seth Williams, Auburn: The former four-star prospect led the Tigers in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns as a true sophomore. The Alabama native hauled in 59 passes, for 830 yards and eight touchdowns. Williams had 100-yard games against Georgia and Mississippi State. Williams’ 13 catches in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry was a career-high. In two seasons with Auburn, the six-foot-three, 224-pounder has 85 receptions, 1,346 receiving yards and 13 touchdown catches.

18. Elijah Moore, Ole Miss: He’s most known for striking a dog urinating pose in last year’s loss in the Egg Bowl. However, Moore had a fabulous true sophomore season and led the Rebels in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. Moore is only five-foot-nine and 184 pounds, but he’s very productive. The Florida native went over the century mark in receiving yards against Arkansas, California, Missouri and LSU. The former four-star prospect caught at least seven or more passes in five games.

17. Dyami Brown, North Carolina: This wideout is a true deep threat and his 20.6 yards per catch average was the best in the ACC last season. Brown had 51 catches for 1,034 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Charlotte native led the Tar Heels in receiving yards, touchdown catches and earned All-ACC honors. The former four-star prospect was very productive for the Tar Heels down the stretch, with a touchdown catch in each of their last five games. Not to mention Brown had a career day against Virginia, where he racked up 202 receiving yards and three scores.

16. Whop Philyor, Indiana: The former three-star prospect finished third in the league in receptions last season. Philyor caught 70 passes for 1,002 yards and earned second-team All-Big Ten. The Florida native had double-digit receptions against Rutgers, Michigan State and Nebraska. Plus the 5-foot-11, 178-pound wideout had four total games where he surpassed the century mark in receiving yards. Philyor will again be the safety net for Michael Penix Jr.

15. Chris Olave, Ohio State: His 12 touchdown catches led the Buckeyes and he earned third-team All-Big Ten as a true sophomore. Olave caught at least one pass in 13 of Ohio State’s 14 games. The former three-star prospect finished last season with 49 catches and 849 receiving yards. The California native had a career-high, 139 receiving yards against Rutgers.

14. Justyn Ross, Clemson: The Alabama native is starting to live up to his five-star billing. Ross started 14 games for the Tiger last season and led the team in receptions as a true sophomore. Standing at six-foot-four, he’s a nightmare in one on one situations. In just two seasons with Clemson, Ross has 112 receptions, 1,865 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. However, the best may still be yet to come as Ross approaches his junior year.

13. Dazz Newsome, North Carolina: The 5-foot-11, 190-pound receiver led the Tar Heels in receptions last season. Newsome had 100-yard receiving games against Virginia Tech, Duke, Pittsburgh and NC State. The Virginia native finished the year with 72 receptions, 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns. The former three-star prospect had six games of at least seven or more catches. Over North Carolina’s last three games Newsome hauled in 26 passes for  371 yards and four receiving scores.

12. Tyler Vaughns, USC: The former five-star prospect is beginning to live up to the hype. Vaughns went over the century mark in receiving yards in three Pac-12 games, including Stanford, Colorado and UCLA. He also caught 11 balls against Fresno State. The six-foot-two, 190-pounder finished the season with 74 receptions, 912 yards and six touchdowns. The Pasadena native caught seven or more passes in five different games. In two seasons Vaughns has 132 receptions, 1,586 yards and 12 touchdowns for USC.

11. Tamorrion Terry, Florida State: He’s a dangerous deep threat with 101 receptions, 1,932 receiving yards and 14 touchdown catches over the past two seasons. Terry had a touchdown reception in six different conference games last year, including two against NC State. The Georgia native had 100-yard receiving outings in three of the Seminoles last four games. Not to mention Terry caught 27 balls and scored three touchdowns during that span.

10. Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Iowa: The former three-star prospect played both receiver and corner in high school. Smith-Marsette is the only player on this list to score a touchdown in three different ways last season. The New Jersey native finished with three touchdowns on the ground, five receiving scores and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. The six-foot-one, 183-pounder is extremely fast and was named the Big Ten’s Return Specialist of the Year in 2018. He surpassed the century mark in receiving yards against Rutgers and Illinois and scored three total touchdowns in the bowl win over USC.

9. Terrace Marshall, LSU: He was LSU’s top recruit in 2018, but it has been slow motion for Marshall living up to his five-star billing. Standing at six-foot-four he has great size and used that frame to haul in 13 touchdown catches last season. The Louisiana native had five touchdown receptions over the Bayou Bengals’ last three games against Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson. Not to mention Marshall had a 100-yard outing against Texas and four games of at least two or more receiving touchdowns.

8. Sage Surratt, Wake Forest: Despite suffering a season-ending injury against Virginia Tech, the former three-star prospect took the conference by storm. Surratt finished with 66 receptions, 1,001 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns through nine games. The North Carolina native led the league in receiving yards per game and earned first-team All-ACC honors. He has 107 receptions, 1,582 yards and 15 touchdown catches for the Demon Deacons over the past two seasons. The six-foot-three receiver also happens to be a standout in basketball.

7. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State: He racked up 53 catches, 903 yards and eight touchdowns through eight games, before suffering a season-ending injury in practice. Wallace had 100-yard receiving games against McNeese, Tulsa, Kansas State and Iowa State. The former four-star prospect also caught 11 balls against Texas Tech. You can’t forget about his 86 receptions, 1,491 yards and 12 scores from 2018 either. Over the past two years the Texas native has averaged 17 yards per catch for the Cowboys.

6. Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC: He’s another one of the Trojans’ five-star receivers out of high school. The six-foot-one, 195-pounder surpassed the century mark in receiving yards against Arizona State, Notre Dame, UCLA and Iowa. Brown caught at least eight or more balls in five different games. The California native has 137 receptions and 1,792 receiving yards over the last two seasons for USC. Brown along with Vaughns form one of the best wide receiver duos in the nation.

5. David Bell, Purdue: The former four-star receiver led the conference in receiving yards, tied for first in receptions and caught seven touchdown passes as a true freshman. Bell’s video game numbers earned him first-team All-Big Ten and he was named the league’s Freshman of the Year. His 86 receptions and 1,035  receiving yards also landed him freshman All-America honors. The six-foot-two, 210 pound receiver started nine contests and caught at least one pass in all of the Boilermakers’ games. The Indianapolis native had a career-high, 13 catches for 197 yards against Iowa. He also scored the game-winning touchdown against Nebraska. Bell went over 100 receiving yards in seven conference games.

4. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota: It’s hard to believe you were the second-most productive receiver on the team when you catch 60 balls for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. Bateman had a crazy true sophomore season and his 20.32 yards per catch led the Big Ten. The former four-star prospect had 100-yard receiving games against South Dakota, Fresno State, Purdue and Wisconsin. Plus Bateman had a 200-yard outing in the upset win over Penn State. The Georgia native earned first-team All-Big Ten and finished second in the conference in receiving yards.  His best performance came in the win over Northwestern, where he had three touchdown catches.

3. Chatarius Tutu Atwell, Louisville: What he lacks in size, the five-foot-nine, 153-pounder makes up for in speed and athleticism. Atwell led the conference in receiving yards and earned first-team All-ACC last season. The former three-star prospect had 100-yard games against Western Kentucky, Boston College, Virginia, Miami, NC State, Syracuse and Mississippi State. Atwell knows how to stretch the field and averaged over 18 yards per catch. The Miami native caught a touchdown in six different conference games. He finished the year with 69 receptions, 1,272 receiving yards and 12 touchdown scores.

2. Devonta Smith, Alabama: He’s one of the best playmakers in the country when he has the ball in his hands. Smith went over 100 yards receiving against South Carolina and eclipsed 200 against LSU and Ole Miss. The former four-star prospect had a career day in the win over the Rebels, hauling in 11 passes, 274 receiving yards and a jaw-dropping, five touchdown catches. The six-foot-one, 175-pounder knows how to get yards after the catch. He finished the season with 68 receptions, 1,256 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. Smith earned second-team All-SEC and All-American honors for his production. The Louisiana native also caught two or more touchdown passes in four different games and averaged nearly 19 yards per catch on the season.

1. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU: He had a true sophomore season for the ages. Chase finished first in the entire FBS, with 1,780 receiving yards and 20 touchdown receptions, both school records. The Louisiana native won the Biletnikoff as the nation’s best receiver, earned first-team All SEC and All-America honors. The six-foot-one, 200 pound wideout had six 100-yard games and three others where he eclipsed 200. Chase had a touchdown catch in 12 of the Bayou Bengals 15 games last season and his 84 receptions was No. 2 in the SEC. Real life video game numbers from the former four-star prospect. The only difference this time around is Chase won’t be catching passes from Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.

Honorable Mention

Jaylen Waddle, Alabama: Earned first-team All-SEC as a return specialist and scored eight total touchdowns for the Crimson Tide last season.

J.D. Spielman, Nebraska: Racked up 115 receptions, 1,716 yards and 13 touchdowns over the past two seasons with the Huskers. However, he’s currently on a voluntary leave of absence from the program.

Rondale Moore, Purdue: Caught 114 balls and 12 touchdown catches for the Boilermakers in 2018, but was limited by injuries last year.

Andrew Parchment, Kansas: He caught 65 balls, for 831 yards and seven touchdowns with the Jayhawks last season.

Sam James, West Virginia: He led West the Mountaineers in catches and receiving yards last season. Had over 100 receiving yards against NC State and over 200 against Texas Tech.

Frank Darby, Arizona State: He tied for first for the Sun Devils with eight receiving touchdowns and averaged nearly 20 yards per catch.

Tarique Milton, Iowa State: He had only 35 receptions last season, but averaged nearly 21 yards per catch for the Cyclones.