It is never too early to look forward to the next SEC football season. This series is going to look at the top returning SEC players at each position group ahead of the 2018 campaign.
For today's offensive position we'll look at wide receiver. Calvin Ridley was the standout player in the league last season, but he has now moved on to the NFL. The SEC is still a more ground based league than some out there, but that doesn’t mean that the cupboards are bare when it comes to finding pass catchers set to star in 2018. Here is the best of an admittedly thin crop of receivers headed back to school in 2018.
A.J. Brown – Ole Miss
If A.J. Brown is able to improve on his 2017 numbers at all then he will be a monster this fall for the Rebels.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder has the size and the speed to be a problem for even the elite defensive backs in the SEC. Last season, Brown caught 75 passes for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns, even with a quarterback change midseason. The good news for Brown is that he and returning quarterback Jordan Ta’amu showed great chemistry on the field in 2017, with Ta’amu looking for Brown ahead of any other target.
Ole Miss returns one of the deepest stables of receivers in the league – and in the country – so defenses cannot just double down on Brown and hope the rest of the pass catchers don’t beat them. This puts Brown in an enviable position as he looks set to have a huge season and bring the Rebels back to respectability in 2018.
Emanuel Hall – Missouri
Sometimes the best recipe to being a great receiver is simply to be in the right place at the right time. That is exactly the situation Emanuel Hall finds himself part of in Columbia.
The Missouri offense in 2017 was pretty simple. Snap the ball to Drew Lock and allow him to gun the ball all over the field regardless of the usual parameters of down and distance. The result was that Lock is the best proven quarterback entering 2018, and that his targets – including Hall – should be in for huge years.
Hall’s role in this offense is that of the big play guy. In 2017 he had 33 catches for 817 yards, averaging a ridiculous 24.8 yards per catch. With his quarterback back in the fold for next season, there is no reason to think that Hall won’t be blazing into the defensive backfield again in 2018.
Deebo Samuel – South Carolina
Can Deebo Samuel get back to 100% after his 2017 season was derailed by a broken left leg?
If he can, then South Carolina has one of the best wide receivers in the country on its books heading into the 2018 campaign. As of April, Samuel was said to be about 85-90% recovered from his broken fibula, a mark that would seem to put his recovery in line for a return well before the start of the season.
In three games last year, Samuel recorded an impressive six touchdowns. He had 15 catches for 250 yards and three of those scores, with two other touchdowns coming via special teams, and one in the running game. The 6-footer has a sub 4.5 second time in the 40-yard dash and the quickness to go along with his straight line speed. It feels like we have only scratched the surface of Samuel’s potential in the college game and that 2018 could be a breakout season for the Gamecocks’ star.
Other notable SEC wide receivers: Jerry Jeudy – Alabama, Tyrie Cleveland – Florida, Terry Godwin – Georgia, Juan Jennings – Tennessee, Van Jefferson – Florida, Austin Williams – Mississippi State, Justin Jefferson – LSU, Kalija Lipscomb - Vanderbilt