Past success leads to high expectations. And last season’s most productive receivers in college football will enter the 2018 campaign aiming to thrive once more.
From a Big 12 duo to stars at a few Group of Five programs, the group of proven standouts is diverse. There are slot receivers, outside targets and versatile pieces scattered among the respected list.
Barring injury, these players should again finish near the top of national leaderboards in yards and touchdowns — especially if their quarterback returns, too.
A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
Before the 2017 season even began, the Ole Miss program knew it wouldn’t appear in a bowl game. That didn’t stop A.J. Brown from turning in an impressive year. He finished 10th in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 1,252 yards, catching 75 passes with 11 touchdowns. Brown, who worked primarily out of the slot, topped the 100-yard mark six times. While his best performances often happened against non-power schools and middling SEC teams, Brown hit Auburn for 10 receptions and 109 yards. He’ll be a leading target for Jordan Ta’amu this season.
Andy Isabella, Massachusetts
In 2017, Andy Isabella became only the seventh player in UMass history to reach 1,000 yards. Listed at 5-foot-10, he’s not an imposing receiver. Consistency, however, was a key strength for Isabella. He tallied five-plus catches in eight games, including a stretch of seven-plus receptions during each of the Minutemen’s last five contests. Isabella never recorded less than 40 yards, and he snagged a touchdown in eight games. The connection between Isabella and Andrew Ford led to 1,020 yards and 10 scores last year, and it’ll be on display again in 2018.
Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
Buffalo tapped into the junior-college market and found a gem with Anthony Johnson. During his first season at Buffalo, the Iowa Western Community College product racked up 76 catches for 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns. Those outputs were 18th, sixth and third in the nation, respectively. Not only did Johnson cross the 100-yard barrier six times, he reached at least 140 on each occasion. In Buffalo’s last three outings, he posted 20 receptions with 468 yards and eight scores. Tyree Jackson and Johnson form the most feared QB-WR combo in the MAC.
David Sills V, West Virginia
After a 2015 season in which he held a minimal role, David Sills V left West Virginia to pursue a dream. The once-prodigy played quarterback at El Camino College. But then, dream fulfilled, he returned to Morgantown and became a scoring machine as a receiver. He tied Memphis’ Anthony Miller for the most touchdowns (18) in the country last season. Sills had seven multi-score games, including three contests of three touchdowns. Defenses knew Will Grier was looking for Sills when the Mountaineers were in the red zone, yet they rarely could stop it.
Denzel Mims, Baylor
Very quietly in Baylor’s disaster of a 1-11 campaign, Denzel Mims extended the team’s streak of seasons with a 1,000-yard receiver to seven. The speedster grabbed 61 passes for 1,087 yards and eight touchdowns. He showed off impressive big-play ability, averaging 17.8 yards per catch. Only three receivers with at least five receptions per game had a higher clip. Impressively, Mims recorded five games of 100-plus yards despite a revolving door at quarterback. If rising sophomore Charlie Brewer settles the position as expected, the stability should benefit Mims.
Diontae Johnson, Toledo
Toledo is looking for a quarterback to replace Logan Woodside, but the new signal-caller will have a hugely talented group of receivers to target. An injury to Cody Thompson limited him in 2017, but Diontae Johnson — who missed all of 2016 due to injury — led the position last season. He collected 74 catches for 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns. The latter two numbers ranked eighth and fourth in the FBS, respectively, and Johnson had six 100-yard showings and four multi-touchdown performances. Containing this receiving corps will be a nightmarish task.
Gary Jennings, West Virginia
In perhaps the most bizarre stat line of 2017, Gary Jennings snagged 97 catches — the fourth-most in the country — yet only scored one touchdown. Still, he registered a team-leading 1,096 yards beyond his 97 receptions. West Virginia peppered Jennings with quick-hitting targets, and he notched at least six catches in 10 games and double-digit receptions four times. Jennings passed the 100-yard mark on four occasions. Hopefully, his consistent presence will result in a few more celebrations this season. After the loss of Ka’Raun White, we expect that to happen.
Marquise Brown, Oklahoma
Marquise Brown had three other 100-yard performances as a sophomore, but he’ll be remembered for his outburst at Oklahoma State. The speedy wideout shredded Oklahoma’s in-state rival for 265 yards and two touchdowns on nine grabs. Brown ended the campaign with 57 receptions, 1,095 yards and seven scores, boasting a per-catch average of 19.2 yards. Among qualifiers, that ranked 19th in the FBS. The Sooners must replace Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, but Kyler Murray appears ready to excel in his lone season as the starter.
N’Keal Harry, Arizona State
Arizona State bounced between wins and losses during a 7-6 campaign, but the offense could always rely on N’Keal Harry for production. He gathered either 60-plus yards or scored a touchdown 12 times. Only once did the then-sophomore fail to reach either mark in a game. Harry wrapped up his season with 82 receptions — the 12th-most nationally — 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns. The Herm Edwards experiment is not guaranteed to succeed, but Harry should continue to excel since Manny Wilkins remains behind center for the Sun Devils.
Penny Hart, Georgia State
Penny Hart exploded onto the scene as a freshman in 2015, cresting the 1,000-yard barrier and scoring eight touchdowns. But a couple of injuries limited him to only two appearances in 2016. Back healthy last season, Hart picked up where he left off. The 5-foot-8 wideout weaved his way to 74 catches, 1,121 yards and eight scores — which included a streak of at least one touchdown in six straight games. Hart tallied four games of 100-plus yards, too. Georgia State needs a new quarterback, but the first-year starter will have a clear No. 1 target.