1. Texas A&M: Thanks to the recruiting job done in recent years, the Aggies are loaded at this position. Josh Reynolds, who caught a school-record 13 touchdowns last year is back. So are former ballyhooed recruits and uber-talented athletes Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones, both of whom could be on deck for breakout seasons. True freshman Christian Kirk (2015 ESPN 300 prospect) all but solidified a starting job since his January arrival after earning extremely high praise from coaches this offseason.
2. Ole Miss: This unit has a clear No. 1 receiver and one of the SEC’s best (Laquon Treadwell) and the next-best option is arguably the SEC’s best tight end (Evan Engram). Beyond Treadwell, there’s plenty of returning talent like Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo and Markell Pack. There are also intriguing newcomers like Damore’ea Stringfellow and 2015 ESPN 300 duo DaMarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson.
3. Tennessee: The returning trio of Pig Howard, Marquez North and Von Pearson is both experienced and talented. Josh Malone started six games as a true freshman and should see his production increase this season. Ethan Wolf had a productive freshman season at tight end and will continue developing into a quality target for Joshua Dobbs. Adding ESPN 300 signee Preston Williams – who is awaiting certification from the NCAA clearinghouse – would be a nice addition to this group.
4. Mississippi State: Leading receiver De’Runnya Wilson (6-5, 215) is back after a 680-yard, nine-touchdown season. So are Fred Ross, Gabe Myles, Fred Brown and Joe Morrow – a quartet that combined for 87 catches and 11 touchdowns last season. Darrion Hutcherson, who played last season as a reserve tight end but didn’t record a reception, steps in as the starter there.
5. LSU: Statistically, this group doesn’t stand out but it is quite talented. Travin Dural (20.9 yards per catch, seven touchdowns) is a big-time playmaker and sophomore Malachi Dupre looks like a star in the making. John Diarse and Trey Quinn contributed as freshmen and should only be better. If the quarterback play improves this season, this group can produce, big time.
6. Auburn: Duke Williams is back practicing and if he can stay away from discipline issues he’ll be a valuable asset to the Tigers as one of the SEC’s best receivers. Ricardo Louis has lots of talent but Auburn would like him to be more consistent this season. Melvin Ray, who averaged 22.7 yards per catch last season, Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens are in line for more opportunities this season.
7. Georgia: If Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley can stay healthy, this has the potential to be a strong receiving corps. Ace returner Isaiah McKenzie is intriguing if he sees more time at receiver and junior Reggie Davis and freshmen Terry Godwin and Michael Chigbu are options as well. Jeb Blazevich and Jay Rome give the Dawgs a quality tight end duo.
8. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have a first-team All-SEC talent in Pharoh Cooper but after that they’re extremely lean on experience (only one other receiver, Shamier Jeffery, has recorded a collegiate reception). The coaches are high on redshirt freshman Deebo Samuel, who has appeared to establish himself as a No. 2 opposite Cooper. The staff is expecting a big year out of senior tight end Jerell Adams (21 catches, 279 yards in 2014).
9. Alabama: The Crimson Tide are lacking experience at receiver but have the good fortune of a playmaking tight end, O.J. Howard. Sophomores ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster are likely to play a big role in helping fill the Amari Cooper void (Lane Kiffin praised Stewart’s high talent level) and junior Chris Black is the most experienced returnee of the bunch. Still, there’s a lot for this group to prove.
10. Kentucky: The Wildcats don’t have star power but have good depth at the position, led by 2014 leading receiver Ryan Timmons, who returns to build on a 45-catch, 536-yard season. Four sophomores, who each contributed as freshmen, will step into bigger roles: Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker, Blake Bone and T.V. Williams. They’re young at tight end with true freshman early enrollee C.J. Conrad looking like the future there.
11. Arkansas: The Razorbacks tight ends play a big role in the passing game and that won’t be any different this year with Hunter Henry set for a big junior season and Jeremy Sprinkle stepping into former tight end A.J. Derby’s role. The Hogs need more production from their actual receivers though. Coaches are high on senior Keon Hatcher, the leading returning receiver, but a solid No. 2 must emerge. Could it be junior college transfer Dominique Reed? Bret Bielema said he has “freakish” athleticism.
12. Florida: Demarcus Robinson will build on a nice 2014 campaign (53 catches, 810 yards, seven touchdowns) and running back-turned-receiver Brandon Powell continues to develop, but finding answers beyond them is critical. Jim McElwain is looking for more consistency from his receivers but he’s optimistic about the tight ends, led by senior Jake McGee, who is coming off a medical redshirt last year after transferring in from Virginia, where he led the team with 43 catches in 2013.
13. Missouri: Much youth and inexperience here, though last season, the Tigers did pretty well in replacing three departed receivers. Whether they can do it again depends on whether guys like Nate Brown, J’Mon Moore, DeSean Blair, Wesley Leftwich or a host of redshirt and true freshmen can step up quickly. One helpful fact is that tight end Sean Culkin (20 catches, 174 yards) is back.
14. Vanderbilt: The good news for the Commodores is that their two leading pass catchers are back (tight end Steven Scheu, 39 catches; and receiver Latevius Rayford, 36 catches). The bad news is they lost last year’s third-leading receiver, C.J. Duncan, in training camp to a season-ending injury. There’s a mix of veterans and underclassmen who will vie to step into Duncan’s role.