We’ve ranked the quarterbacks. We’ve ranked the running backs. Now, as our position-by-position look at the SEC’s best players over the past decade continues, it’s time to rank the wide receivers.
1. Amari Cooper, Alabama (2012-14): It’s easy to pick Cooper No. 1 here -- he’s the most recent player we’ve seen -- but who else on this list has been nominated for a Heisman Trophy? That’s how good the Alabama wide receiver was in 2014. He set the SEC record that season with 124 receptions, and his 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns both rank among the top three all-time for a single season. It’s ironic that with all the national championships the Crimson Tide have won in recent years, they didn’t win one in Cooper’s best year. But without him, they wouldn’t have made the College Football Playoff that season. And as for his career, he's top three all-time in receptions (228) and yards (3,463), and he's No. 1 in receiving touchdowns (32).
2. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (2010-13): The only reason Cooper doesn’t hold more SEC records is because Matthews is hogging them all. Single-season receptions? Matthews set that with 112 receptions in 2013. Career receptions? He caught 262 passes during his time at Vanderbilt, more than any other player in the conference. Career receiving yards? Yeah, he’s got that, too, with 3,759 yards over his four seasons. Matthews stands out on this list because he’s the only one that wasn’t a top recruit coming out of high school -- he was a two-star with just one scholarship offer -- but his production speaks for itself. And though he wasn’t a first-round draft pick like some of the others, it’s no surprise to see him enjoy success at the next level.
3. Julio Jones, Alabama (2008-10): The next two on this list (Jones and A.J. Green) have always been linked. Both were five-stars coming out of high school in 2008. Both enjoyed productive careers in the SEC, and it was no surprise to see them drafted two picks apart (Green at No. 4, Jones at No. 6) in the 2011 NFL draft. The reason Jones gets the slight nod here is because he was the bigger of the two and the better blocker, which proved useful in Alabama’s offense at the time. He also won a national championship. Jones has become an even better player in the NFL, but he was still plenty productive in college with 179 receptions, 2,653 yards and 15 touchdowns in three years.
4. Green, Georgia (2008-10): While at Georgia, Green put up similar numbers to Jones. He finished with 166 receptions and 2,619 yards in three years, and it would have have been more had he not missed the first four games of his junior season (2010) because of an NCAA investigation. What set him apart, though, were the touchdowns. He had 23 touchdowns, and between his 6-foot-4, 212-pound frame and his ability to jump over anybody, he was one of the better red-zone threats the SEC has ever seen. If the ball was thrown in his vicinity, odds were he was coming down with it. As a true freshman in 2008, Green led the SEC with 963 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.
5. Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina (2009-11): Speaking of red-zone threats and players who could go up and make acrobatic catches, Jeffery was pretty good in his own right. He was a year behind Jones and Green, but he outshined both during the 2010 season when, as a sophomore, he finished tops in the conference with 88 receptions, 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. Despite playing just three years at South Carolina, Jeffery is fourth all-time in the SEC with 3,042 receiving yards. That’s pretty good for a guy who was once told by former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin that he’d be pumping gas the rest of his life if he chose to stay in-state and play for the Gamecocks.