This is the first of a series that’s going to feature the top six players at their position in the Pac-12 Conference. We were going to start with offensive lineman, but they let all the glory go to their heads when you start lauding them, so we’re starting with the more humble position of wide receivers. Chicks dig the long ball!
The top WR in the conference will go to the smallest one on the list. Rodgers is generously listed at 5’7″, but he’s a bulldog with an alpha male mentality that does not hesitate to take on linebackers and defensive lineman to block for his little brother. He has elite speed and quickness, runs crisp routes and creates yardage after the catch. On reverses and in the open field he looks like a shifty running back who is also capable of breaking tackles. He ranked number one in the Pac-10 in receptions (91), yardage (1034), and touchdowns (9). With the Beavers breaking in a new quarterback I’m expecting Mike Riley to rely more on his run game, so look for Rodgers production to drop slightly this season but still finish around the 75 reception 900 yard mark with 7 TD’s.
2. Jermaine Kearse – Washington
Kearse made the most of his opportunity to play with one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He’s quicker than he is fast, but has good size at 6’1″ – 200lbs, to go along with a reliable set of hands. Kearse uses his strong frame to shield off defenders and has quick feet and good lower body strength to run through arm tackles. His 17.3 yards per catch and 8 touchdowns prove his big play making ability, and in the final game of the season he torched the Cal secondary with 7 receptions for 147 yards and a TD. He plays alongside another good receiver in Devin Aguilar, but I’m projecting his receptions to go up with Jake Locker having a better grasp of the offense and improving his accuracy.
3. Marvin Jones – Cal
Jones has the best hands of the group, but he doesn’t have the speed to create a lot of separation on his routes. His 6’2″ frame, long arms and huge hands allow him to out jump most of the DB’s he goes against and he does a great job of grabbing the ball at its highest point. Jones accounted for 45 receptions, 651 yards and 6 TD’s in 2009 with a breakout performance against UCLA’s Alterran Verner last year. You can see his highlights here.
4. Juron Criner – Arizona
Criner made huge strides last year and was a touchdown machine. Of his 45 catches, nine of them accounted for touchdowns. He only gets 12.9 yards per catch, but that’s because Arizona likes to throw him a lot of screen passes so that he can use his 6’4″ 215lb body to move the chains. He has adequate footwork and average speed, but he was very successful in the red zone.
5. Ryan Whalen – Stanford
Many people immediately think of Toby Gerhart as the heart and soul of the Stanford offense last year, but Ryan Whalen was the primary receiver on third and long for the Cardinal. His 926 yards ranked third in the conference last year and his 57 receptions tied him for the fourth most. Whalen is fearless going across the middle, and being paired with the speedy Chris Owusu creates space underneath coverage to catch the ball and pick up YAC yards. With the loss of Gerhart I’m expecting Whalen to top his receptions and TD’s from 2009. Stanford fans need to create a highlight tape of Whalen, but in the meantime you can see lots of his catches in Andrew Luck’s highlights.
6. Nelson Rosario – UCLA
The Bruins only averaged 22 points per game last year and Rosario’s 2TD’s probably don’t scream dominance, but he was the only consistent piece for a dismal UCLA offense. He caught 42 pases for 723 yards to average 17.2 yards per catch. At 6’5″ – 220lbs he’s one of the biggest wide receivers in the conference, but he can also beat you with his deceptive speed and acrobatic catches. If there’s some improvement at quarterback for the Bruins, I would expect Rosario’s numbers to improve, especially his touchdowns.
Also considered – Chris Owusu – Stanford, Ronald Johnson – USC, Jeff Maehl – Oregon, Devin Aguilar – Washington, Scottie McKnight – Colorado
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