Who is the Top CFB WR headed into 2021?
By: Brady Akins
Here we are, folks. The month of July. Notorious for being the single worst part of the NFL season. Far away enough from the previous season to where the 2020 campaign feels like a distant memory, but not close enough to the upcoming year to legitimately anticipate a new slate of games.
That levels football fans with about one option and one option only– mock drafts. Or, at least, projecting players that could find their way into future mock drafts once the college football season begins.
College football will have a strong group of pass-catchers headlining their team’s explosive offenses in the 2021 season. They’re built to fill a highlight reel, stuff the stat sheets, bring home awards and eventually make the transition to the next level– NFL football.
But who are the biggest names of the big? Who, among the others, is set to become a household name in 2021 and set themselves up for a Day One selection in the 2022 NFL Draft?
Here are a few possible receivers that you could be hearing about in a few month’s time.
Chris Olave, Ohio State
Headlining our list of potential 2021 stars is Ohio State’s Chris Olave, a three-year contributor to the Buckeyes offense coming off of a career season, despite playing just seven games in 2020.
After playing a full 14 game schedule the year prior, one that ended with a respectable 849 yards and 12 touchdown grabs, Olave emerged as one of college football’s strongest receiving threats in his junior season.
In just half the games he played in 2019, Olave hit a career-high in receptions with 50, turning that into 729 yards and seven touchdowns. With an average of a touchdown per game and 14.6 yards per catch, somehow a career-low, the Buckeyes receiver proved to be a big-play threat.
Olave’s dominance came in large part to two defining characteristics, blazing speed and stick hands. Per PFF, Olave has only four career drops on 115 catchable targets. Add that to his 6’1” frame and 4.40-second 40-yard dash speed, and the senior superstar has the chance to be the best pass catcher at the college level and a star in the pros.
Drake London, USC
Behind every exceptional college quarterback prospect is a cast of equally exceptional pass-catchers. Joe Burrow had Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase. Trevor Lawrence had Tee Higgins and a certain someone that we’ll see later on this list. And Kedon Slovis, the USC up-and-comer has Drake London, who looks tailor-made for the big stage.
London had just about every reason to not have an impressive 2020 season, between a six-game season, a delayed start to the year, and absolutely no home-field advantage that has become quintessential to the Trojans’ football experience. But London ignored those excuses to produce a monster campaign in a condensed season.
The USC star finished as an All PAC-12 second-team selection with 502 yards on 33 catches in five regular-season wins and a near-win in the conference championship. Add that to a freshman season the year before that saw London bring in another 567 yards on 39 catches, and the picture of why NFL franchises are buying into the USC star becomes clear.
Beyond the numbers, London has shown all of the physical tools needed to thrive in the NFL. He stands tall at 6’5”, has the right size at 210 pounds, and possesses enough raw athleticism to earn a role on the USC Trojans basketball team.
With a full slate of games scheduled for the upcoming college football season, London can add to his resume in a big way, and boost a draft stock that might already have him locked in as a Day One pick.
John Metchie III, Alabama
Hailing from a school that has produced elite NFL talents like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper, as well as up-and-coming pass-catching stars like Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Alabama’s John Metchie III has the chance to be the next big thing coming from the Crimson Tide’s offense.
Taken without context, Metchie’s 2020 stat line as a sophomore shows that he has the making to become a star. 55 catches, 916 yards and six touchdowns in just his first season getting regular playing time is impressive enough. However, the Alabama receiver’s stats with context are even better.
Don’t forget what the Crimson Tide had in 2020. Jaylen Waddle, the sixth overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft. Devonta Smith, the 10th overall pick and the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy since Desmond Howard in 1991. Najee Harris, another first-round selection the 2020 Doak Walker award winner and a volume monster in his own right. Metchie had to compete with all of them for shine in the offense. And still produced at a high level.
Now with all of those players gone, Metchie will be the elder statesman on the Alabama pass-catcher depth chart. He’s quick, explosive, and has the chance to prove he can play at an elite level in 2021.
Justyn Ross, Clemson
Remember Justyn Ross? The Clemson Tigers’ former freshman phenom who looked set to take a firm hold of the title for best receiver in college football after just one spectacular 2019 season?
Well, put that name back in your mind. Because Ross is poised to be a star once again, one that can thrive through the college ranks and onto the NFL level.
2018 saw Ross put together one of the most exciting highlight reels in recent college history, with 1,000 receiving yards on just 46 catches as a freshman. Despite a slight step back in 2019, Ross still shone, with 66 catches, 885 yards, and eight touchdown grabs.
Injuries forced Ross to miss the entirety of the 2020 college football season, but he is still the same person that set the game on fire two seasons ago. He is still the same 6’4” 21-year-old with lightning speed and sticky hands that can be a matchup nightmare for just about any defensive back.
Give him time to recover from those injuries and watch him go to work. With a full offseason of practice and a chip on his shoulder, Ross could return to form to light up college football once again.
Garrett Wilson, Ohio State
Chris Olave isn’t the only name to know from the Ohio State Buckeyes offense. Garrett Wilson, the Buckeyes’ junior, stands as a star in his own right, and is much more than an afterthought.
Wilson was a strong player at Ohio State from the moment he arrived, finishing his freshman season in 2019 with five touchdowns on 30 catches and never looking back. Wilson was even stronger in 2020, despite playing in only eight games.
With over 700 receiving yards on 43 catches, Wilson has proven to be a valuable asset in the Buckeyes’ offense, despite competing for touches with his counterpart in Olave. With another year of experience to his name, and a full schedule of games to play in 2021, Wilson could once again take a major step forward and improve his draft stock.
One Last Name To Know: Reggie Roberson, SMU
The list of big-name receivers heading into the 2021-22 college football season is crowded with pass-catchers at even bigger name schools. Four of the five players went to work on teams that participated in the College Football Playoff, while the other, USC’s Drake London, was a star on a 5-1 team that came within seven points of finishing undefeated and winning the PAC-12.
So let’s mix it up a bit, and give a sample of due respect to a smaller name at a smaller school that could break out heading into the upcoming season; SMU’s Reggie Roberson Jr.
Roberson was possibly on the cusp of becoming a household player in the middle of 2020, when he began the season with 22 catches, 474 yards and five touchdowns through just four games. With 118.5 receiving yards per game, the SMU star was on pace to finish sixth among FBS pass catchers in that category.
Unfortunately for the senior and the Mustangs offense, Roberson went down with a season-ending injury in the middle of his fourth and final game in 2020. But the senior will be back for 2021, and looking to pick up where he left off.
Roberson will be looking to pick up where he left off going into next season. The senior was a big play waiting to happen in 2020, averaging a staggering 21.5 yards per catch through his shortened season, and turning nearly 25% of his catches into touchdowns.
Expect to hear Roberson’s name come draft season.