Top Returning Wide Receivers For 2017

The top returning college football wide receivers for 2017 now that most of last year’s best wideouts, like Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook, are auditioning for NFL scouts.

Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook authored a most remarkable season in 2016, scoring 17 touchdowns to finish No. 4 in the final Heisman Trophy vote, a rare accomplishment for a wide receiver. But he’s gone, as are so many of last season’s most dangerous pass-catchers. In their place will be another collection of field-stretchers and game-breakers determined to turn their quarterback’s short hitches into long gains that siphon the air out of opposing defenses.

Top Returning Wide Receivers

10. Anthony Miller, Memphis

Those who’ve followed Miller closely over the last two seasons will have a hard time believing he began his career without a scholarship. Yes, a one-time walk-on rewrote the Memphis single-season record books in 2016 with 95 receptions for 1,434 yards and 14 touchdown catches. Miller is especially dangerous on deep routes, and his ball skills are outstanding. The best is likely ahead now that he’s entering his second season in Mike Norvell’s system as quarterback Riley Ferguson’s battery mate.

9. Michael Gallup, Colorado State

In Gallup, the Rams found their successor to Rashard Higgins from an unlikely place, Butler County (Kans.) Community College. Gallup started slowly in his debut out of junior college, but then finished about as hot as any wide receiver in the country. He had at least 100 receiving yards in each of the last five games, while catching three touchdown passes in the final two. Gallup is poised to pick up where he left off, particularly with an impending quarterback battle likely to bring out the best in the entire passing game.

8. Ahmmon Richards, Miami

Richards is a classic burner, a field-stretcher with the 4.3 jets to take the top off the defense. It turns out he’s also a rather polished receiver, debuting in his first year out of high school with 49 receptions for 934 yards and three touchdowns. Richards is now looking to become more of a leader in Year 2 and more polished at the finer points of the position. He’ll look to do so without the luxury of Brad Kaaya, who’s about to be replaced by a far less experienced quarterback.

7. Calvin Ridley, Alabama

True, it was not a stellar sophomore season for Ridley, which was marked by drops and a quiet second half. He caught 72 passes for 769 yards and seven touchdowns, but he was barely a factor over the final 10 games. Still, he has too much talent, experience and motivation to not rebound this fall. Ridley is the undisputed No. 1 receiver now that ArDarius Stewart and tight end O.J. Howard have departed. And since Jalen Hurts has a full season of starting experience, Ridley will no longer be working with a rookie behind center.

6. N’Keal Harry, Arizona State

Harry laid the ground floor in 2016 of what promises to be a banner career in Tempe that probably lasts only three years. Despite the Sun Devils’ troubles at quarterback, he caught a team-high 58 passes for 659 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman. It’s just the beginning for a playmaker who can create mismatches with his size, quickness and catch radius. If an adequate partner, say Alabama transfer Blake Barnett, steps up at quarterback, Harry could be one of the nation’s breakout stars of 2017.

5. Richie James, Middle Tennessee

How in the world did James get out of Sarasota, Fla. without a single offer from an ACC or SEC program? Sure, he was an undersized quarterback in high school, but his athleticism, explosiveness and stop-and-start jukes were off the charts. The Blue Raiders have reaped the rewards of developing James, whose elusiveness and speed make him a nightmare to corral in space. He’s caught at least 100 passes in each of his first two seasons in Murfreesboro, and when Middle Tennessee ran out of quarterback last Nov. 26 he rushed for 207 yards out of wildcat packages.

4. Allen Lazard, Iowa State

Lazard is beginning to peak as an outside weapon. Fortunately for the Cyclones, he’ll continue developing his game in Ames in 2017 rather than in the NFL. He has terrific size, 6-5 and 223 pounds, evolving skills as a route runner and improving support at quarterback. As Georgia transfer Jacob Park received more snaps in the second half of 2016, Lazard’s output rose accordingly. Lazard finished the year with four 100-yard games in the final five weeks, paving a runway from which he’ll continue to launch in the upcoming season.

3. Dante Pettis, Washington

Pettis glides with such an effortless gait that it doesn’t appear he’s moving fast until he’s already blown past a defender. He’s a big-play, soft-handed receiver who pulled down 53 balls for 822 yards and 15 touchdowns a season ago. And he took a pair of punts back for touchdowns, including the game-winner to beat Utah in Salt Lake City. With John Ross off to the NFL, Pettis is about to take center stage as Jake Browning’s preferred target on the outside, while Chico McClatcher causes headaches for opposing teams out of the slot.

2. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

In terms of all-purpose playmakers, Kirk might be in a class by himself this season. He’s the personification of dangerous, whether he’s taking a short slant or fielding a punt. Kirk is blazing fast in a straight line and able to make people miss, with the vision to quickly locate creases. Despite middling quarterback play since he arrived in 2015, Kirk has accounted for 16 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards while scoring five times on special teams. The Aggies need to maximize his skill set today, because some NFL team will likely own his rights in 2018.

1. James Washington, Oklahoma State

It’s a shocker that Washington isn’t preparing for the NFL Draft right now. He’s a pro-ready long ball threat who’ll spend one more year tormenting Big 12 defensive backs on the other end of Mason Rudolph’s spirals. In three seasons in Stillwater, Washington has caught 152 passes for 2,923 yards and 26 touchdowns. He’s shown an uncanny knack for slipping behind defenses and then effortlessly plucking the ball out of the air like an outfielder. Washington is plenty fast, but he has even better game speed, which is also him separate from tight coverage.