We continue our American Athletic Conference position reviews, and today we break down the receiving corps for each team in the conference.
When we did our position reviews heading into the 2017 season, the AAC had several receivers that already had lofty expectations. Courtland Sutton and Anthony Miller lived up to the hype and now find themselves in the NFL. Tre’Quan Smith, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Steven Dunbar, Trey Quinn and a few others will get their chance to play on Sunday’s as well.
That leaves the AAC with a huge drop off at receiver as the top five players in both receptions and receiving yards have all left the conference. So is much of the depth behind those stars. That doesn’t mean the conference will be without its share of playmakers. It’s time for the youngsters to step up.
With that said, it was hard to gauge where some teams stack up at receiver and tight end. We only have one team in our bottom category, and it should be obvious which program that is. What we do have is teams in our “wait and see” group that were on top of the conference just months ago.
This is how we broke up the conference into: Elite, Second Tier, Wait and See, and Room for Improvement.
Room for Improvement: Your team can definitely get better. Even if your team has a returning starter, there’s still plenty of room for growth.
Wait and See: Most likely, your team is going through a transition to a new starter. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just means the new face has to prove themselves.
Second Tier: Good not great. The players aren’t elite yet, but may be right on the doorstep.
Elite: The best of the best. Most likely competing for an All-Conference spot. Also helps to have depth at the position.
1. USF: Tyre McCants flashed his big-play ability last season with seven touchdowns and finishing fourth in the conference in yards per reception (19.1). Darnell Salomon wasn’t too far behind with five touchdowns on 16 yards per reception. Add in Mitchell Wilcox at tight end and the Bulls will have some weapons for whoever wins the starting job at quarterback.
2. Tulsa: Justin Hobbs finished tenth in both receptions (55) and yards (830) and Keenan Johnson racked up 44 catches for 539 yards of his own. They have the talent, but need a quarterback to get them the ball.
3. UCF: Losing Tre’Quan Smith’s 13 touchdowns and two tight ends to the NFL would disastrous for most programs. Not the Knights. Dredrick Snelson found the end zone nine times last season, the most of any returning receiver in the AAC. Gabriel Davis and Marlon Williams will get more looks, and the Knights like to use their explosive running backs in the passing game as well.
4. UConn: Of all the teams in the conference, the Huskies are the only team returning all five of their top receivers from a year ago. All five recorded 30 receptions or more, led by Hergy Mayala’s 43 grabs and seven scores. With a brutal schedule awaiting them, those pass catchers will likely see a lot of work trying to keep up with the opposition.
5. ECU: For all the grief the Pirates get for a putrid offense, they do have four wide receivers that are currently in the NFL. Trevon Brown might be the next to do so after finishing second in all-purpose yards and fifth in receiving yards per game in AAC play. They will need someone to step up alongside him, however, and that’s why they’re in this category.
6. Temple: The Owls lose two receivers that each posted 39 receptions, but Isaiah Wright - Temple’s leading receiver in 2017 and only the sixth player in the past 10 years to score five different ways in season (receiving, rushing, passing, kickoff return and punt return) - and Ventell Bryant return for Frank Nutile.
7. Cincinnati: They have some questions marks behind the two likely starters, but Hayden Moore will have his top targets back from last season. Kahlil Lewis finished the 2017 season with 61 catches, the most of any returning receiver in the AAC. The Bearcats will also welcome back Thomas Geddis, who finished second on the team in receptions.
8. Tulane: Tulane is a run-first offense, but Terren Encalade and Darnell Mooney combined for 73 receptions for 1,329 and eight touchdowns. Charles Jones has some NFL scouts intrigued, but he is coming off the worst season of his collegiate career. Other than that, it’s a real toss up as just two other players finished with double-digit receptions last year.
Wait and See
9. Memphis: Anthony Miller was an absolute stud for the Tigers and you will see him making plays for the Chicago Bears this season. Unfortunately for Memphis, there isn’t anyone ready to replace his production. Tony Pollard is a weapon in space so he figures to lead the team in touches. Joey Magnifico and Sean Dykes are statistically the top returning tight ends in the conference, but other than that, we truly have to wait and see how this offense will operate with so many new parts.
10. SMU: The team below lost a ton of production, but no receiving duo in the conference came close to matching the numbers of Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn. The Mustangs aren’t stripped of talent with both now in the NFL as James Proche has proven over the past two seasons that he’s more than capable of making plays of his own. The problem here is the next-returning receiver - Myron Gailliard - posted just nine catches.
11. Houston: Steven Dunbar and Linell Bonner accounted for 156 receptions for 1,959 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The third leading receiver was D’Eriq King, who finished the season as the team’s starting quarterback. Raelon Singleton, a transfer from Utah, is the likely top target for King, but after that, the Coogs have almost no experience at wide out.
Room for Improvement
12. Navy: It should come as no surprise that the Mids are at the bottom of the list as they threw just 102 passes last season. Only 42 of those attempts were completed, and Malcolm Perry finished second on the team with 13 catches. This year, Zach Abey is making the move to receiver, but regardless, this team doesn’t move the ball through the air so they have little need for quality at the position.