If you played defense in the AAC the last two years, you found life difficult. Especially through the air. Secondaries struggled to keep up with passing attacks throughout the conference, and they’ll find more of the same this year. We saw what the quarterback and running back positions looked like, and now we look at the receivers and tight ends. The top half of the conference is loaded, but the bottom half needs some work. Still, it won’t be easy stopping the pass this year in the AAC.
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 position isn’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. Houston: No debate here. Houston’s talent and depth are far above anyone else in this conference. Marquez Stevenson, Keith Corbin, and Courtney Lark give the Cougars one of the best trios in the entire country, even if they don’t seem to get much respect. After that, there’s a ton of talent to go around. Bryson Smith’s one of the most versatile players in the AAC, and Jeremy Singleton and Terry Mark round out a great two-deep. D’Eriq King’s the man, but his receivers also help him out. After getting a full year of experience under their belt, they’ll really hit their stride in 2019.
2. Memphis: Damonte Coxie translated potential into production last year, and gives Memphis one of the most athletic receivers in the country. John “Pop” Williams is fun to watch, and also gets more touches as a returner. Joey Magnifico and Sean Dykes are two of the best tight ends in the conference, and provide Brady White with big targets downfield.
3. SMU: When Courtland Sutton and Trey Quinn left, James Proche was left to run this group. He took over and never looked back with nearly 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. Reggie Roberson Jr. helped support Proche with over 800 yards of his own. That’s all with learning a new offense. The new quarterback gets two reliable targets, and SMU’s offense should thrive in Sonny Dykes’ second year running the show.
4. UCF: Dredrick Snelson leaves, but doesn’t take all of the talent with him. Gabriel Davis and Tre Nixon give either Darriel Mack or Brandon Wimbush two great targets. UCF didn’t have a receiver eclipse 1,000 yards last year, but both Nixon and Davis are capable of doing so. Running back Otis Anderson often gets utilized as a slot receiver, and he’s dangerous in the open field. If the quarterback play can be consistent, this will be one of the best groups in the conference.
5. USF: Mitchell Wilcox and Randall St. Felix are the only two returners that caught more than 40 passes last year. A new offense will be implemented, and fans are hoping that means more explosiveness. Wilcox is reliable, and St. Felix emerged last year, but other weapons are needed.
6. Tulane: This group boasts tons of potential after exploding last year. Tulane’s answer for losing Terren Encalade was to bring in Oklahoma State transfer Jalen McClesky. McClesky’s speed will test secondaries vertically, but also can stretch the field horizontally. Oh, and Darnell Mooney returns after nearly eclipsing 1,00 yards last year. The offense has evolved over the last two years, and the Green Wave has its most balanced offense under Willie Fritz.
Wait and See
7. Tulsa: Every team in this section is losing a top receiving target from a year ago. Justin Hobbs departs the program after a rather disappointing senior season, but Keylon Stokes, the leader in receptions and receiving yards in 2018, is arguably one of the most explosive inside receivers in the conference. With that said, Keenen Johnson and Jerion Anderson are the only other receivers on the roster to reach double digits in receptions.
8. Cincinnati: Someone needs to replace Khalil Lewis, who led the Bearcats in every receiving category. Josiah Deguara, one of the top tight ends in the AAC, is the top returnee at pass catcher, while Rashad Medaris, Thomas Geddis, and Jayson Jackson (who they have high hopes for) round out the receiving corps.
9. Temple: The Owls lose Ventell Bryant, who finished second in total yards from scrimmage last season and is the school’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. Brenden Mack, a big-bodied receiver, Isaiah Wright, a jack-of-all-trades for Temple, and speedster Randle Jones will have to step up for new head coach Rod Carey.
10. ECU: Trevon Brown is the latest receiver to etch his name in the Pirates’ history books, but his graduation leaves a major void at the position. Mike Houston, another first-year head coach, will turn it over to senior Deondre Farrier and sophomore Blake Proehl, the son of former NFL receiver Ricky Proehl, as the top targets in 2019.
Room for Improvement
11. UConn: Three of the top four reception leaders are gone, including Hergy Mayala, who led the Huskies in receiving the last two seasons. There will be a lot of questions about the passing game with no proven pass catchers or quarterback.
12. Navy: It almost blows your mind looking up the receiving numbers for the Midshipmen when you look around the rest of college football. Only one player, Taylor Jackson, caught more than 10 balls, and he finished with just 13. Tied for second on the roster in receptions was Malcolm Perry, Navy’s expected starting quarterback, for a team that completed only 54 of 128 pass attempts.