You know what’s weird? Memphis’ Anthony Miller and UCF’s TreQuan Smith were playing in the AAC just three seasons ago. I don’t know why I thought it was longer than that, but it seems that way to me. Both were two of the best we’ve seen for their respective teams, but they also paved the way for others to follow in their footsteps. Wide receivers in the AAC have taken a step into the national spotlight over the past few years, and this year’s group continues that tradition. Marquez Stevenson, Damonte Coxie, and Reggie Roberson are three of the top guys, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Elite: This is the goal. The top of the mountain. Everyone wants to be here.
Second Tier: Good not great.
Wait and See: Your team could be good or they could be bad. Just let them play it out.
1. SMU: James Proche is gone, but the Mustangs shouldn’t miss a beat without him. Reggie Roberson, assuming he stays healthy, can replicate Proche’s success. He’ll be Shane Buechele’s go-to target downfield. Kylen Grason is also back after a 721-yard, nine touchdown season at tight end, and he could go over 1,000 yards with more catches to go around without Proche. Rashee Rice (16.1 yards per catch) and Tyler Page (15.2) also gave fans a glimpse of the future last year.
2. Temple: Normally it’s the run game that gets the spotlight, but this year the air attack will be the focus for the Owls offense. Jadan Blue (1,067 yards) and Branden Mack (904) are back to team up with Anthony Russo again this year. Blue showed his explosiveness last year, making a number of big plays, and Mack is a quarterback’s dream at 6’5” and 220 pounds. Kenny Yeboah and Jose Barbon return production as well, and can become the third option for Russo.
3. Houston: Dana Holgorsen knows how to produce 1,000 yard receivers, and he has a few options for his next great. Marquez Stevenson had a great year despite the offense’s struggles. Keith Corbin returns after sitting out to preserve his redshirt, and gives the Cougars an athletic deep threat. Jeremy Singleton took a step forward last year, tight end Christian Trahan showed potential, and there’s a lot to like about Tre’Von Bradley and Cole McGowan too. Even if one player doesn’t eclipse 1,000 yards, this will be a loaded group and one that’s tough to stop.
4. Memphis: Damonte Coxie surprised Tigers fans by announcing he’d return for another season, and his presence gives the passing game a big boost. He’s one of the best receivers in the country, but he’ll need some help. Calvin Austin should help after averaging 18.5 yards per catch last year, and tight end Sean Dykes returns after battling with a knee injury most of last year.
5. UCF: Dillon Gabriel can no longer throw the ball up and let Gabriel Davis come down with it. Fortunately for him, he has other quality options. Tre Nixon’s a burner with quick feet that should give Gabriel a reliable target downfield with his ability to separate. Nixon was second on the team in receiving with 830 yards last year. Marlon Williams also returns, and will take a step forward with more opportunities to get his hands on the football. After those two, there’s room for others to step up and contribute.
6. Tulsa: It was a tough couple years for the Golden Hurricane offense, but Zach Smith revived the passing attack last year. Tulsa’s top two receivers are back to join Smith. Keylon Stokes and Sam Crawford Jr. combined to catch 121 catches for 1,817 and 11 touchdowns in 2019. Josh Johnson and J.C. Santana were solid contributors as well, and could become the third option for Smith with Keenen Johnson gone.
7. ECU: If there’s an entire position group in the conference with more potential than ECU, I’d like to see it. Holton Ahlers gets the spotlight at quarterback, but it’s his receivers that also deserve more recognition. Five of the top six receivers (and a tight end are back), starting with CJ Johnson. The sophomore made some noise with his 283-yard performance against Cincinnati. Tyler Snead followed that performance with a 19-catch, 240-yard game against SMU the next week. Blake Proehl is the son of Super Bowl champion Ricky Proehl. This group’s deep and talented, so it won’t be a surprise if they thrive.
Wait and See
8. Cincinnati: The Bearcats success offensively depends on the receivers. Desmond Ridder is looking to take a step forward in his development, and the guys he’s throwing to need to step up too. Alec Pierce is one of the most underrated players in the conference, and is the top returning receiver from last year. He led the team with 652 yards last year, meaning there’s room for improvement everywhere.
9. Tulane: Running back Amare Jones returns the most yards (367) of any pass catcher, but there’s lots of potential at the position. Oklahoma transfer Mykel Jones comes to campus with some hype, and tight end Tyrick James could be more of a factor this year. The Green Wave also have two receivers named Deuce and Phat Watts on roster, so they already have something going in the name department.
10. USF: The Bulls top pass catcher produced 350 yards last year, so to say improvements needed is an understatement. Yes there’s potential, but someone actually has to step up. Randall St. Felix, Bryce Miller, and former Michigan transfer Eddie McDoom all can do so, and there’s plenty of excitement with Jeff Scott on campus.
11. Navy: It feels like Navy will forever be last in this category, but that doesn’t always mean their receivers are bad. They’ll just be underutilized at best. Five of the Midshipmen’s top six receivers averaged over 20 yards per catch last year. Mycal Cooper caught a team high 18 passes last year, and is joined by Ryan Mitchell and Chance Warren. There still won’t be many chances, but these guys showed they can produce when needed.