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Opinion: The 5 Best Wide Receivers in AAC History

Approaching a decade of play, it’s time to look back on the best wide receivers in AAC history.

NCAA Football: Tulane at Southern Methodist Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

As the AAC hurtles towards conference realignment and a decade of existence, it’s time to look back and celebrate the conference’s top talent over the years. Next up are the wide receivers, and in a conference that has always celebrated offensive skill talent, there are more than a few great wide receivers to choose from. From explosive outside threats to consistent slot targets, the AAC is always full of talent here.

Obviously, there is room to debate who belongs on this list. However, these are, in my opinion, the five best wide receivers in AAC history:

5. Keevan Lucas - Tulsa

Before he even got to Tulsa, Keevan Lucas had to overcome tragedy. In 2009, while Lucas would have been just a freshman in high school, his mother and grandmother died within three days of each other. He would say that he believed his grandmother’s death was in response to the shock from his mother’s death. He turned to his teammates to grieve and went to Tulsa with honoring their legacies on his mind.

Lucas got to Tulsa in 2013, which was Tulsa’s final season in C-USA. That year, he was a productive freshman. In that freshman campaign, he established himself as a key figure in the Golden Hurricane’s offense. Then, in his first season in the AAC, he burst onto the scene in a major way. He had 101 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns.

His junior campaign was cut short, due to injuries, only playing in four games. During those four games, Lucas averaged more than 100 yards a game and had five touchdown catches. We can only imagine what type of numbers he would have put up had he not been injured.

Lucas would bounce back for a monster senior season, which included 1,180 yards receiving and another 15 touchdown catches. That gave him 240 catches for 3,250 yards and 32 touchdowns on his career. He was named Second Team All-AAC in 2014 and he would be First Team All-AAC in 2016.

Keevan Lucas is still second all-time at Tulsa in career receptions, third in career receiving yards, and he’s tied for first in career receiving touchdowns. He rubs shoulders, at least statistically, with the greats like Steve Largent.

He is fifth all-time for receptions in the AAC. He’s seventh in yards all-time and tied for third in touchdowns.

While Keevan Lucas had a great college career, the NFL never did come calling. He now works as a personal trainer.

4. Courtland Sutton - SMU

Courtland Sutton had a quiet freshman season before bursting onto the scene in 2015 with his sophomore campaign. He never let up after that, getting better in his junior and senior seasons where he put up massive numbers.

At 6’4”, Sutton has ideal size for a wide receiver and quickly became a threat that most AAC corners couldn’t contend with. He originally went to SMU to play for June Jones in the Air Raid offense. However, Jones stepped down in his freshman season. That would lead to Chad Morris taking over as head coach, under whom Sutton would flourish.

As a sophomore, Sutton had his best yards per catch average, gaining 17.6 yards per catch on his 49 grabs, nine of which were touchdowns. As a junior Sutton would put up career highs in receptions and receiving yards, with 76 and 1,246 respectively. Then, as a senior, he had a career-high in touchdown grabs, with 12. His numbers would have been that much bigger had he not been sharing the ball with incredibly productive SMU receivers Trey Quinn and James Proche.

He had eight games with multiple touchdowns, including a three-touchdown game against North Texas in 2016. His performance against USF in 2016 was likely his best, though there are plenty of other options to choose from. In that game, he had 13 catches for 252 yards and a couple of scores.

Sutton was First Team All-AAC twice, in 2016 and 2017. He finished his career with 195 receptions for 3,220 yards and 31 touchdowns.

He’s eighth in AAC history for receptions. He is also fourth in receiving yards and tied for third in touchdowns.

Courtland Sutton would be drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He has since developed into a Pro Bowl wide receiver.

3. Anthony Miller - Memphis

Anthony Miller is one of the best wide receivers in Memphis Tigers history. In fact, he’s the all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns at Memphis.

An explosive threat, Miller had multiple seasons with more than 90 receptions and 1,400 yards. In a dominant 2017 season, Miller had 18 touchdown receptions. That year, he also averaged 15.2 yards per catch, the best of his career at Memphis. 2017 was also marked by Memphis’ matchup with UCF, where Miller went head-to-head with future first-round draft pick Mike Hughes. Miller tended to win those matchups, especially in the AAC Championship Game.

In that AAC Championship Game, Miller had 14 receptions for 195 yards and three touchdowns. It wasn’t even the best game he had in 2017. That came against UConn when he had 15 receptions for 224 yards and four touchdowns. Those were the two best games of his career, but in 2016 he had great games against Houston (15 receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns) and Tulsa (12 receptions for 250 yards and two touchdowns) that deserve recognition.

Miller was Second Team All-AAC in 2016 and First Team All-AAC in 2017. In 2017, Miller was a Consensus All-American. On his career, Miller had 238 receptions for 3,590 yards and 37 touchdowns. He averaged 15.1 yards per catch.

He is third in conference history for receptions, third in receiving yards, and second in receiving touchdowns.

Anthony Miller left Memphis for the NFL after just three seasons. It’s impossible to know what he would have been able to accomplish if he stayed at Memphis through his senior season. He would be drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. Since then, he has bounced around the NFL, playing for the Houston Texans and the Pittsburgh Steelers too.

2. Zay Jones - ECU

ECU is a program that knows how to produce great wide receivers. Zay Jones may very well be the chief among them.

Zay Jones’ senior season, 2016, was one of the best seasons for a college wide receiver, ever, regardless of conference. He had 158 receptions for 1,746 yards and eight touchdowns. That single-season reception mark is an NCAA record. Those receiving yards, meanwhile, are an AAC record. Those numbers also make his 98 receptions for 1,099 yards and five touchdowns as a junior look bad.

Perhaps his most memorable game came in 2016, against South Carolina, when he had 22 receptions for 190 yards. That year he had multiple games with more than 200 yards against Navy and Tulsa. He had multiple games with multiple scores, including that 2016 game against Navy. In 2015, he put up his best performance against UCF, with 14 receptions for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

Zay Jones was First Team All-AAC in 2016. That year, he was also a First Team All American. On his career, Zay Jones had 399 receptions for 4,279 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Jones is the AAC’s all-time leader in receptions. He is second for receiving yards and 17th in touchdowns.

In the 2017 NFL Draft, Zay Jones was drafted in the second round by the Buffalo Bills. Since, then, he has also played for the Las Vegas Raiders before signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2022.

1. James Proche - SMU

James Proche is one of the most productive wide receivers in not just SMU history, but AAC history as well. At SMU, he holds the school record for career receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.

His career at SMU spanned the Chad Morris era and into the Sonny Dykes era. After taking a redshirt as a freshman in 2015, he made an immediate impact in 2016, with 57 receptions for 709 yards.

He had a number of massive games throughout his career. As a senior, Proche had 14 catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns against ECU. Then, against Memphis, he had 13 catches for 149 yards and another touchdown. Those were in back-to-back weeks. Those 14 catches against ECU were a career-high. His single game-high in receiving yards came in 2018 against Tulsa, when he had 183 yards and a 16.6 yards per catch average. In eight different games, Proche had multiple touchdown catches.

Proche was twice named First Team All-AAC, in 2018 and 2019. In 2019, he would also be a Second Team All-American. On his career, Proche had 301 receptions for 3,949 yards and 39 touchdowns. He averaged 13.1 yards per catch.

He is second in AAC history for receptions, first for receiving yards, and first for touchdown receptions.

James Proche was drafted in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. At that level, he has seen less success than he did in college. However, he has been productive when the opportunity has presented itself.

Best of the Rest

The AAC is known for its great skills players and it’s almost disgusting how many great wide receivers have played in this conference. Tons of great players had to be left off this list. Here are a few of them, in no particular order:

  • Trevon Brown ECU: A great wide receiver for the Pirates, Brown’s production was overshadowed by other players on his team and throughout the conference.
  • Damonte Coxie Memphis: An incredibly explosive threat at Memphis, brought down by a disappointing senior season.
  • Calvin Austin Memphis: Austin was incredibly exciting to watch, but the numbers aren’t quite there.
  • Tre’Quan Smith UCF: A huge piece of the 2017 UCF offense, Smith just missed the cut.
  • Gabriel Davis UCF: Incredibly explosive during his time at UCF, Davis is only setting NFL records for the Buffalo Bills today.
  • Marquez Stevenson Houston: Stevenson was great, but his numbers weren’t consistent enough to crack this list.
  • Tyler Snead ECU: Undersized but productive, Tyler Snead was tons of fun to watch at ECU.
  • Deontay Greenberry Houston: He only spent part of his career in the AAC, but that did include a 1,200-yard season.
  • DeVante Parker Louisville: A great player, but he only had one season in the AAC.
  • Breshad Perriman UCF: His “Hail Perriman” catch won UCF a share of the 2014 AAC Championship.
  • J.J. Worton UCF: Known for his outstanding catch against Temple in 2013 and scoring a touchdown on a torn ACL in 2014, Worton’s numbers can’t quite keep up.
  • Justin Hardy ECU: Hardy had three seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving, but only one of them was in the AAC.
  • Trey Quinn SMU: He only played one season at SMU, but it was a fantastic season.
  • Jadan Blue Temple: Blue has had a good career at Temple, including a 1,000-yard season in 2019.
  • Alec Pierce Cincinnati: A key wide receiver on Cincinnati’s playoff team, Pierce’s numbers don’t hold up with the conference greats.
  • Ryan O’Keefe UCF: An incredibly fast player, O’Keefe still has time to make his mark in the AAC.

Previous AAC Rankings

So, what do you think? Who should have made the list, but didn’t?