Looking through the history of the Southeastern Conference, you would be hard-pressed to find a position in which the SEC hasn’t excelled. The saying goes, “competition breeds excellence.” SEC fans are well aware and proud of the fact that there is no shortage of competition in the SEC. Thus, the SEC is routinely a pipeline of NFL talent at all positions. At Last Word on College Football, we have already taken a look at the top returning talent in the SEC at multiple positions. This includes running back, cornerback, linebacker, and tight ends. Now, we will take a look at the top five SEC receivers in 2019.
Next man up
To say the SEC has produced some of the most elite pass catchers over the last two decades may be an understatement. Receiving corps around the NFL are full of talent that played their collegiate careers in the strongest conference in the country. Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Calvin Ridley, and Alshon Jeffery. All of these playmakers became household names in the southeast before taking the NFL by storm. The entire receivers room at the Cleveland Browns seems to be an LSU alumni reunion, much to the dismay of former Florida standout Antonio Callaway.
Once again, the 2018 NFL draft saw an influx of receiver talent from the SEC move on to the NFL. Seven players were selected during the draft, including four in the second round alone. Numerous other receivers were signed to free-agent contracts to get their shot at making an NFL roster. Still, the SEC has plenty of returning production too. With the quarterback situation in the SEC as good as it has been since the turn of the century, there is plenty for fans to be excited about when it comes to the passing game. Let’s take a look at the top five returning receivers across the SEC for 2019.
Top Five SEC Receivers in 2019
5. Justin Jefferson, LSU
Starting off our list is the top returning wide receiver out of Death Valley, Justin Jefferson. During his sophomore campaign, Jefferson finished sixth in the SEC with 875 receiving yards, which is third among returning receivers in the league. He also recorded six touchdowns, tied for seventh among returning wideouts. That will be a number he will look to improve upon as the Tigers search for their first divisional title since 2011. He was routinely a deep threat for the Tigers, so increasing his usage should correlate to an increased presence in the red zone.
Joe Burrow is among the most touted signal callers returning to the SEC. Surrounding talent should not be a problem for Jefferson to take another step in 2019. After a breakout 2018, the upperclassman will attempt to take another step to become the next elite receiver to come out of the bayou. This time, there will finally be a quarterback behind center who can help him reach his potential. With more catches like this, he could move higher up this list and make tiger fans reminisce of Odell Beckham.
Justin Jefferson with the ONE handed catch. 94 yards! pic.twitter.com/tlawIQt9dX
— Tre'von Ware (@318photo) April 21, 2018
4. Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
Henry Ruggs III burst onto the scene for the Tide in 2018. He tripled his output from his freshman campaign, finishing the year with 46 receptions for 741 yards and 11 touchdowns. Those 11 touchdowns tied for second in the league in 2019. Couple that with the fact that he only had 46 total receptions, and Ruggs is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. Defenses can’t sacrifice defenders in the box for fear of succumbing to the Alabama running attack, which returns a top-five running back on its own. Therefore, Ruggs should see much more single coverage than other receivers his caliber due to the surrounding talent. It’s rare to see a combination of speed and ball skills like Ruggs III, but watch him tear past the defender then high point the ball in this clip below.
Henry Ruggs III might have the highest ceiling of any wide receiver in CFB: pic.twitter.com/RtERnxOJuG
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) November 25, 2018
With another year of development and chemistry within the Alabama offense, Ruggs III will look to increase his output again.
3. Bryan Edwards, South Carolina
South Carolina has quietly accrued quite the list of notable alumni at the receiver position. We broke down the top 10 of the decade recently. Now, rising senior Bryan Edwards looks to become next in line for the Gamecocks. Edwards finished tied for fourth in touchdowns among returning receivers with seven. Some quarterback controversy in Columbia may hinder the chemistry development between quarterback and receiver, but Edwards has the talent to perform regardless. He checks in at third in our top five.
He will have a tough task replacing the talented Deebo Samuel, who is now playing for the 49ers. Right now, the senior sits at 163 career receptions and 2,229 yards, good for 5th and 6th respectively in the Gamecocks’ record books. Listed at 6-3 and 215 pounds, Edwards has NFL size. He can win 50-50 balls and has very soft hands. Just watch him reel in this one-handed catch amidst contact behind a defender. He presents a wide target radius for his quarterback.
Bryan Edwards with a 75-yard one-handed, running in stride, touchdown catch. pic.twitter.com/A3NQEqrsYh
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) November 3, 2018
For the first time in his career, he will be the undoubted number one receiver in Columbia. Based on the confidence he exuded at SEC media days, he is ready to take the spotlight and rewrite the record books.
2. Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt
Kalija Lipscomb may be the best wide receiver to come through Nashville since Jordan Matthews came through en route to the NFL. Lipscomb comes into 2019 with the second-highest returning production for the conference with 916 yards. His nine touchdowns are also good for third-best among all returning receivers. He also pulled in 87 receptions, which led the entire SEC and finished 12 in the country.
No single receiver in the league is as important to his team as Lipscomb. With a new quarterback leading Vanderbilt after the departure of Kyle Shurmur. He may struggle to eclipse his impressive production from 2018. Still, the rising senior has proven to be one of the most talented skill players in the league despite doing more with less at Vanderbilt more often than not. With Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the backfield, teams will not be able to double team Lipscomb for fear of leaving running lanes for one of the top backs in the SEC. Likewise, they will not be able to load the box without risking Lipscomb breaking out for a huge play against single or man coverage. The one-two punch and balanced attack in Nashville should give Lipscomb the opportunity to make some noise and raise his stock despite the new signal-caller in black and gold.
1. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Yes, it is completely feasible and almost unfair that Alabama could make an argument for multiple representatives on most if not all of our “Top five” lists. Yes, Jerry Jeudy benefits from being in one of the most explosive passing offenses in the country behind the arm of Heisman candidate Tua Tagovailoa. Regardless, don’t doubt for one second the individual talent of the rising junior. He has earned the top spot in our top five.
Jeudy is an elite talent, and he deserves to be atop this list. No other receiver has the proven talent to take the top off the defense as Jeudy does for the Crimson Tide. He is a playmaker with fantastic ball skills and even better route-running ability. He mixes the skill sets of a deep threat wideout and an elusive slot receiver with a combination of open field quickness and top-end speed. Watch him stretch the field on one play, then turn into a human joystick the next.
Jerry Jeudy is something else, man.
1st play – burns right on by everyone, including Zedrick Woods of 4.29 40-yard dash fame.
2nd play – doesn't stay in bounds, but that footwork along the sideline is filthy. pic.twitter.com/5xCmkekgro
— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) July 23, 2019
I don’t think I can trust Jerry Jeudy.
He just looks too shifty. pic.twitter.com/cqkYTdvdJU
— Carter Donnick (@CDonScouting) July 24, 2019
The 2018 Blitenkoff award winner finished 2018 with 1315 yards and 14 touchdowns, which represents tenth and first respectively in the country. He and Tagovailoa created a chemistry on the field that kept defensive coordinators not named Brent Venables up at night. The former five-star prospect has lived up to the hype with a breakout sophomore campaign. If the tone from the Tide at media days is any indication, this team is hungry to prove the 2018 National Championship game was a fluke. The dangerous Alabama passing attack will be ready to assert themselves in 2019. Jeudy will be a key cog in that machine en route to the first round of the NFL draft.
Van Jefferson – Florida
Marquez Callaway – Tennessee
Johnathon Johnson – Missouri
Quartney Davis – Texas A&M