The best returning wide receivers in the SEC could play a big role in this year’s season. The SEC has qualified at least one team for the playoff in every year of its existence. Twice, they’ve had both representatives in the national championship. That means the best players in the SEC are frequently the best players in the country. Or they end up appearing on the game’s national stage. Like Justin Jefferson (2019 LSU), DeVonta Smith (2020 Alabama) or Jameson Williams (2021 Alabama). So which potential first-round caliber talent is in the SEC this year? Here’s a look at the top three returning wide receivers in the conference.
SEC Best Returning Wide Receivers
3rd: Ainias Smith, Texas A&M
Ainias Smith enters his fourth season with the Aggies. He’s contributed every year, with 22 receptions his freshman season. He boasts 90 catches over the past two seasons. As a sophomore, he led the Aggies in receiving yards, and last year, he paced the squad in receptions with 47. He also led the team in touchdown catches with six. This season, expect more of the same from Smith. He enters as easily the most experienced receiving option on the roster. Texas A&M’s top returning receiver outside of Smith is Jalen Preston, who notched 17 receptions. The Aggies have a three-man competition for their starting quarterback position. So as they sort out some question marks under center, the Aggies may lean on Smith even more to stabilize the aerial attack. Look for a big season and career-highs in both receptions and yards from Smith.
2nd: Jaden Walley, Mississippi State
Jaden Walley debuted as a true freshman in 2020, and he’s put forth two strong seasons for the Bulldogs. After starting eight games in 2020 and securing 52 catches and two touchdowns, Walley improved in his sophomore campaign. He notched 55 catches for 628 yards and six touchdowns. Mississippi State lost top receiver, Makai Polk, to the NFL, so Walley is the featured pass-catcher in this offense. He’ll compete for receptions with backs Jo’quavious Marks and Dillon Johnson. However, Walley finished second on the Bulldogs in touchdown receptions a year ago. He’ll be a prominent red zone option and a frequent target in the Bulldogs’ air-raid offense. Big numbers could be in store for Jaden Walley.
Top Returning Wide Receiver: Cedric Tillman, Tennessee
Cedric Tillman is the top returning receiver in the conference in receptions, yards and touchdowns. An All-SEC Second Team selection last year, Tillman anchored a strong, pass-heavy Volunteer offense. Tillman truly burst onto the scene last year as a redshirt junior. He entered 2021 with just eight career receptions and two touchdowns. Last season, Tillman recorded 64 catches for 1081 yards and 12 touchdowns. Velus Jones was Tennessee’s only other player with more than 21 receptions (62) and he left for the NFL Draft. That leaves Tillman as the centerpiece in the dangerous Tennessee offense. With plenty of opportunity in the air-raid attack, Tillman should be eyeing down another 1,000-yard season.