Who are the best returning ACC wide receivers? Over a month ago the answer for the best would have been an easy one. That title would have belonged to 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison of the Pittsburgh Panthers. Addison led the country with 17 touchdowns and was the best in the ACC with 1,593 yards. The nation’s best receiver no longer reside in the ACC, and is taking his talents to USC with Lincoln Riley. With his departure, a new number one pass catcher in the ACC will have to emerge.
Best Returning ACC Wide Receivers
#3: Dontayvion Wicks, Virginia
The 2021 Virginia Cavaliers had a record-setting year that featured the best passing offense in the ACC. The aerial assault averaged 392.6 yards per game. Virginia returns a trio of wonderful receivers, but the best of the bunch is Dontayvion Wicks. The junior was the biggest downfield threat in the conference with a league-best 21.1 yards per catch average. He had six games with an average yards per catch of 23.0 or more. Wicks was also fourth in the ACC with 1,203 yards and third with nine touchdowns. That was just off 54 receptions on the season.
Having a receiver with that kind of talent is a big reason for the big year for quarterback Brennan Armstrong. Some great performances for Wicks were his six-catch performance against Georgia Tech for 168 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-40 late October victory. In a late November loss to Pitt, Wicks had 10 catches for 144 yards. It helps that defenses cannot just key on Wicks. Virginia also features Keytaon Thompson and Billy Kemp IV who both combined for 152 catches and eight touchdowns.
#2: A.T. Perry, Wake Forest
The Wake Forest Demon Deacons featured one of the most explosive offenses in college football last season. They were led at quarterback by Sam Hartman, and one of his go-to targets was A.T. Perry. He caught 71 passes on the season for 1,293 yards and had 15 touchdowns. Perry was third in the ACC in receiving yards and was only behind Addison in touchdowns. His biggest attribute was his big-play ability. Perry finished third in the conference with an 18.2 yards per catch average. Consistency was big with Perry as well. He had seven games with 100 yards or more.
One of his better performances was in an early October win over Army. In the 70-56 victory, Perry caught six passes for 146 yards and one touchdown. He showed his explosiveness against Syracuse with three catches that all resulted in touchdowns for 137 yards. With Perry and Hartman both returning this season, Wake Forest is looking to show they were not a one-hit wonder. For Perry though, he will have more pressure on him with the departure of Jaquarii Roberson. The number two receiver for the Demon Deacons last season caught 71 passes for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns.
#1: Josh Downs, North Carolina
The 2021 season was a disappointing 6-7 campaign, but top receiver Josh Downs was not. He broke North Carolina records in receptions (101) and yards (1,335). Those 101 catches led the ACC and he added in eight touchdowns as well. In 11 of the 13 games for the Tar Heels, he had eight receptions or more. That included 10 catches for 142 yards in late October against Notre Dame. His biggest yardage performance came on September 18th against Virginia. In that contest he had eight catches for 203 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-39 victory.
The bad news for Downs? It will be very difficult to repeat those numbers this season with three-year starting quarterback Sam Howell now in the NFL. The Tar Heels will have to decide between Drake Maye or Jacolby Criswell as the replacement. Neither has much experience but repeating the statistical success of Howell will be a tough task. With that said having a receiver like Downs as a safety net can help break in any new quarterback.