Fall practice is under way everywhere, and that means the 2012 season has started.
While we're still a bit more than three weeks from the first game, the final three weeks of waiting will seem like about two or three days compared to the past seven months.
Today, we unveil the second of our national unit rankings. We started with the best offensive backfields, and we'll reveal one unit per day until we end next Monday with coaching staffs.
The rankings take into account what the players have accomplished, how we think the players will do this season and sheer talent. But production does trump potential.
Here are the receiver rankings; you'll notice that the Big 12 is heavily represented. Next up: Offensive lines.
The key players: WRs Ross Apo, J.D. Falslev and Cody Hoffman and TE Marcus Mathews
The buzz: Apo (6 feet 3/207 pounds) and Hoffman (6-4/215) are a fast, physical duo; they combined for 95 receptions for 1,396 yards and 19 TDs last season despite playing with two starting quarterbacks. Apo, a sophomore from the Dallas area, originally committed to Texas before signing with the Cougars. Hoffman, a junior, led BYU in receiving and had 1,825 all-purpose yards, the sixth-best single-season mark in school history. He also had three 100-yard receiving games, including a 167-yard outing against TCU. Falslev, a junior, is an effective slot receiver. Mathews isn't much of a blocker, but he is an effective receiver who can get downfield.
9. Florida State
The key players: WRs Greg Dent, Christian Green, Rashad Greene, Willie Haulstead, Kenny Shaw and Rodney Smith and TE Nick O'Leary
The buzz: FSU is the only team on this list without a true go-to receiver. No matter: The Seminoles are loaded at the position, with five guys with 50-catch potential. Greene, a sophomore, led the team in receptions (38), yards (596) and receiving TDs (seven) last season as a true freshman. Smith, a senior, is a big (6-6/220) target who has good hands. Haulstead, a junior, is one to watch; he is an athletic and physical 230-pounder who missed last season with concussion issues. O'Leary, the grandson of Jack Nicklaus, has the speed to get deep and should become a bigger part of the offense this fall.
The key players: WRs Josh Boyce, LaDarius Brown, Brandon Carter and Skye Dawson
The buzz: Boyce, a junior, is one of the most underrated receivers nationally. He is heading into his third season as a starter and had 61 catches for 998 yards (16.4 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns last season; he was 2 yards shy of becoming just the second 1,000-yard receiver in school history. Dawson, a senior, and Carter, a sophomore, combined for 68 receptions, 852 yards and eight TDs last season. Brown is a talented redshirt freshman who is both big (6-4/220 pounds) and fast.
The key players: WRs Tevin Reese, Lanear Sampson and Terrance Williams
The buzz: The Bears lost Kendall Wright, the leading receiver in school history, but coach Art Briles said his team will be even deeper at wide receiver this season. Williams, a senior, quietly put together an 11-TD season in 2011, catching 59 passes for 957 yards (16.2 ypc). Reese is a prime-time deep threat; he caught 51 passes for 877 yards (17.2 ypc) and seven TDs. Sampson, a senior, was the Bears' No. 4 receiver last season but still managed 42 catches for 572 yards and three TDs. Reese, a junior nicknamed "Sweet Feet," is a phenomenal athlete (4.31 seconds in the 40, 45.5-inch vertical leap, 11 feet 4 feet in the broad jump) who could explode on the scene this fall. Baylor is the only team on this list with a new quarterback this season.
The key players: WRs Justin Brown, Trey Metoyer, Jaz Reynolds and Kenny Stills
The buzz: Stills, who had 61 receptions and eight TDs last season, should become the go-to guy with the graduation of Ryan Broyles. Stills, a junior, has 122 receptions and 13 TDs in his career. Metoyer was a five-star signee in 2011 who didn't qualify; he got his academics in order, enrolled in January and had a strong spring practice. He is expected to make a big impact this fall. Brown, a senior, transferred from Penn State earlier this month; he had 35 receptions for 517 yards for the Nittany Lions last season. If Brown adapts quickly to a vastly more sophisticated passing offense, he should have a 50-catch season. Reynolds, a projected starter, and Trey Franks were reinstated after offseason suspensions, but both will miss multiple games. That duo combined for 63 receptions last season.
5. Texas Tech
The key players: WRs Darrin Moore, Alex Torres and Eric Ward
The buzz: As usual, Texas Tech will have a deep receiving corps. The top three receivers return: Ward (84 receptions), Torres (51) and Moore (47). Moore was bothered by injuries last season and missed three full games; if he is healthy, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him lead the team in receptions and be an all-league selection. There is ample depth at the position, and RBs Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington are solid receivers, too.
The key players: WRs Jaron Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins
The buzz: Watkins was the best freshman in the nation last season, finishing with 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 scores. He is a big-time deep threat – he had seven plays that covered at least 50 yards – and also is a weapon on sweeps and returns. Hopkins is a more-than-capable No. 2 guy; he had 72 catches for 978 yards and five TDs. Brown had 31 receptions and four TDs.
The key players: WRs Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Da'Rick Rogers and TE Mychal Rivera
The buzz: Hunter, a junior, played in just three games last season before suffering a torn ACL and has only 33 career receptions, but those catches have gone for 729 yards (22.1 yards per catch) and nine TDs, and he already is showing up as a first-round pick in numerous mock drafts for 2013. Rogers, a big, physical target, had 67 receptions for 1,040 yards and nine TDs despite seeing constant double-teams after Hunter was hurt. Rogers, also a junior, has spent a lot of time in coach Derek Dooley's doghouse, and his demeanor could be an issue. Rivera, who has good hands, should end up in a lot of mismatches against linebackers. Patterson is a highly touted JC transfer who has good size and speed, and he gives QB Tyler Bray another target.
2. West Virginia
The key players: WRs Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney
The buzz: This trio torched secondaries last season, to the tune of 222 receptions for 3,050 yards and 23 TDs. The Austin-Bailey duo have the most yards of any returning tandem this season. Bailey is the deep threat and has good rapport with QB Geno Smith, not surprising considering they were teammates at Miramar (Fla.) High. Austin is the epitome of what coaches want in a slot receiver, as he is super-quick and tough to get on the ground. McCartney, another former Miramar High star, is a physical receiver who likely will get more opportunities this season.
The key players: WRs Marqise Lee and Robert Woods
The buzz: Lee and Woods – who went to high school together at Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra – are the best duo at any position nationally. They combined for 184 receptions for 2,435 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. That's more receptions than 24 teams, more yardage than 37 teams and more TDs than 86 teams. Woods, a junior, had four games last season with double-digit receptions and finished the season with 111 catches for 1,292 yards and 15 TDs. He had six games with at least two TD catches. Lee, a sophomore, had 13 receptions that covered at least 30 yards, the most for any returning player nationally. He averaged 15.7 yards per catch and scored 11 times on his 73 receptions.
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