The last couple of years has seen one of the deepest, if not the deepest, talent pool(s) ever for wide receivers in college football. Some of the most athletic and most talented wide receivers that some teams have ever seen have burst on to the scene in the past couple of seasons. 2015 could be just another season filled with excellent wide receiver performances. This is a preview of some of the best receivers in the country headed in 2015.
Colorado State Rams: Rashard Higgins (Jr)
It's not often that a player from a G5 team is atop preseason watch lists, but Higgins is in a league of his own. A finalist for the Fred Biletnikoff Award last season (best wide receiver in the nation), Higgins was a huge reason why Colorado State had an excellent 2014 campaign. His good size and great agility, combined with fantastic hands, made him a nightmare for opposing defenses this past season, and that will continue in 2015.
These great statistics from the Rams' #82 were accrued in just 12 of the team's 13 games, as he did not play against Hawaii on November 8. Higgins led the nation in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2014, proving he is one of college football's elite players. Higgins had a great working with relationship with outgoing quarterback Garrett Grayson, receiving a pluarlity of Grayson's targets while making his quarterback look great throughout the season. With a new head coach (Mike Bobo, who is replacing Jim McElwain) and a new quarterback, Higgins will need to adjust to a new scheme and new technique on the field. Assuming the transition goes smoothly, however, expect Rashard Higgins to eviscerate secondaries again in 2015 en route to being a first round NFL draft pick next offseason.
South Carolina Gamecocks: Pharoh Cooper (Jr)
Pharoh Cooper is not the traditional outside, deep threat receiver, but he is dominant when he is in the slot and moving around the field. Cooper has a fantastic skill set, using a variety of moves and his remarkable speed to blow by defenders at will. He was one of the bright spots on a disappointing South Carolina team last season, and he will have an even larger role coming up this season, likely his last in Columbia.
Cooper fits into the Randall Cobb mold of wide receivers, a player with a wide range of skills who can line up anywhere on the field as a receiver and be successful, while also having the ability to be successful coming out of the backfield. Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks, considering their expectations in 2014, under-performed for much of the season, but Cooper was a supernova-like bright spot for the Dylan Thompson-led offense. He is an elusive player who can make any defender miss in the open field. He is as dangerous as any athlete in the sport when the ball is in his hands. This season, he will likely see even more touches than in 2014 (96) due to a potentially dire need for offense and explosiveness for the Gamecocks. When you add in Cooper's ability to throw the ball from time to time, he isn't just one of the best wide receivers in college football, but one of the best all-around players.
Baylor Bears: KD Cannon (So)
An explosive but underutilized threat in his freshman season, KD Cannon showed flashes of greatness in 2014. He should see an expanded role this coming season, and with a new quarterback coming in to replace Bryce Petty, he could see a huge increase in targets, as well as general importance. A 247Sports Composite 5-Star recruit entering college, Cannon is a burner who is primed to break out in 2015.
"Underutilized" may not be the most accurate term to describe Cannon in 2014, considering his very impressive statistics considering he was just a freshman. He had 6 receptions for 223 in Baylor's Week 2 win over Northwestern State, with only 2 other game of over 100 yards all season and 7 under 50 yards (granted, he gained 197 on 8 receptions in the Cotton Bowl). Cannon should expect to see a much more consistent, and generally higher, number of targets in 2015, as his skill set will be vital to the Bears having more success this coming season. Cannon is not a big receiver, standing 6' tall and weighing just 170 pounds, but he can blow by even the best defensive backs. He is a premier outside threat and will dominate the Big 12 this season. The only thing that hinges on, of course, is the ability of Baylor's new starting quarterback to get the ball in his hands.
TCU Horned Frogs: Josh Doctson (Sr)
TCU's offense was a pleasant surprise in 2014, dominating opponents like their defense normally would. Quarterback Trevone Boykin is primed to have a great 2015, and his top receiver is going to be making a run at the Biletnikoff award. Josh Doctson is a huge target on the outside, making him difficult to match up with for the vast majority of college corners. Boykin to Doctson could be a devastating combination in the Big 12 this year, but don't get it wrong: Boykin is not deserving of all the credit.
Doctson is not entirely a "big-bodied" receiver, weighing just 190 pounds inside of his large frame. He may not be able to win with pure physicality, but his height will give him an advantage nearly every time he runs a route. He provides a huge target area to his quarterback, and that will render him open on most passing plays. Doctson will be one of the most experienced top-tier receivers in the game this season, and that experience will only benefit him and the Horned Frogs offense. With another year of experience and a top quarterback, TCU is going to make a run at the College Football Playoff in 2015, with Doctson being the top offensive threat.
Illinois Fighting Illini: Mike Dudek (So)
This selection may sound like it is coming out of left field to some, but Dudek has the potential to be the Big Ten's best receiver in 2015. The Illini surprised much of the nation when they reached a bowl game in 2014, and Dudek played a major role in the team's offensive success. He isn't a big receiver, but he has great hands and is great playmaker in space. Illinois has issues with skill all over the field that need to be addressed, but a top receiver is certainly not one of the areas in need.
An average sized receiver, Dudek has the speed and the hands to beat defensive backs and help an offense that was fairly pedestrian for most of the season. Despite being a freshman, Dudek did a great job of performing at a high level despite inconsistency at the quarterback position. With a more stable situation under center, Dudek could have an even better 2015 than 2014 campaign. He won't get much national recognition due to the medicrity of his team, but Mike Dudek is going to quietly be one of, if not the, best receiver(s) in the Big Ten this season, thanks to his athleticism, hands and ability to adjust to different situations offensively.