Ranking the Pac-12’s wide receiver rooms going into 2022 season
There is a very real changing of the guard happening within the Pac-12’s wide receiver group. Of the top 15 wideouts in the league last year (by yards gained), only four will play in the Pac-12 again this fall. None of the top seven return.
Two of those four will suit up for the Trojans, and as new head coach Lincoln Riley has completed retooled that part of his roster in Los Angeles, there’s no telling what kind of role they’ll see.
It’s a new day. There are a handful of bona fide stars, a number of players who could truly blossom, and more still who have a relatively high ceiling despite their youth.
I’ve already ranked the Pac-12’s likely starters at quarterback and the league’s running back rooms. Now, it’s time to rank the wideout rooms for all 12 teams.
No. 12: California Golden Bears
Names to know: J.Michael Sturdivant, Jeremiah Hunter, Mavin Anderson
Three wideouts caught at least 30 balls last season for the Golden Bears. All three are gone. Hunter is the leading returner after posting a strong sophomore campaign—21 receptions in nine games, 388 yards (18.5 per catch!), and one score. Pencil him in as the starter. After that, you’re blindly throwing darts at the board trying to figure out the rest of the rotation. Sturdivant and Anderson were 4-star recruits in the 2021 class but neither caught a pass last year. Does fifth-year senior Monroe Young (six career catches) break into the rotation? Does 6-foot-4 JUCO transfer Mason Starling step in right away? One of the standouts of the spring, Tommy Christakos, saw five snaps and two targets as a wideout last season (no catches) but worked as a kicker before that. There’s promise here, but nothing concrete to base expectations off of.
No. 11: Arizona State Sun Devils
Names to know: Cam Johnson, Andre Johnson, Bryan Thompson, Elijah Badger, Chad Johnson Jr., Giovanni Sanders
You’ll find six names above in the “names to know” section. That’s Arizona State’s scholarship group. Sanders is a former walk-on. Cam Johnson is a Vanderbilt transfer who wasn’t on the team in the spring. Three of the top four pass-catchers left via transfer this offseason, leaving Andre Johnson as the leading returning receiver. He had 12 catches for 186 yards last season. Cam Johnson was more productive in the SEC, so we’ll see how long it takes him to get up to speed with a new system during fall camp. Badger is probably my favorite of the bunch in terms of raw ability, but he only had seven catches as a freshman. As is to be expected with young players, consistency is a work in progress.
No. 10: Utah Utes
Names to know: Devaughn Vele, Solomon Enis, Jaylen Dixon, Money Parks
Utah is a funny team when you break down the pass-catchers. The Utes probably have one of the best tight end rooms in all of college football. They also have one of the best running back rooms in the country. How important is wideout depth to an offense that likes to play with three tight ends on the field quite a bit? Probably not as much as with some other outfits. Utah is going to have a dangerous offense regardless. That informs a bit of the thinking here. This wideout group is a complete unknown. Utah needs to replace last year’s leader, Britain Covey. Does the fact tight end Brant Kuithe spent most of the spring working as a wideout signal that the coaching staff feels it has better options to replace Covey from outside the receiver room than inside of it? It’s an interesting question. All that being said, Vele had a tremendous spring and is expected to assume the No. 1 spot. He had 389 yards on 23 catches last season.
No. 9: Oregon State Beavers
Names to know: Tre’Shaun Harrison, Tyjon Lindsey, Anthony Gould
The 6-foot-1 Harrison is the Beavers’ leading returning receiver with 29 catches for 401 yards last year. He’s a strong talent, but he’s only one guy. Three of the top five pass-catchers at wideout depart, and there’s a real lack of star power here. Lindsey has flashed but hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout his career. He, Gould, Silas Bolden, and Jesiah Irish—all guys who figure to factor into the rotation—stand under 6-foot. If the 6-foot-2 Makiya Tongue broke out, it’d go a long way toward helping the Beavers on the outside.
No. 8: Colorado Buffaloes
Names to know: RJ Sneed, Daniel Arias, Montana Lemonious-Craig
Sneed, the Baylor transfer, is a stud. He posted 46 catches for 573 yards and two scores last year for a Baylor Bears squad that claimed the Big 12 title. The Buffaloes lost a pair of starters from last year’s group to the transfer portal this offseason—Brenden Rice (USC) and Dimitri Stanley (Iowa State)—so the burden that’ll be on Sneed figures to be a pretty large one. Arias and Lemonious-Craig seem like the favorites to win the other two starting spots after the room went through spring ball pretty short-handed. Arias (19 receptions, 237 yards, one score) is the lone returning starter from last season. The difference between the eight, nine, and 10 spots in this ranking pretty much comes down to the No. 1 option at each school.
No. 7: UCLA Bruins
Names to know: Jake Bobo, Kaz Allen, Kam Brown, Logan Loya
Take every “name to know” on this list, put ‘em in a table with their 2021 numbers next to them, and you’ll find Bobo near the top. At Duke last season, he posted 74 receptions for 774 yards. At UCLA, he gives the Bruins a reliable target with a big catch radius. He’s a first-team All-Pac-12 selection in Phil Steele’s preseason picks (three wideouts each) and a second-team guy in Athlon’s picks (only two wideouts on the first team).
Allen’s role will be interesting to follow as it develops early in the season. It’s possible he’s a featured part of the offense as a slot guy, but UCLA could still elect to move him around and maybe bring him out of the backfield. It has another slot guy in Loya who will probably be on the field quite a bit. Depth on the outside is precarious, though. Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, a former 4-star who transferred from UCF this offseason, is a guy I like, but he’s still young and unproven. An injury to one of the top-line guys could make things hairy in a hurry.
No. 6: Washington State Cougars
Names to know: De’Zhaun Stribling, Renard Bell, Donovan Ollie, Lincoln Victor
Among the returning wideouts who actually played in the Pac-12 last season, only three had more receptions than Stribling. The 6-foot-2 wideout from Hawaii enrolled early and turned that full offseason of work into a fantastic freshman campaign. He’s the top dog for an offense that will rely on the passing game.
But the whole room feels well-rounded, and in typical Washington State fashion. Stribling, Ollie, Victor, Bell, none were highly-rated coming out of high school. They’ve found a way in Pullman. Don’t forget about Bell. A torn ACL cost him the entire 2021 season. If he’s healthy, he’s a tremendous asset for new offensive coordinator Eric Morris. Bell has 43 career games under his belt and during the four-game 2020 season hauled in 33 receptions for 337 yards and a pair of scores. I’m also very high on Victor’s potential within this group.
No. 5: Stanford Cardinal
Names to know: Elijah Higgins, John Humphreys, Brycen Tremayne, Michael Wilson
The team I had the hardest time placing. All six receivers who caught a pass for Stanford last season return for the fall—which is pretty much the theme of the entire offense. Keeping everyone healthy is going to be the name of the game for the Cardinal wideouts in 2022 because in 2021 nobody was able to stay on the field. Tremayne suffered a season-ending injury in Stanford’s Week 5 win over Oregon. Humphreys got hurt the next week and missed extended action. Higgins got hurt two weeks later and missed the Utah and Oregon State games. A foot injury kept Wilson sidelined for the first eight games of the year, though he returned to start the final four games.
If this room is healthy, and that’s a big if, it’s as deep as any of its non-USC peers. The 6-foot-2 Wilson is an impact guy. He had 56 catches for 672 yards and five scores as a sophomore—his last truly normal season. The 6-foot-3 Higgins is a former 4-star who feels like he’s on the precipice of a breakout season after last year’s 45-reception, 500-yard campaign. Tremayne had five touchdowns in five games before he was sidelined.
No. 4: Washington Huskies
Names to know: Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze, Taj Davis, Ja’Lynn Polk
Love the talent at wideout for new head coach Kalen DeBoer. The former Fresno State coach brings over a scheme that’ll allow the wideouts to shine a bit more than they did under the former guy. I have reservations about the quarterback spot, but if we’re excluding that from the conversation and just focusing on the talent in the wideout room, it’s hard to find too many reasons to nitpick.
McMillan caught 39 balls for 470 yards and three scores last season. Odunze caught 41 for 415 and four scores. That’s a pretty good starting point. McMillan is also one of the highest-rated former recruits in the conference heading into the season and could really blossom under DeBoer.
No. 3: Arizona Wildcats
Names to know: Jacob Cowing, Tetairoa McMillan, Dorian Singer
The Wildcats have two of the 12 best wide receivers in the conference. We will not be hearing any arguments to the contrary.
Frequent readers are probably sick of hearing about Cowing at this point, but the former UTEP wideout is an absolute stud. The 5-foot-11 Cowing had 1,367 yards and seven scores this past season for the Miners, doubling up the No. 2 UTEP receiver on only 19 more catches. He averaged over 19 yards a catch. He posted the second-best yards-per-route clip among receivers with at least 40 targets, per PFF. He had 17 receptions of at least 30 yards, the second-best mark in FBS football and six more than the entire Arizona team.
And he wasn’t the only elite wideout coach Jedd Fisch added this offseason. McMillan, a high-4-star signee from California, was wanted by everyone. He chose a 1-11 Arizona team. Expect McMillan to have to ask to be taken off the field. He’s going to play, he’s going to be featured, he’s going to produce. At 6-foot-4, McMillan is a long and natural pass-catcher with great body control. The Cats need to be much better in the red zone, and he should help.
No. 2: Oregon Ducks
Names to know: Seven McGee, Chase Cota, Dont’e Thornton, Kris Hutson, Troy Franklin
When 2022 signee Kyler Kasper gets to campus, there will be nine blue-chip scholarship wideouts in the Oregon locker room—they include former UCLA wideout Chase Cota and a trio of rising sophomores in Thornton, McGee, and Franklin. Hutson, a third-year guy, is the leading returner here after catching 31 balls for 419 yards and two scores last season.
In terms of talent acquisition, Oregon has killed it at wideout. But last season the team’s leading pass-catcher was Travis Dye… out of the backfield. Mario Cristobal’s slow-churn offense handcuffed the wideouts. Kenny Dillingham, Oregon’s new offensive coordinator, wants to aggressively attack defenses with a more vertical passing game. Thornton and Franklin specifically flashed the ability to be dangerous in such an attack when the Ducks, trailing Oklahoma big in last season’s Alamo Bowl, threw caution to the wind and started bombing downfield. Oregon has big-play pieces I like, a possession receiver in Cota I like, and a guy in McGee I just plain love. This is, however, an awfully high ranking for a group that has proven next to nothing. Hopefully a better plan of attack from the new staff can justify it.
No. 1: USC Trojans
Names to know: Jordan Addison, Mario Williams, Tahj Washington, Gary Bryant Jr.
There’s no argument to be made for anyone else in the league to hold this top spot. The wideout talent Riley has cultivated in Los Angeles is frankly absurd. USC did not need to add a Biletnikoff-winning wideout to its roster to field one of the better groups in the league. And yet it did. Addison’s arrival from Pitt gives the Trojans one of the two or three best wideouts at the collegiate level next season.
The Trojans have also added Oklahoma’s Mario Williams (a former top-50 recruit), Washington’s Terrell Bynum, and Colorado’s Brenden Rice to pair with the returning Bryant, Washington, Kyron Ware-Hudson, and Kyle Ford. Williams and Addison fit together perfectly. In total, USC has eight blue-chip scholarship wideouts on this roster.