Previewing 2006-07 -- Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

April 17, 2006

By Rob Rang, Senior Analyst,

Special to


With an abundance of receiving talent and production returning to the collegiate ranks, the 2006-07 season should feature plenty of highlight-reel receptions.


The prospects at receiver are especially exciting after a very thin crop moved on to the NFL. The tight end position is a bit thinner with talents such as Maryland's Vernon Davis, UCLA's Marcedes Lewis and Southern California's Dominique Byrd gone, but there is still plenty of potential moving up the ranks.


A detailed analysis of the country's top ten wide receivers and tight ends, as well as several others to keep a close watch on:


1. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech, 6-4, 228, JR:

Already considered by many to be the top wide receiver in the country, Johnson is only entering his junior season. Despite being double-teamed on most snaps, Johnson is still responsible for more than 40 percent of Tech's passing production over the past two seasons. His rare combination of size, strength, hand-eye coordination and acrobatics has drawn comparisons to Larry Fitzgerald and even Cris Carter.


An All-ACC selection each of the past two seasons, Johnson's exploits earned him All-American honors in 2005. Because so many players are relative products of collegiate offenses, it is important to point out that Georgia Tech is hardly a passing powerhouse. In fact, before Johnson arrived, the Yellow Jackets had not produced a wide receiver with any type of All-American honors since Billy Martin was recognized -- in 1963. After just 24 games, Johnson has 102 receptions for 1,725 yards and 13 touchdowns; ranking him seventh in Tech history in career receiving yards, 10th in receptions and tied for sixth in touchdown receptions.


Johnson's opportunities became limited once teams began to increasingly role coverage toward him in 2005. He was held to only four catches over the final two games, losses to Georgia and Utah. Johnson will likely be entering his final collegiate season, as a chance at NFL riches could be too much to pass up.


2. Jeff Samardzija, WR, Notre Dame, 6-5, 216, SR:

Entering last season, Samardzija was known more for his pitching exploits than for his production on the football field. In fact, before the 2005 season, Samardzija had only 24 career receptions and no touchdowns. Of course, with former New England Patriot offensive coordinator Charlie Weis becoming Notre Dame's head coach and future first-round pick quarterback Brady Quinn coming into his own, the table was set for Samardzija to enjoy a breakout season. Still, no one could have predicted his record-breaking performance -- breaking school records for most receiving yards (1,249) and touchdowns (15) and tying a 35-year-old record for most receptions in a single season (77) previously set by Tom Gatewood. 


NFL scouts are intrigued by Samardzija due to his rare combination of size and agility. Though he lacks spectacular speed, Samardzija is deceptively smooth and is at his best with the ball in the air. Like Johnson, Samardzija has rare hand-eye coordination and has shown a knack for making the spectacular reception in tight coverage. The game comes naturally to Samardzija even though his spring practice time is limited due to his commitments as a pitcher for the Irish baseball team. Professional football and baseball scouts are left imagining what this kid could do if he focused on one sport.


3. Ted Ginn, Jr., WR, Ohio State, 6-0, 180, JR:

Ginn is unquestionably the most athletic prospect on this list. Signed as a defensive back, Ginn has seen snaps at flanker, split end, running back and quarterback over the past two seasons. Ginn's highest upside remains at receiver and as a return specialist. Despite sharing the spotlight with potential first-round pick Santonio Holmes in 2005, Ginn hauled in 51 receptions for 803 yards and four touchdowns. As a true freshman the previous year, Ginn again finished second on the team to Holmes with 25 receptions for 359 yard and two scores.


As dangerous as he has been as a wideout, however, Ginn is even better known for his immediate impact as a return specialist. He heads into his junior as the school's career leader in punt returns for touchdowns with five (also tying Iowa's Tim Dwight for the Big Ten career record), four of which came during his freshman season. His 29.6-yard kick return average on 18 returns led the Big Ten, and included a 100-yard runback at Minnesota. Reportedly running in the 4.2-second range in the 40-yard dash, there are some who feel Ginn could prove to be a similar speed threat at the next level as former Buckeye Joey Galloway. 


4. Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC, 6-5, 210, JR:

NFL scouts will tell you Jarrett might be the elite receiving prospect in the country. Blessed with the spectacular combination of height and speed that has made Randy Moss one of the most dangerous receivers in football history, Jarrett flashes similar potential. A unanimous All-American and Biletnikoff Award finalist last season, Jarrett caught 91 passes for 1,274 yards and 16 touchdowns. Hardly a one-year wonder, Jarrett started eight games as a true freshman in 2004 and led the team with 55 receptions for 849 yards and 13 touchdowns.


Despite playing in only 26 games, Jarrett is already eighth on USC's career receptions list with 146. He needs just 42 catches to equal Keary Colbert's school record. His 29 career touchdown catches is just shy of Mike Williams' USC record of 30 and the Pac-10 mark of 32 (held by Stanford's Ken Margerum, 1977-80). His production could potentially take a nose-dive in 2006 with Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White, among others, moving on to the NFL. Regardless, there are some who feel Jarrett will prove even more productive now that the offense will focus more on his special talents. 


5. Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina, 6-4, 192, SO:

Even with Steve Spurrier taking over the program in 2005, no one could have imagined that a redshirt freshman would emerge as one of the nation's elite receivers. But that is exactly what Rice did by shattering every conceivable school record with his 70-catch, 1,143-yard, 13-touchdown season. Rice wasn't just good, he was remarkable -- and seemed to raise his game to suit the pressure.


In the first SEC matchup of the season, Rice caught five passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. He caught another five passes for 74 yards and another score against Alabama in his first career start. Rice led the Gamecocks to a thrilling victory over Vanderbilt, catching three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:41 remaining. In one of the most hyped matchups of the year against Spurrier's former Florida team, Rice caught five passes for 112 yards, including his career long reception of 64 yards. Rice capped his freshman season by breaking the school postseason and Independence Bowl records with 12 receptions for 191 yards and a touchdown against Missouri.


With a season of experience under his belt, it will be interesting to see how much more Rice can develop as a sophomore.


6. Todd Blythe, WR, Iowa State, 6-5, 210, JR:

A seemingly unstoppable force at receiver in the Big 12, Blythe was voted first-team All-Big 12 after catching 51 passes for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in 2005. He finished first in the Big 12 and second nationally, averaging 19.46 yards per catch among receivers with at least 4.1 receptions per game. Despite being the focus of opposing secondaries, Blythe still caught five passes for 105 yards and two scores against TCU in the Houston Bowl, earning Offensive MVP honors even in a loss.


Blythe's big season came even after tearing his ACL during the offseason following a big redshirt freshman year. He was named second-team All-Big 12, second-team Freshman All-American and the Big 12's Offensive Newcomer of the Year in 2004. Despite signing with Iowa State as a relatively highly touted prospect, there was no indication Blythe would explode for 39 receptions, 833 yards (21.4-yard average) and nine touchdowns in his first season. Blythe is already the school record-holder with 18 touchdown receptions -- in just 26 games.


7. Jason Hill, WR, Washington State, 6-1, 210, SR:

Carrying on in the footsteps of former Washington State standouts Nakoa McElrath, Mike Bush and Devard Darling, Hill emerged in 2004 as one of the top young wideouts in the country. And in only two starting seasons with the Cougars, he already owns the school record with 25 career touchdown receptions. Hill is also the only WSU wideout to catch more than 1,000 yards worth of passes in two seasons.


Hill considered leaving school early for the NFL. Blessed with good size and sneaky downfield speed, he was projected by the NFL Advisory Committee as a middle-round prospect with the potential to be drafted higher should he perform well in workouts. Hill certainly has a future at the NFL level, but considering the amount of success he has already enjoyed in the Pac-10, it should be fun to watch him light up collegiate defenses for another season.


8. Jarrett Hicks, WR, Texas Tech, 6-3, 210, SR:

Imagine catching 65 passes for 850 yards and 10 touchdowns and having some refer to your season as a "down year." Welcome to the life of Hicks, one of several talented and incredibly productive wide receivers for Texas Tech.


Since Mike Leach took over the Texas Tech program, he has instituted a wide open passing attack that has made the spread offense look like sandlot football. Hicks, blessed with great size, surprising downfield speed and sticky hands, has become one of the most feared receivers in the Big 12. Despite finishing with less production last season than in 2004 (76 catches for 1,177 yards and 13 TDs), Hicks was far from below par. He led the conference with 6.2 receptions per game, and his 10 touchdowns helped him eclipse the previous school record of 22 career receiving touchdowns held by Mickey Peters. Hicks enters his senior season with 28 career touchdowns, and could post astronomical numbers in 2006 with the team relying even more on the passing game with bell-cow running back Taurean Henderson moving on to the NFL.


9. Greg Olsen, TE, Miami, 6-5, 252, JR:

Olsen is an exciting prospect who Miami coaches say could end up being the best ever Hurricane tight end -- quite a statement considering the 'Canes have produced the likes of Kellen Winslow, Jr., Jeremy Shockey and Bubba Franks. Olsen left high school as one of the elite prep talents in the country and originally signed with Notre Dame. He elected to transfer to Miami and was forced to sit out the 2003 season as a result.


A backup to eventual third-round pick Kevin Everett (Buffalo), Olsen didn't get much playing time in 2004. In limited duty he caught 16 passes for 251 yards and one touchdown.


Olsen's talents began to show through in 2005. An honorable mention All-ACC player, Olsen finished with 31 receptions for 451 yards and four touchdowns. Despite measuring in at 6-5, 252 pounds, Olsen has good speed for the position. Though he possesses the size to be an impact blocker, Olsen remains at his best catching passes over the middle and stretching the seam. In only one season as the starter, he has become Miami's most reliable receiving outlet, and LSU made stopping him a focus in the Peach Bowl. It was no coincidence that the Hurricanes struggled to move the ball against the Tigers with Olsen being held without a reception.


10. Zach Miller, TE, Arizona State, 6-4, 254, JR:

If Olsen isn't the elite tight end in the collegiate ranks, Arizona State's Miller certainly is the guy. A second-team All-American after his true freshman season in 2004, Miller's prominence has been rising among collegiate fans ever since. Miller made an immediate impact with the Sun Devils as a freshman, breaking the ASU record for receptions in a season by a tight end with 56. His 56 receptions in 2004 tied for the most receptions in the NCAA by a tight end. Along with his 56 receptions, he produced 552 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Miller was one of only four freshmen to earn either first- or second-team All-American honors in 2004.


Miller's 2005 numbers dropped due to injuries, most notably a nagging left ankle sprain. He still finished third on the team with 38 receptions, four for touchdowns. He also recorded 476 receiving yards for an average of 12.5 yards per reception.


Arizona State was blessed with one of the great tight end receiving threats in recent history with Todd Heap in the late '90s. Miller could provide the same presence for the Sun Devils over the remainder of his career.


Others to Watch:


Steve Breaston, WR, Michigan, 6-1, 182, SR: While Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant have garnered most of the attention in recent seasons, 2006 should be Breaston's coming out party. Breaston has a silky smooth running style and penchant for making the big play in the big game. He has emerged not only as a quality receiver, but also as a big-play return specialist. In fact, Breaston joined former Wisconsin standout Nick Davis as the only players in Big Ten history with 1,000 career yards in three different categories (receiving, kick, and punt return).


Matt Spaeth, TE, Minnesota, 6-6, 270, SR: Enters next season as arguably the most accomplished senior tight end in the country. Has 729 yards on 62 receptions with eight touchdowns in his career, and needs 483 receiving yards to surpass Ben Utecht as the school's all-time leading receiver as a tight end. Was voted First Team All-Big Ten by both the conference coaches and media.


Jonny Harline, TE, BYU, 6-4, 228, SR: Harline returns for his senior season as the nation's most productive returning tight end. Harline led the team in receptions (63) and receiving yards (853) and was named first-team All-MWC in 2005. He also caught five touchdown passes and had three 100-yard performances, including 123 yards against both San Diego State and New Mexico. BYU has sent three tight ends to the NFL Draft over the past five years, and Harline looks poised to continue the tradition.


Steve Smith, WR, USC, 6-0, 195, SR: The "other" receiver at USC simply has 119 receptions and 13 touchdowns over his career. Smith's combination of route-running, reliable hands and surprising speed has earned him comparisons to Colbert.


James Hardy, WR, Indiana, 6-7, 215, SO: Hardy turned in one of the most prolific seasons the Big Ten has seen out of a freshman wide receiver. The 6-7, 215-pounder finished second in school history with 61 receptions, tied for second with 10 touchdowns and fifth with 893 yards. His five 100-yard games tied for second most in a season in school history. Hardy finished first in the Big Ten and 23rd nationally with 89.3 receiving yards per game and fourth in the conference and 29th in the nation with 6.10 receptions per game. Hardy is the first receiver in IU history to catch a touchdown in six consecutive games.


Ryne Robinson, WR, Miami (Ohio), 5-10, 173, JR: Speaking of "other" receivers, Robinson enjoyed a breakout 2005 season even though he was overshadowed by former teammate Martin Nance, Miami's career leader in receptions and receiving yardage. Robinson was recognized as a 2005 second-team all-MAC performer and was previously voted the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year. He averaged 101.7 yards receiving per game to rank eighth nationally in 2005. Robinson is also the nation's active leader in career punt return yardage (1,502) and punt return touchdowns (6).


Davone Bess, WR, Hawai'i, 5-11, 190, SO: Bess is perhaps the next in line at Hawai'i following spectacular wideouts Ashley Lelie and Chad Owens, among others. Bess was named WAC Freshman of the Year and first-team all-WAC in 2005, as well as a Freshman All-American by some media outlets. Bess led the team in receptions (89) and touchdowns (14), while finishing second in receiving yards (1,124) and all-purpose yards (1,133).


Clark Harris, TE, Rutgers, 6-6, 255, SR: Harris, a two-time All-Big East selection, has 109 receptions for 1,522 yards and nine touchdowns over his career. Harris was a key contributor to last season's Insight Bowl appearance, Rutgers' first bowl game since 1978. Harris caught 38 passes for 584 yards and four touchdowns. He was the No. 1 ranked tight end in the conference with 48.7 receiving yards and 3.17 receptions per game.


Derrick Williams, WR, Penn State, 6-0, 191, SO: Williams' 2005 numbers are hardly eye-popping (22 catches for 289 yards and 1 TD), but he did emerge as one of the playmakers who led Penn State's revival last season. He missed the final month of the season, including the Orange Bowl, with a broken arm, but Williams' big plays as a receiver and on reverses (22 carries for 105 yards and three touchdowns) made him a difference-maker in big wins against Ohio State and Minnesota.


Paul Williams, WR, Fresno State, 6-2, 220, SR: Coach Pat Hill has referred to Williams as the best receiver he has ever had, which is high praise considering he coached current Chicago Bear Bernard Berrian, who in 2002 broke the WAC record for most all-purpose yardage in a season. Big deal, you say? The guy who held the record before Berrian was a running back from TCU named LaDainian Tomlinson. Williams had a breakout 2005, averaging 17 yards per catch and finishing with seven touchdown receptions.



Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for, which is distributed by The Sports Xchange.



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