How would you define Wide Receiver University? Tough question, isn’t it? Do I look towards which schools have produced the best player(s) at the position, or the schools that have produced the most depth? How do I value a player such as Larry Fitzgerald, who is a little past his prime but has had a Hall of Fame career? When self-given the task of researching, defining, and explaining my opinion on the matter, it took me a while to come up with a format.
I settled on this:
Which college or university has produced current NFL talent that I would take as my WR corps above all others?
Meaning: On the eve of the 2018 football season, which school is WRU?
This won’t look at the past accomplishments of schools that have produced wide receiver talent, as those players and coaches are long gone.
Mediocre or average players are generally easy to acquire in the NFL, and if a college had a legitimate shot to be recognized as WRU but only had 3 viable options in the league at the moment, I would assume the rest of the corps could be filled with average players. To use a school that will not be featured later on, East Carolina has three graduates turned serviceable NFL wide receiver in Justin Hardy, Dwayne Harris, and Zay Jones. The other 1-2 members of the wide receiver corps would be assumed to be average players.
If a school has produced 5 or more NFL wide receivers, then those players would be used. For example, Miami has produced Allen Hurns, Travis Benjamin, Phillip Dorsett, Stacy Coley, and Braxton Berrios. These 5 names would be Miami’s lineup, but just like East Carolina, Miami did not make the cut.
Without any further ado, let’s answer the question of which school is WRU.
5. LSU Tigers
Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, DJ Chark, Russell Shepard, Malachi Dupre
The obvious alpha is Odell Beckham Jr., as he’s a top 5 wide receiver in the NFL. Beckham provides this group with a dynamic #1 receiver who has had stretches of play that resemble the best receiver in the league. Additionally, Jarvis Landry became effective in his role with Miami and is taking on more of a leadership role for the Browns. While in college, Beckham and Landry were a lethal combination who complemented each other well.
DJ Chark was one of the most athletic specimens in the 2018 NFL Draft, but was a bit unrefined and will probably not be ready to produce right away as a rookie. The rest of the LSU group feature depth additions in Shepard and Dupre, as Shepard is a journeyman and Dupre has yet to record a reception in the NFL.
4. California Golden Bears
Keenan Allen, Marvin Jones, DeSean Jackson, Chad Hansen
This California wide receiver group has a nice combination of depth and talent. Keenan Allen has vaulted himself into the top 10 wide receivers in the NFL, and his former college teammate Marvin Jones isn’t too far behind. The combination of Allen and Jones is arguably on par, if not better, than the Beckham and Landry duo.
Where California's corps separate from LSU's is DeSean Jackson and his electrifying ability. Though he has begun to slow down ever so slightly, Jackson would be a more than serviceable #3 target, as he is still putting up solid receiving numbers in his downfield role. Having a legitimate top three between Allen, Jones, and Jackson and a solid depth piece in Hansen has California firmly entrenched in the WRU conversation.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster, Cam Sims
Alabama has a similar group to LSU with a top tandem and promising upcoming rookie. Julio Jones may be the most difficult matchup at the receiver position in the NFL because of his size, athleticism, and strength combination. His new Falcon teammate Calvin Ridley enters the league as a refined route runner and is ready to produce right away.
Cooper had a down season in 2017, but has produced nearly 3,000 receiving yards in his first three NFL seasons and just turned 24 years old. The trio of Jones, Cooper, and Ridley gives the Alabama wide receiver corps elite potential.
2. USC Trojans
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Robert Woods, Nelson Agholor, Marquise Lee, Deontay Burnett
While the USC group is missing the current alpha wide receiver that LSU, California, and Alabama have, they have more depth. JuJu Smith-Schuster has the potential to become an elite wide receiver, but entering his second season he isn’t quite there yet. However, adding Robert Woods, Nelson Agholor, and Marquise Lee to the corps give them four legitimate options who are all top 2 options on their own NFL teams. Having four wide receivers with that ability would create a new dynamic that the previous schools couldn’t match.
Combined in 2017, Smith-Schuster, Woods, Agholor, and Lee put up 232 receptions, 3,168 yards, and 23 touchdowns in 56 games. To put that type of production in perspective, the Chargers led the league in passing yards last season, and their top four targets combined for 3,267 receiving yards. A USC foursome that could essentially match the production from the best passing offense in the NFL would be a lethal group.
1. Clemson Tigers
DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Mike Williams, Adam Humphries
I thought this decision would be more difficult, but Clemson blew away the competition. Clemson’s group is arguably the most talented while undoubtedly being the deepest. They have produced the only group that I look at and say, “I think this would be the best wide receiver room in the National Football League.” A legit stud wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins leads the group, and he is right on the same level of Odell Beckham and Julio Jones. Hopkins has been effective with sub-par quarterback play throughout his career, is an underrated route runner, effective possession receiver, and is one of the most durable players in the league.
Looking past Hopkins, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant have ridiculous talent. While both have had up and down production throughout their young careers, their talent is undeniable and both players find themselves in better situations in 2018. Mike Williams is the former top-10 pick who battled injuries in his rookie season, but is poised to breakout in 2018 as a high-point redzone threat for the Chargers. While we haven’t seen Williams put it all together yet, his potential is that of a true #1 wide receiver. Adam Humphries has turned into a perfect complementary receiving option, with back-to-back seasons of more than 60 receptions operating in the slot for Tampa Bay. Humphries is far and away the best and most established late option among the schools vying for WRU.
To put Clemson’s group on perspective, Deandre Hopkins is the prototypical “Batman,” but you could make a legitimate argument that their next four options all qualify as “Robin.” Their current top-end talent mixed with depth made them the easy choice for Wide Receiver University.