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College football rankings: Top 10 wide receivers of 2021

Fansided logo Fansided 8/18/2021 Cody Williams
a group of baseball players standing on top of a field © Provided by Fansided

text © Provided by Fansided Historically good wide receivers have seemingly become commonplace in college football recently, so who are the best in the country for the 2021 season?

Due in no small part to the passing boom in football at large, we have seen an inordinate number of elite wide receivers grace college football with their presence in recent years. Heck, we just watched the first wide receiver in decades win the Heisman Trophy after DeVonta Smith proved to be unstoppable for even SEC or College Football Playoff opponents with Alabama.

Smith is gone, though, and so too are the likes of Rashod Bateman, Elijah Moore, Kadarius Toney, Jaylen Waddle and many, many other highly talented wide receivers. Luckily for college football fans, though, there is another crop of potential stars who are ready to take centerstage and either become stars or become even bigger stars.

Some players like Zay Flowers (Boston College), Jaquarii Roberson (Wake Forest), Calvin Austin III (Memphis) and Xavier Hutchinson (Iowa State), among others, just missed the cut, but we've ranked the 10 best wide receivers coming into the 2021 college football season.

10. Justyn Ross, Clemson

Fans outside of South Carolina may have forgotten about Justyn Ross as the Clemson wide receiver was forced to miss the entire 2020 season due to a spinal injury that required serious surgery. His football career seemed in jeopardy but, after a full recovery, he's ready to retake the field for the Tigers and prove he can still be an elite weapon for young D.J. Uiagalelei.

Playing with Trevor Lawrence in 2018 and 2019, Ross proved to be one of the premier deep threats in college football and put up some monster numbers for a young player. Over 28 career games with Clemson, Ross has hauled in 112 receptions for 1,865 yards (16.7 yards per catch) and has made 17 trips into the end zone.

While Ross may not be a speedster or overly athletic freak at the wide receiver position, his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame combined with surprisingly crisp routes and good footwork at the line of scrimmage allows him to consistently break open downfield in addition to making spectacular catches in traffic.

The fact that Ross is coming back from such a serious injury and that we haven't seen him on the field in over nearly two years is the only reason he sits at the back-end of the top 10. If he comes back as the player he was prior to his injury, he's a top-five player at the position in the country.

9. George Pickens, Georgia

This ranking offered a bit of a conundrum. At full health, George Pickens has a legitimate case as the best wide receiver in college football for the 2021 campaign. The Georgia pass-catcher checks every box for being a potential superstar with his size, speed, athleticism and nuanced route-running for a player with his physical tools.

Unfortunately, Pickens suffered an ACL injury earlier in the offseason and is almost sure to miss the start of the season (which is a bummer considering that he and the Bulldogs open the year against Clemson). However, head coach Kirby Smart has not fully closed the door on the wideout making a return at some point this year. And because of a possible return, it felt appropriate to include him at the bottom of the top 10.

Over 20 career games at Georgia to this point, Pickens has 85 receptions for 1,240 yards and 14 touchdowns. However, it always felt as if his skillset wasn't being maximized due to the quarterback play. And we got a glimpse of that when JT Daniels took over as Pickens put up 23 catches for 373 yards and four touchdowns in four games with the new signal-caller.

After catching that small handful of games, it's a shame we aren't getting a full season of Daniels and Pickens working together. Even still, if Pickens is able to return at some point this year, that connection could be one of the most lethal in the nation.

8. Marvin Mims, Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Sooners offense is rarely — if ever — short on big-time playmakers, including beyond the quarterback position. And despite an extremely loaded wide receiver room entering the 2020 season, then-true freshman Marvin Mims emerged as the most dangerous option in the passing offense throughout the year.

Playing in 11 games, Mims only caught 37 passes but took those for an unreal 610 yards and nine touchdowns, highlighting just how dangerous of a weapon he can be. Likely because of his age and relative inexperience, he wasn't the focal point of the offense or even the No. 2 option in terms of workload. But again, that didn't stop him from producing at an eye-popping rate.

Now with Charleston Rambo transferring to Miami and with what Mims proved in his first season in Norman, it's not hard to imagine that he could be the top target-getter for the Sooners in the 2021 season. Couple that with the assumed development of Spencer Rattler and the rapport those two clearly have and this could be a special wide receiver.

Mims' ability to take the top off of defenses is top-tier and the pass-catcher looks the part of an ideal fit in the Lincoln Riley offense, especially with a big-armed quarterback in control. We saw flashes of his upside as a freshman and the sophomore campaign could hold much bigger things for him.

7. Kayshon Boutte, LSU

With Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson, among several others, leading the LSU offense, the Tigers looked downright unstoppable. But as the majority of the offensive starters left for the NFL after the program captured a National Championship, there was a precipitous drop-off as Ed Orgeron's team tried to find their footing.

As the year wore on, though, LSU started to get a little bit of mojo and, while figuring some things out at quarterback was part of that, finding an elite pass-catching target to emerge like Kayshon Boutte did undoubtedly didn't hurt the cause.

Over the first seven games he played, Boutte never caught more than five passes in one game and never topped 50 yards. Moreover, he had just one touchdown over that span as well. So it definitely felt like he came out of nowhere to end the year when he reeled off games of 8-111-0, 5-108-1 and a remarkable 14-catch, 308-yard and three-touchdown game to end the year against Ole Miss.

Boutte is the clear-cut guy in the LSU passing offense coming into the 2021 season as a sophomore and Max Johnson appears capable of taking advantage of that. If he can build on how he ended last season, Boutte could put up some truly special numbers for the Tigers.

6. Ty Fryfogle, Indiana

Over his four seasons with the Hoosiers, we've seen a progression in play from wide receiver Ty Fryfogle. After appearing in just one game as a freshman (albeit with one catch for 13 yards), he then caught 29 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore. Fryfogle then followed that up with 45 receptions for 604 yards and three scores as a junior.

Despite playing in eight games in the 2020 season — as opposed to the 12-game seasons the two years prior — Fryfogle emerged as the go-to weapon for the explosive Indiana passing offense, especially when Michael Penix Jr. was on the field and healthy. Fryfogle caught 37 passes but set career-highs with 721 yards and seven touchdowns.

Offered an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA due to the COVID hardships, Fryfogle is back in Bloomington for a super senior season after winning Big Ten Receiver of the Year a season ago. And with Penix also back and hopefully able to stay on the field, we could see big things from Fryfogle as he continues to take steps forward.

Fryfogle isn't going to overwhelm anyone with his speed or athleticism but he displays a big, strong frame at 6-foot-2, 214 pounds and uses it extremely well to win in tight situations for contested catches. He'll continue doing that as a downfield threat and affirm his status as one of the best receivers in the country.

5. Treylon Burks, Arkansas

Simply on the basis of how he's built, Treylon Burks stands out among all of the wide receivers in college football. It's not every day that you see a player who is 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds line up on the outside of the offense or, in some cases with the Razorbacks offense, in the backfield for different looks. But that's what makes Burks such a special talent.

Despite his bulky frame, Burks moves much better than you would expect, even if he's not going to run a 4.2-second 40. And despite some relatively inconsistent quarterback play in a new offense last season, Burks was Second-Team All-SEC for the year as he put forth a big season with 51 receptions for 820 yards and seven touchdowns along with 75 rushing yards in only nine games.

Burks cracks the top five of these rankings, though, because he got substantially better from year one to year two. He was largely just a deep threat as a freshman and, while that remained part of his game, he was dangerous in all levels of the field as a sophomore.

If he continues that upward trajectory and the offense is able to further come along in the second year under Sam Pittman at Arkansas, Burks could be a truly jaw-dropping player. He can burn teams all over the place and, even if defenders get near him, good luck bringing down a 232-pounder who moves the way the wideout is able to.

4. John Metchie, Alabama

The Crimson Tide have been churning out first-round draft picks at wide receiver like it's nothing for a long time but at an incredible rate over the past two seasons. Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III went in the first round in the 2020 NFL Draft and they were followed by another pair going in Round 1, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, this past year. And yet, the talent pool is far from dry among pass-catchers in Tuscaloosa.

Though there are a number of young, highly gifted receivers on the Alabama roster, John Metchie is the veteran and the assumed next man up as the top target in the passing offense. With young Bryce Young taking over at quarterback, it's not hard to imagine the rising junior wide receiver being the safety blanket and big-play threat that the sophomore signal-caller relies heavily on.

In his sophomore season, Metchie was forced into a bigger role with Waddle breaking his ankle and he delivered. While he was clearly the second fiddle to Smith amid his Heisman-winning season, Metchie still racked up 55 receptions for 916 yards and six touchdowns over 13 games with the Crimson Tide.

While Young is still a bit of an unknown commodity, the talent of the quarterback is unbelievable. If he's able to find his footing quickly, Metchie has the opportunity to put up some truly monstrous numbers. It won't be on the level of Smith but that's a high bar to clear. Metchie's combination of talent and role in the offense makes him a lock in the top five at the position.

3. David Bell, Purdue

From the moment that David Bell put on a Boilermakers uniform, he's done nothing but deliver the goods. Purdue's offense wanted Rondale Moore to be healthy and the focal point of the offense but injuries ultimately kept that from happening. And in his absence from the field, Bell stepped up and became a monster in the passing game over two seasons.

Bell exploded onto the scene as a freshman in the 2019 campaign as he caught 86 balls for 1,035 yards and seven touchdowns over 12 games, adding a rushing touchdown for good measure. He followed that up with six games in the shortened Big Ten season in 2020 by catching 53 passes for 625 yards and eight touchdowns, putting him on a better per-game pace than he was at in his first year with Purdue.

Much like a number of other players we've already discussed, Bell isn't going to wow fans or defenders with his speed. In fact, NFL Draft pundits will likely ding his stock because he doesn't always break free of coverage. But the 6-foot-2, 205-pound pass-catcher is an elite player when it comes to making physical plays down the field and winning 50-50 balls.

With Moore now gone for the Arizona Cardinals, Bell is the unquestioned alpha of the Purdue wide receiver room, even if he's already produced like he is. He should be one of the most consistently productive receivers in the country once again in 2021.

2. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State

Put simply, the Ohio State Buckeyes may be breaking in a new quarterback with Justin Fields gone but they boast the best wide receiver room in college football to help with that transition. And it's really not all that close in terms of quality among the pass-catchers. Rising junior Garrett Wilson is one of the key reasons why that's the case.

Wilson arrived in Columbus as a 5-star recruit and flashed his elite ability right away, even if he didn't play a sizeable role in the offense. Over 13 games as a freshman, he caught 30 passes for 432 yards and five touchdowns. He followed that up in eight games for the 2020 season by hauling in 43 receptions for 723 yards and six scores.

Unlike the guys like Bell, Fryfogle and other big-bodied, physical receivers, Wilson wins because of his athletic traits. The guy is a nightmare to try and keep up with given his speed, quickness and footwork, which has been even more on display as of late as he's come along as a smoother route-runner. He's also good for a jump-out-of-your-seat highlight catch about once per game if given the opportunity.

Without question, Wilson would be the best wide receiver in virtually any wide receiver corps in college football. He's that talented already and should only get better after garnering more experience. However, he plays at Ohio State, which means he's the No. 2 receiver in the sport but also on his own team.

1. Chris Olave, Ohio State

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises to forego the 2020 NFL Draft and elect to return to college, Chris Olave is the clear-cut best wide receiver in college football for the 2021 season. He's been immensely productive over the past two seasons and likely would've been a first-round pick had he gone to the pros but Ohio State is surely glad he's back in the fold.

As a sophomore, Olave burst onto the scene as a big-play threat, notching 48 receptions for 840 yards (17.5 yards per catch) with 12 touchdowns over 13 games. In only seven games with the Buckeyes in the 2020 season, he bettered his per-game numbers by a lot as the No. 1 target for Justin Fields, ending the year with 50 catches for 729 yards and seven scores.

Olave doesn't necessarily have the elite athleticism that his teammate, Garrett Wilson, possesses but he's not lacking by any stretch of the imagination. He can blow by defenders and break away with the best of them. However, he's also the best route-runner in the country, only making him more dangerous in the passing game as he can work himself open at all levels of the field.

As mentioned, Ohio State boasts the best wide receiver room in the nation, so the fact that Olave is the unquestioned leader of that group solidifies his place as the best player at his position in college football. He's already done plenty of damage to every defense he's faced but now he's back to wreak more havoc.

For more NCAA football news, analysis, opinion and unique coverage by FanSided, including Heisman Trophy and College Football Playoff rankings, be sure to bookmark these pages.

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