Rob Malara

2014 Pac-12 Preview: Wide Receiver

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Since it’s expansion in 2011, the Pac-12 has become a league of hurry-up offenses where getting the ball out in space and aggressively attacking opposing secondaries has become the primary goal unless your name is Stanford.  As a result,the conference saw some fantastic wide receivers head for NFL glory.

Most leagues would be in a down year of the cycle with impact players like Brandin Cooks (Oregon State), Marquise Lee (USC), Paul Richardson (Colorado), and Josh Huff (Oregon) exiting their teams.  But clearly, this isn’t your average conference at the wide receiver position.

Heading into 2014, the Pac-12 boasts two of the best players in the country at wide receiver and could conceivably have four of the players at the position get their named called within the first two days of the 2015 NFL Draft.  The player pool offers fans everything you could ask for in a playmaking wide receiver.  A fan of the explosive dual-threat receiver/kick returner should look no further than Nelson Agholor,  Ty Montgomery, and Dres Anderson.  Sun Devil fans know there might be no better deep ball receiver in the conference than junior Jaelen Strong.  Defensive backs might want to look away at these first few players in the rankings.

 

1. Nelson Agholor, USC (Junior)

2013 stats: 89 targets, 56 receptions, 918 receiving yards, 6 touchdowns

USC may only have 65 scholarship players at their disposal, but when one of them is one of the best wide receivers in the country, you can assume the offense will be just fine.  Now take that receiver and insert him into a up-tempo spread offense and you have the makings of a plauer who should become yet another household name at the position for the Trojans among the country, let alone the conference.

With Marqise Lee battling multiple injuries in 2013, he showed that he could indeed become a number one option for quarterback Cody Kessler, not to mention an impact return man.  With no Lee on the other side of the hashes teamed with more snaps per game, you can expect Agholor’s productivity to rival any in the conference as long as he can stay healthy (a concern with the Trojans limited depth behind him to give him plays off).

At just six feet tall, his ability to run the short and intermediate routes has no peers within the conference.  He is also outstanding with the ball in his hands in space, something that also makes him an impact special teams player.

 

1A. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State (Junior)

2013 stats: 120 targets, 75 receptions, 1,122 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns

Outside of Stanford’s Devon Cajuste he’s one of the biggest impact downfield receivers in the Pac-12 and exploded out of the gates in 2013 with limited practices under his belt before the season opener.   Much was expected from the former Pierce College receiver and he met all expectations in his first season that started off red hot for the Sun Devils recording 100-yard receiving games in five of his first six games of the season.

With a full offseason of conditioning paired with film room sessions with coach Del Alexander the sky’s the limit for Strong.  While he never really seemed lost, he has to learn to maximize his abilities as a big body receiver that can punish both corners and safeties with his unique skill set.  He has already shown improved understanding of route running, use of his hands to better to establish position off the line blocking for his receivers and running backs out in space.  If he can continue to improve in all three of these areas he is a surefire first round pick and will give Agholor a run for his money as best in the conference.

 

2. Austin Hill, Arizona (Senior)

2013 Stats: DNP

2012 stats: 118 targets, 81 receptions, 1,364 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns

Austin Hill finished the 2012 as one of the most underrated wide receivers in the Pac-12 finishing as a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award besting the likes of Robert Woods or Keenan Allen who would go on to have big impacts on their NFL teams in 2013.  He went into last season as perhaps the best wide receiver not named Lee or Richardson.  And then he suffered a torn ACL in spring camp that would force him to miss the entire season.

He is the best among one of the best receiving units in the conference and should make a strong run for an all-conference spot at the position thanks in part to the fact Rich Rodriguez will no longer have the services of running back Ka’Deem Carey to shoulder the load thirty times a game.

At six-foot-three, 210 pounds he is big enough to dominate smaller corners and has the explosion and loose frame to expose bigger defenders on all the shallow routes Arizona loves to run in space.  His NFL success will depend on how much he regains in quickness after the injury, and much like Strong, how he improves as a route runner in an offense that asks less from its receivers in terms of learning the route tree.

 

3. Ty Montgomery, Stanford (Senior)

2013 stats: 98 targets, 61 receptions, 958 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns

Ty Montgomery was a terror to opposing special teams in 2013, but he quickly evolved into the team’s most dependable target in the passing game with the Cardinal moving away from a passing offense that relied on its tight ends, to one that threw to each of its three impact receivers.  At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he has the size to hold up over the middle, and has the explosiveness out in space to demand teams dedicate an extra defender, which plays right into the hands of head coach Brian Shaw’s play calling ability.  Be it throws downfield, behind the line of scrimmage on screens, or handoffs in the run game, the Cardinal do their best to maximize the amount of total touches he sees over the course of any one game.

There’s no reason he won’t have success in the future as a Devin Hester with better ball skills and a bigger frame.  Just ask Washington, who lost their 2013 matchup single-handedly to Montgomery thanks in part to touchdowns scored by air and return, or Cal who saw Montgomery torch them for five touchdowns.  You’re not supposed to be his size with a sub-4.4 40-yard dash time.  And that’s why it was even more impressive that he passed on NFL glory to finish up his degree and complete his senior year at Stanford.

 

4. Kasen Williams, Washington (Senior)

2013 Stats: 48 targets, 29 receptions, 421 receiving yards, 1 touchdown

Much like Hill, he’s an impact receiver on the comeback trail after breaking his ankle against Cal in 2013.  Yet another big-bodied receiver who when healthy won the lion’s share of jump balls down field thrown his way by his former quarterback Keith Price.  Teams with fellow Huskies receiver Jaydon Mickens to give whomever wins the starting quarterback job a diverse amount of options in the passing game.

 

5. Dres Anderson, Utah (Senior)

2013 Stats: 105 targets, 53 receptions, 1,002 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns

Son of former Rams great Flipper Anderson who with Strong represent the only returning 1,000-yard receivers in the Pac-12.  A big-play wide receiver who recorded four touchdown receptions covering 45 yards or more last season.  He tied for the national lead in receptions of 50-plus yards, while posting an an eye-popping 18.9-yards-per-catch average.

The big criticism with Anderson pertains to his hands.  He only caught just over fifty percent of the balls thrown his way in 2013, a number that must increase if the Utes are to continue the development of their offense during their infancy in Pac-12 play.

 

6. Gabe Marks, Washington State (Junior)

2013 Stats: 118 targets, 74 receptions, 807 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns

Gabe Marks was the initial prized recruit among Mike Leach’s first recruiting class with the Cougs.  His 74 receptions (second-most for a season in team history) bested Washington State’s next receiver by 23, and his seven touchdowns tied for the team high.  Had the game of his life at Oregon where he posted 13 catches for 143 yards and a touchdown.

Part of eight returning receivers that played significant time last year, so senior quarterback Connor Halliday certainly has his options in the passing game.  Which is good when you throw the ball over 700 times in a season.

 

7. Victor Bolden, Oregon State (Sophomore)

2013 Stats: 13 targets, 6 receptions, 62 receiving yards

While Oregon State may shift to throwing the ball more to their impact tight ends in 2014, Bolden is one to watch as he steps into the position vacated by All-American Brandin Cooks.  It’s hard to imagine he’ll assume half of targets Cooks saw in in 2013 (168), but if he can give the Sean Mannion an impact downfield threat, it should open things up for the run game, not to mention fellow receiver Richard Mullaney.

Mike Riley has always been a coach who looks to get as many touches as possible to his offensive skill players, and he treated Bolden the same in 2013.  The versatile reserve receiver averaged over 7 yards per carry and totalled over 1,000 yards returning kickoffs.

 

8. Devon Cajuste, Stanford (Senior)

2013 Stats: 45 targets, 28 receptions, 642 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns

Part of what made the Cardinal offense so difficult to defend in 2013 was their ability to establish Tyler Gaffney in the run game, and then punish you with both the feet of Ty Montgomery out in space and the deep ball to the 6-foot-4, 229 pound Cajuste.

With the offense struggling early on in the season to get going adjustments were made with Cajuste in the slot helping to set a single-season school record for yards per catch and are best among starting wide receivers returning in 2014.

 

9. Bryce Treggs, Cal (Junior)

2013 Stats: 126 targets, 77 receptions, 751 yards, 1 touchdown

Along with Chris Harper, and Kenny Lawler, Treggs caught a ton of balls last year from true freshman quarterback Jared Goff, helping the Bears set single-season school records for passing yards (3,977) and pass completions (368).  He lead the Bears in receptions last year and is the most dependable pass among the Bears starting unit.

 

10. Keanon Lowe, Oregon (Senior)

2013 Stats: 33 targets, 18 receptions, 233 yards, 3 touchdowns

With the loss of Bralon Addison to a knee injury earlier this year, Lowe becomes the de facto number one receiver for the Ducks.  He will also be asked to provide leadership to a young and talented group of track stars that have been recruited over the past two years by Mark Helfrich.  He’s reported to be adored by the running backs and coaching staff of Oregon due in part to being the best blocking receiver on the team.  Marcus Marriota is going to be in the Heisman race if he can stay healthy in 2014, and to do that, he’s going to ask a lot more from Lowe as a pass catcher.

 

Advanced stats provided by Bill Connelly of SBNation.  Video footage provided by DraftBreakdown.com.

About Rob Malara

Rob Malara

Rob Malara is a 2002 Sun Devil grad having spent the majority of his time in Tempe as a football, basketball, and baseball season ticket holder and front row inhabitant. A member of the Football Writers Association of America, he hosted the ASU Devils podcast and was its sub-optimal technical producer through its lifespan. Currently the president of the ASU Alumni Association's Northern Colorado Club, he is part of a family of maroon and gold residing in Fort Collins with his Sun Devil wife and nearby Sun Devil sister.

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