This upcoming season has the potential to be one of the best in the country. The Cowboys are ranked in the Top 10. Mason Rudolph is a Heisman candidate. Justice Hill is ready to rock and roll again. The defense got a huge boost with graduate transfer Adrian Baker. Finally, the Cowboys have a Biletnikoff favorite (or is it two?) lining up on Saturdays.
James Washington is considered one of the favorites to win the trophy for nation’s best receiver. The senior is coming off the most productive season of his career, hauling in 71 receptions for 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 19.4 yards-per-catch average was tied for 10th in the country, according to the official NCAA stat sheets.
When Rudolph and Washington announced they would be back for their senior seasons, Oklahoma State fans everywhere had this reaction.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Big 12 was like:
Washington is looking to become the second Cowboy to ever win the award, with the only other being Justin Blackmon when he did it back-to-back in 2010 and 2011. So, who will Washington likely be going up against as he competes for the Biletnikoff?
I selected these few based off last season’s final numbers. I didn’t go through the entire NCAA Division 1 football, so it’s possible someone will win that I didn’t even look for. Freshman, transfers, etc. It’s impossible to know who is going to have breakout seasons and who is going to fall flat, but according to the numbers, I believe these ten athletes have the best odds.
James Washington - Oklahoma State
Who better to start with than Oklahoma State’s own?
Last season, Washington hauled in 71 passes for 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns. That averages out to 5.5 receptions per game (RPG), 19.5 yards per catch (YPC) and 106.2 yards per game (YPG).
Washington is returning as the active FBS leader in both career touchdowns (26) and is leading all the Power Five conferences in career receiving yards (2,923) and career yards per reception (19.2), according to his biography.
In his senior campaign, he looks to be named an All-American, an honor which he has not received in his days in the orange and black.
As it is with any Biletnikoff campaign, it all starts with the QB. #Rudolph2Washington is going into its third full season, and the two have the chemistry to make it happen. All Rudolph has to do is air it out, and Washington can use his explosive speed to outrun the DBs and then his athleticism to secure the ball before it hits the turf.
Michael Gallup - Colorado State
Gallup is a 6-1 senior who was a JUCO transfer to the Rams. Gallup had 76 receptions for 1,272 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first year in a Colorado State uniform. His 5.8 RPG and 110.3 YPG are a bit misleading.
Gallup started the year slow, but finished as one of the hottest receivers in America according to his biography on the CSU website. In his last eight games, Gallup averaged 128 YPG. That number climbed to 140.4 if you only count the last five games. He scored 12 of his 14 total touchdowns in the last eight games, and in their final regular season game and their bowl game combined, he scored six touchdowns. Let that sink in. Nearly half of his touchdowns on the season came within a two-game span.
If Gallup can continue putting up numbers like he did at the end of the season, it won’t take long for people to start noticing him.
Fun fact: Gallup and former OSU running back Chris Carson both played their JUCO ball at Butler CC in Kansas.
Courtland Sutton - SMU
After being named an All-American, not many people expected Sutton to return to SMU, especially since he was projected as a late first to early second round pick. He decided to stay though, and I’m sure the Mustang faithful are glad about that.
Sutton is a 6-4 redshirt junior who can make some jaw-dropping plays. He had 76 catches, 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Sutton was always a deep threat, as he averaged 16.4 yards every time he caught the ball (which averaged 6.3 times per game). He is one of only three members on this list that averaged over 100 YPG, coming in with 103.8 on the season.
He set the single-season record for most yards by a sophomore at SMU, and also holds the record for most yards by a freshman. This season, he looks to continue that streak and take over as the best wide receiver in school history. He needs 1,657 receiving yards in the rest of his career to overtake Emmanuel Sanders and claim the receiving title as his own. If he does that next season, he will also claim the single-season receiving record from Sanders as he takes his place in the SMU football hall of fame.
Deon Cain - Clemson
Last season, he has 38 receptions, or 2.5 in the 15 games he played - none of which he ever started. His 724 yards are respectable, but are the second-lowest on this list. He did have 19.1 YPC, but with only 48.3 YPG, those aren’t Biletnikoff numbers. He did end up with nine touchdowns, but that isn’t enough to win it all. I think Miller is reaching.
Calvin Ridley - Alabama
Calvin Ridley is considered to be one of the best slot receivers in the country, but one has to wonder if they say that because he wears the crimson red with the big white scripted A on his helmet.
Ridley had 72 catches for 769 yards and seven touchdowns last season. That’s not terrible, but again, not great. The number that seems to condemn Ridley is his yards per game. Last season, he only averaged 51.3 YPG. That is the second lowest on this list, with only Deon Cain lower in the category (except for one wild card - be patient).
If he wants to seriously be considered, he needs to bring all his numbers up.
Ahmmon Richards - Miami
Ahmmon Richards is a sophomore who could ruin the party for the upperclassmen on this list.
The 2016 Freshman All-American had 49 catches for 934 yards and three touchdowns last season. His 19.1 YPC and 71.8 YPG averages are impressive for a freshman, and with Stacy Coley, last season’s leading receiver, gone to the Minnesota Vikings, Richards is ready to step up and take control of the Miami receiving corps. Look for his RPG to go up from the 3.8 it was last season as he looks to continue his dominance in a Miami uniform.
*NSFW WARNING: LANGUAGE*
Anthony Miller - Memphis
Anthony Miller is the second-highest returning receiver in Division 1 football.
Last season, Miller caught 95 passes for 1,434 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Memphis Tigers. That averages out to 7.3 RPG, 15.1 YPC and 110.3 YPG.
Now, in his redshirt-senior season, Miller is hoping to continue his torrid pace and once again lead the Memphis receivers in every category. While he had a slow start to his season, he quickly caught fire. He caught at least one touchdown in each of the last eight games, and caught 12 of his 14 total touchdowns in that span. He exploded against Western Kentucky in the Boca Raton bowl, catching 11 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns.
*NSFW WARNING: LANGUAGE*
Christian Kirk - Texas A&M
I don’t know how they do it, but TAMU always seems to draw in the big names, despite never winning anything. Christian Kirk is no exception.
In his sophomore season, Kirk pulled in 83 receptions for 928 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged 6.4 RPG, 11.2 YPC and 71.4 YPG This is another player people seem to be high on, but the stats just don’t back him up. Richards, the freshman from Miami, has him beat in every category except receptions, RPG, and touchdowns. Kirk is the fourth-best receiver according to Matt Millen of Bleacher Report. He definitely has the speed and the shiftiness to be a great receiver, but we just haven’t quite seen the production yet.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s to expect the unexpected. (I think that’s a motto of some reality TV show, but I’m not sure which one. NBD.)
It’s not impossible for Kirk to have the best season by far and win the Biletnikoff, but he is going to have to work hard for it.
Richie James - Middle Tennessee State
How can the leading returning receiver in D1 not be on the list? Richie James was an absolute workhorse last season for the Blue Raiders out of Conference USA, and looks to be more of the same in his redshirt-junior season.
Last season, James caught an astounding 105 passes for 1,625 yards (which is a school record) and scored 12 times. His 8.1 RPG was the highest on the list, while his 125.0 YPG blew everyone else out of the water. He averaged 15.5 YPC, which, while not the greatest on the list, is still pretty damn impressive.
He was targeted for 31.2 percent of his teams throws, and completed 61.4 percent of those targets, according to ncaasavant.com. Like I said, workhorse.
He is second in school history in all-time receptions and receiving yards in just 26 career games, according to the school’s Spring media guide. James should claim the title this year, as he only needs 26 catches and 104 yards to pass current titleholder Kendall Newson. James is fourth all-time in career touchdowns with 20. If he can manage to grab four in the dozen or so games this season, he will also claim that record.
James is looking to become the first Biletnikoff winner from a mid-major school since Randy Moss (Marshall) and Troy Edwards (Louisiana Tech) did it back-to-back in 1997 and 1998.
Now for the longest shot I’ve taken so far. Put on your orange-colored glasses and walk with me, will you?
Tyron Johnson - Oklahoma State University
How can you not have at least two guys from Wide Receiver U TM on the preseason watchlist? Especially from an Oklahoma State blog? This is more than homerism though.
Tyron Johnson is a former five-star WR who initially committed to LSU, but transferred after his freshman year because the offense “wasn’t wide-open enough.” Well, it didn’t take long for him to find that wide-open offense in Stillwater, and he transferred just eight days after being granted his release from LSU.
The dude is a freak. I’m disappointed he didn’t get to do much in the Spring Game, but since the black team’s offense couldn’t get anything done, he couldn’t showcase his talents.
But anyone who has Head Coach Mike Gundy “sipping the orange kool-aid” has to be one hell of a player. Just this week, we saw a clip from practice that made the Oklahoma State community’s jaws collectively drop from amazement.
Look at that body control and the breakaway speed...my goodness.
With Rudolph slingin’ the pigskin around this fall, anything is possible, right Kevin Garnett?
(Side note: miss you KG.)
What good is a post about the top 10 without a prediction about who I think will eventually win? Fear not loyal readers, for I will happily oblige.
- Unfortunately, I don’t think either of the two Cowboys will win this year. Oklahoma State is just too loaded at the WR position for anyone to have a Biletnikoff-esque season. It sucks, but I think it’s true. A Heisman season, on the other hand, is not out of the question.
- As much as I like Courtland Sutton and I believe he will be a great receiver at the next level, I just don’t think he will win. Typically, the winner comes from a team with a winning record, which SMU hasn’t had since 2012. The good news? After the past couple seasons, the Mustangs don’t have many other places to go than up.
- I believe this year’s winner will be Richie James. I feel like he is going to get more of the public eye this year, and more people will be able to appreciate his game and his skills. I don’t know. Something about it just feels right.
There you have it. My top 10 names to watch in the Biletnikoff race, and who I believe will win. What do you think? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.