There are some extremely potent passing attacks in the American Athletic Conference and that means there are some extremely talented wide receivers in the league. There certainly were last year, but the pool of elite pass-catchers has thinned some with Zay Jones, Noel Thomas and Keevan Lucas all off to the next stage of their respective careers.
In there place, receivers like Memphis’ Anthony Miller and Houston’s Linell Bonner are set to take over after already being among that top group a year ago. With neither Houston or Memphis on the schedule for the Cincinnati Bearcats, Miller and Bonner won’t strike fear into the Luke Fickell’s defense’s heart. The rest of the guys on this list will.
Courtland Sutton, SMU
Jones may have had a ridiculous number of receptions, but there really wasn’t a receiver who was more dangerous than Sutton last season. While Jones got his work done thanks to volume, slick route-running and excellent hands, Sutton had all of that plus big play ability. He averaged 16.39 yards per reception and was one of three wideouts to catch at least 10 touchdown passes. He finished with the third-most receiving yards in the conference (1,246) while ranking seventh in receptions (76).
At 6’4” and 216 pounds, Sutton can out-muscle most secondary defenders for balls in the air but he also has the speed to run past would-be tacklers and pass blockers. The former basketball player was named a preseason second-team All-American and is considered by some to be headed for an extremely high pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. This season, he’ll look to improve on his five 100-yard efforts, which included an absolutely mammoth performance against USF when he tallied 252 yards and two scores on 13 catches.
Jimmy Williams, East Carolina
Seriously, Williams is in for a big jump in production now that he steps into the shoes of primary receiver for the Pirates’ attack. Jones had 158 receptions last season, which means there are plenty of extra targets to go around. Quay Johnson will catch some of those as well, but Williams should be the biggest beneficiary. He had fewer receptions than Johnson last season (58-45), but he racked up 818 yards (18.2 YPC) and scored eight touchdowns, tying with Jones for the team lead. It was a career-year for the 5’11”, 198-pound speedster, who played 12 games for the first time during his collegiate tenure.
UC got to see first hand just how dangerous Williams can be, as he ripped off 129 yards and two scores on seven receptions in a loss to the Bearcats. That was one of three games in which he had at least 120 yards. His season-best of 179 came on only three catches against Virginia Tech.
Ventell Bryant, Temple
UCF’s Tre’Quan Smith deserves some love as well. In fact, he might end up having the better season because of a more steady quarterback situation for the Knights. However, based on pure skill, Bryant gets the slight edge. Bryant has gathered 93 passes and 1,474 yards in his first two seasons with the Owls, pumping those numbers up with 54 receptions for 895 yards a year ago. While he didn’t score much (four touchdowns), he ranked eighth in the conference in receiving yards and second (to Williams) in yards per catch (16.57). He had three games of at least 100 yards, including an 11-catch, 151-yard effort in the Military Bowl against Wake Forest. Without Phillip Walker under center, Bryant may not be able to match his production, but he is still a player that needs to be covered at all times.