With four wide receivers taken in the first round of the NFL draft this year, the position is becoming one of the most sought after options in college football behind quarterbacks.
Given that we’ve already tackled the top 10 quarterbacks heading into the 2023 season, it’s time to look at the players they’ll be throwing to this season and what names will fill up the NFL draft boards in 2024.
ESPN’s Todd McShay has four receivers going in the first round in his latest mock draft, including two Ohio State Buckeyes, but who else should be on fans’ radar this season?
From the Horseshoe to Western Kentucky, our writers have you covered on the top receivers as the 2023 season approaches.
Ten writers voted on a ballot with 10 points to the first-place wide receiver down to one point for the 10th-place WR.
2022 stats: 77 receptions, 1,263 receiving yards, 14 receiving touchdowns.
Points: 100 (10 of 10 first-place votes)
Ohio State has become the nation’s premier incubator for elite receivers under Brian Hartline, the former Buckeyes standout wideout who took over the position group in 2018. The Buckeyes have had three first-round NFL draft picks in the past two years and six in the past five drafts. But there’s a belief that Harrison, son of the Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver, will end up as the best in the recent stretch. Six-foot-4, 205-pound Harrison had a breakout 2022 season, especially after Biletnikoff Award favorite Jaxon Smith-Njigba sustained a hamstring injury in the opener and never fully recovered. Harrison had 77 receptions for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns, ranking fourth in team history in receptions and yards and second in touchdowns. He became Ohio State’s first unanimous first-team All-America wide receiver and won the Big Ten’s Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award.
Despite his famous name, Harrison was an ESPN top-100 recruit but was not as decorated as other recent Buckeyes star receivers, such as Julian Fleming, Garrett Wilson and Emeka Egbuka, whose name appears below. Hartline told ESPN last summer that, before Harrison’s big senior year of high school, he actually had to push for Ohio State to pursue him. Harrison had seven 100-yard receiving performances last season, and he played his best in Ohio State’s biggest games, including Penn State (10 receptions, 185 yards), Michigan (7 receptions, 120 yards, 1 touchdown) and Georgia (5 receptions, 106 yards, 2 touchdowns). He’s the overwhelming favorite to win the Biletnikoff Award in 2023 before likely becoming the first non-quarterback selected in the 2024 NFL draft. — Adam Rittenberg
2. Emeka Egbuka, Ohio State
2022 stats: 74 receptions, 1,151 receiving yards, 10 receiving touchdowns.
Egbuka, who missed spring practices with an undisclosed injury, is an intelligent, physical receiver whose versatility makes him the total package. The Buckeyes have used him in the slot, on the outside and in the return game with both kicks and punts, and he has taken handoffs out of the backfield. “If there’s an issue, ‘Where’s Emeka? He’ll help us fix it,'” offensive coordinator/receivers coach Brian Hartline said. “That versatility he plays with allows us to do a lot of things.”
Egbuka was a finalist last year for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation’s most versatile player. A larger role in the passing game was inevitable for him, but the process was accelerated last fall after Jaxon Smith-Njigba was sidelined for most of the season with a leg injury. Egbuka is often the second name mentioned after Harrison, but the plethora of talent in the Buckeyes’ receiving room was a selling point, not a deterrent.
“He chose Ohio State because he knew it’d be hard to start,” Hartline said, “but the people he’s going to play with and compete against to earn that playing time will inevitably shape him.”
Egbuka is entering only his second season as a full-time starter, but with a new starting quarterback, the staff is looking for Egbuka to cement himself as a leader and consistently play mistake-free. — Heather Dinich
2022 stats: 75 receptions, 1,145 receiving yards, 7 receiving touchdowns.
Washington’s offense took off behind new leadership (head coach Kalen DeBoer, coordinator Ryan Grubb) and a transfer quarterback (Michael Penix Jr.) but also because of several key players already in Seattle. Odunze was an ESPN 300 recruit out of Las Vegas prep power Bishop Gorman. After 47 receptions in his first two seasons, he simply needed the right offense and quarterback to facilitate his breakout season. Odunze delivered last fall, leading the Pac-12 in receiving yards (1,145) while earning third-team AP All-America honors. He was the first Washington player since Reggie Williams in 2003 to record three straight 100-yard receiving performances, and then became the first player in team history with a fourth. Odunze, 6-3 and 211 pounds, had five or more receptions in 10 of the 12 games he played.
Despite the production spike, Odunze chose to bypass the NFL draft and return for his fourth season, alongside Penix, fellow star wideout Jalen McMillan and a loaded offense. He told ESPN that he returned primarily for team goals, like a Pac-12 championship and a possible CFP appearance, but also for individual ones like the Biletnikoff and helping Penix contend for the Heisman. Odunze wants to improve in making contested catches and strengthening his lower body. “I’d like to hit at least 1,300 [receiving yards], 80 catches, double-digit touchdowns are what I set my goals at right now,” he said. “If I achieve that, hopefully I can look back and be carrying the awards.” — Rittenberg
2022 stats: 66 receptions, 1,015 receiving yards, 6 receiving touchdowns.
During his second season at Arizona, Singer broke out for 1,105 receiving yards and six touchdowns on just 66 receptions. The player from St. Paul, Minnesota, averaged 16.7 yards per catch and became one of the fulcrums of Arizona’s explosive offense. It was enough to vault Singer into the national spotlight and, more importantly, right into the view of Lincoln Riley and USC. In fact, Singer put on a show during the Wildcats’ matchup against the Trojans in October. USC’s defense had no answer for Singer, who totaled 144 yards and three touchdowns, including a 73-yard score.
So it was no surprise that once Singer entered the transfer portal, USC called. The decision was straightforward and, with Jordan Addison leaving for the NFL, Singer immediately has become one of Caleb Williams’ top targets this spring. USC’s wide receiver room is loaded, but Singer has the opportunity to be the No. 1 option and have a season that tops his breakout in Tucson last year. — Paolo Uggetti
2022 stats: 60 receptions, 760 receiving yards, 9 receiving touchdowns.
Worthy burst onto the scene at Texas with 62 catches for 981 yards and 12 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2021. The four-star recruit, No. 62 overall in the 2021 ESPN 300, was much sought after and signed with Michigan, then asked for a release due to “conditions beyond my control.” The timing worked out right for Steve Sarkisian, who had just arrived at Texas and had recruited Worthy at Alabama.
After that breakout year, the player from Fresno, California, took some heat last year for dropped passes, including two big ones in the bowl loss to Washington. His production dipped slightly to 60 catches for 760 yards and nine touchdowns. But this spring, Sarkisian revealed that Worthy had played the second half of the season with a broken hand — refusing to take himself out of the lineup or have surgery. Back to full strength, Worthy is expected to play a big role in a big season for Texas, which looks like the Big 12 favorite. He’s the star of an improved receiving corps featuring the return of Jordan Whittington, along with Isaiah Neyor, the Wyoming transfer who missed last year with a torn ACL, and the additions of Georgia transfer AD Mitchell and promising freshman Johntay Cook II. Sarkisian has placed an emphasis on improving the Longhorns’ deep passing game, and Worthy could be the beneficiary. — Dave Wilson
2022 stats: 43 receptions, 879 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns.
Last year, Wilson was learning a new system and staff after transferring from Arizona State — and he still led the ACC with 22 catches of at least 20 yards. Recognizing there’s still work to do — and specifically mentioning the goal of winning a national title — Wilson decided to forgo the NFL draft and return to FSU for a second season.
At 6-7, 235 pounds, Wilson is a tall target for Heisman hopeful quarterback Jordan Travis and presents a mismatch for opposing defenses. His ability to stretch the field added some explosiveness to the Seminoles’ offense. There were some noticeable drops, though, that prevented Wilson from cracking the 1,000-yard mark, a milestone that hasn’t been reached at FSU since 2019.
This spring, FSU receivers coach Ron Dugans told reporters Wilson was focused on his route running, being consistent with his catches and finishing.
“He’s done a really good job of coming out here with the mindset every day that no matter what happens on the play, I’ll respond the next play,” Dugans said. “He’s done a good job having a short memory, coming back and being a really good football player for us this spring.” — Dinich
2022 stats: 72 receptions, 1,017 receiving yards, 3 receiving touchdowns.
LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels only got better as the season progressed a year ago, and so did his favorite receiver. Nabers led the Tigers with 72 catches for 1,017 yards. He finished with just three touchdown receptions, but look for that number to increase in 2023. Nabers was the first LSU receiver to rack up 1,000 or more receiving yards since Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson both did it during the 2019 national championship season. The 6-foot, 200-pound player earned Freshman All-SEC honors in 2021 and then blossomed into the Tigers’ go-to receiver as a sophomore.
Nabers is plenty capable of making plays in the deep passing game, but where he’s at his best is getting the ball in space and making things happen after the catch. He’s elusive and is rarely brought down by the first defender. He’s also athletic enough to go up and make contested catches even when the defender has good coverage. Nabers wasn’t able to play his senior year of high school because of a transfer rule, so this will be only his third season of football since he was a junior in high school. He emerged as one of college football’s top breakout receivers a year ago. He has all the tools to be one of the top receivers, period, this coming season. — Chris Low
2022 stats: 79 receptions, 1,098 receiving yards, 9 receiving touchdowns.
Much like Odunze, McMillan was an obvious talent who just needed the right system and coaching staff to bring out his best. Last season, McMillan recorded the fourth-highest receptions total (79) in team history and the seventh-highest receiving yards total (1,098), while becoming only the seventh Washington player to reach the 1,000-yard mark. He provided some of Washington’s most memorable highlights, including a 75-yard touchdown catch on the first play from scrimmage in the Apple Cup against Washington State. His consistency jumped out, as he recorded at least four receptions in every game and six or more in six Pac-12 contests (and the Alamo Bowl win over Texas). McMillan was the No. 3 recruit in Washington’s decorated 2020 class, listed by ESPN at No. 124 overall. At 6-foot-1 and 189 pounds, McMillan isn’t a physical marvel but brings tremendous speed to the perimeter.
He decided to return to Washington for his fourth season before knowing what Penix would decide and only informed a few people, including Grubb and wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard. “He was like, ‘I need to still get better, I need to get stronger, I know I can do more,'” Grubb told ESPN. “That said a lot to me about how much J-Mac had grown. That’s why I love him.” McMillan will form arguably the nation’s most dangerous receiving tandem in 2023. Another 1,000-yard season will put him in the top three on Washington’s career list, and he needs 1,288 yards to move into second place. — Rittenberg
Year: Fifth-year senior
2022 stats: 93 receptions, 1,137 receiving yards, 15 receiving touchdowns.
Franklin jumped from a two-star recruit with no Power 5 offers to UTSA’s leading career receiver. Now, after leading the Roadrunners in receiving for three straight years, one of college football’s best receivers is in the transfer portal, potentially looking to prove himself all over again in his last season in college.
Last year, Franklin was in the top 10 nationally in catches (93) and touchdowns (15) and was 11th with 1,137 receiving yards. He has made Conference USA’s all-conference teams each of the past three years and the 6-1, 185-pound senior has 13 career 100-yard games, coming up big in several of the Roadrunners’ key games, such as his 10-catch, 144-yard, 3-TD day against North Texas in the C-USA title game last year. He also has shown he can handle Power 5 competition, as he racked up 10 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown against Illinois in the 2021 season opener. — Wilson
2022 stats: 101 receptions, 1,293 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns.
Corley has done nothing but impress since arriving in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Corley set a WKU record for freshman receiving yards in 2021, then followed it up this past season by setting the record for sophomore receiving yards. Corley ranked fourth in the nation in receiving yards and seventh in receiving touchdowns, and his 101 catches was the fourth most in college football. Once Corley got the football in his hands, he was one of the most dangerous players in the sport. He ranked first in the nation in yards after catch with 975 and was also first in the nation in missed tackles forced with 40.
His quarterback Austin Reed, initially in the transfer portal, announced Dec. 13 that he would be returning to WKU. Protecting him will be Vincent Murphy and Quantavious Leslie, who both started all 14 games last season and gave up only 14 sacks. With another year under their belts, all of this is setting up for another record-setting year for Corley and an offense that’s going to keep Conference USA defensive coordinators up at night. Corley will be a threat to win the Biletnikoff Award this coming season. — Harry Lyles Jr.
Also receiving votes: Ainias Smith, Texas A&M (10); Mario Williams, USC (10); Troy Franklin, Oregon (10); Jacob Cowing, Arizona (9); Jahmal Banks, Wake Forest (9); Ladd McConkey, Georgia (9); Antwane Wells Jr., South Carolina (2); Dante Cephas, Penn State (2); Dominic Lovett, Georgia (2); Jamari Thrash, Louisville (1).