Written By: Ryan Lippert|@Lippert42
This week marks the third week of my new series where I will be highlighting the top five returning college football players at each position for the 2020 season. The next position in this series is the deepest group for the upcoming season and the most difficult to narrow down. While the 2020 NFL Draft had an impressive wide receiver class, I believe this year’s class will be even more special as there are several players who didn’t even make my honorable mention list that could easily have a breakout year. With that being said, here are my top five returning wide receivers for the 2020 college football season.
1. Ja’Marr Chase - LSU
As far as this list goes, the top spot was the only clear thing for me. Ja’Marr Chase burst onto the scene in 2019 as he was a key piece of LSU’s National Championship run. He finished the season with 84 receptions for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns (both SEC single-season records). This helped him earn the Biletnikoff Award as well as unanimous First Team All-American and All-SEC honors as a true sophomore. On film, he shows that he is the true complete package at receiver with the speed to pose as a deep threat, tremendous hands, and the ability to pick up yards after the catch in open space. With Chase now being the true focal point of the Tigers’ offense, it will be interesting to see if he can have another year like 2019. If he does, he will easily be the top receiver taken in the 2021 NFL Draft.
2. DeVonta Smith - Alabama
At the second spot, I’m staying in the SEC West with a receiver who had a breakout year as a junior. DeVonta Smith made a name for himself in a crowded Alabama receiver core, finishing the season with 68 receptions for a team-leading 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns. These numbers earned him Second Team All-American and First Team All-SEC honors. He has been the true deep threat for the Crimson Tide with a great ability to beat press coverage off the top of his routes along with impressive hands. With Jerry Jeudy gone to the NFL, Smith should be the true WR1 for Alabama’s offense this season and will have even more opportunities to improve his draft stock.
3. Rashod Bateman - Minnesota
In the third spot on this list, I have arguably the best route runner out of the group. Rashod Bateman is an outside receiver with decent size that has an impressive release off the line of scrimmage, has shown that he can run a variety of routes, has tremendous hands, and has the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. Bateman had a solid sophomore season for the Golden Gophers, finishing with 60 receptions for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was a Biletnikoff Award Finalist and earned Big Ten Receiver of the Year, First Team All-Big Ten, and Third Team All-American honors. With Tanner Morgan returning at quarterback and fellow receiver Tyler Johnson gone to the NFL, Bateman should have a huge 2020 season statistically for the Golden Gophers.
4. Jaylen Waddle - Alabama
Here we have yet another Alabama receiver on this list. Waddle is the best true slot receiver in college football as he has elite speed which makes him dangerous creating separation and after the catch. He thrives off running short routes with tremendous quickness then using his speed and elusiveness to pick up yards after the catch. Waddle also gives Alabama more than just a pass catcher as he can be used on jet sweeps and is a very dangerous returner on special teams. Due to a crowded receiver room, Waddle didn’t get as many targets in 2019, finishing with 33 receptions for 560 yards and six touchdowns. With both Jeudy and Henry Ruggs out of the picture, Waddle will see more targets and should be able to put his name near the top of the discussion in the receiver class for the 2021 NFL Draft.
5. Tylan Wallace - Oklahoma State
To finish off this list, I have a player that I have been a huge fan of the past two seasons. If not for a late season-ending injury, I truly believe that Wallace would’ve left for the 2020 NFL Draft and been selected in the top three rounds. He is a tremendous deep threat with solid speed and route-running skills along with the ability to run away from defenders to pick up yards after the catch. Wallace also has a tremendous catch radius with the ability to make catches in traffic. He finished the 2019 season with 53 receptions for 903 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games. Despite missing the end of the season, he still received Second Team All-Big 12 honors. Also, don’t forget that he was a Biletnikoff Award Finalist as well as First Team All-American and All-Big 12 as a sophomore in 2018. Now that he is healthy, I expect Wallace to have a big 2020 season and rise up draft boards.
Honorable Mention: Sage Surratt (Wake Forest), Rondale Moore (Purdue), Dazz Newsome (North Carolina), Tutu Atwell (Louisville), Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC), Tamorrion Terry (Florida State), Chris Olave (Ohio State)