We’ve previously looked at the Top 10 Rushing Offenses and the Top 10 Defenses in the modern era of SEC Football, since expansion and divisional alignment in 1992. Today we examine the best wide receiver threats over the past fifteen years.
This list is different than the previous two in that it combines not only individual performers, but groups of WRs and tight ends as well. There are several factors involved: single season performances, big play capability and overall talent, career numbers, and the WR’s overall impact on the offense, including who the quarterback was. But it’s not weighted specifically to any one factor – for example, several of the career leaders in the SEC reception and yardage categories are simply guys who were four year starters and were simply very good over a long period of time, where this list emphasizes the great. Lists like these are always subjective; if I could name it better, I’d go with something like “these are the guys and groups I’d be most afraid of.”
First, an honorable mention from each school:
- Alabama: DJ Hall (2004-2007)
- Arkansas: Marcus Monk (2004-2007)
- Auburn: Frank Sanders (1991-1994)
- Florida: Travis McGriff (1995-1998)
- Georgia: Terrence Edwards (1999-2002)
- Kentucky: Craig Yeast (1995-1998)
- LSU: Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis & Early Doucet (2006)
- Mississippi: Chris Collins (2000-2003)
- Mississippi State: Eric Moulds (1992-1995)
- South Carolina: Sidney Rice (2005-2006)
- Tennessee: Cory Fleming & Craig Faulkner (1993)
- Vanderbilt: Dan Stricker (1999-2002)
Top 10 SEC WRs – 1992-2007
10. Robert Meachem, Tennessee (2004-2006)
It took him two seasons to fully get going between injuries and inconsistencies, but in 2006, Meachem was a sparkplug from the very beginning, and finished with the best individual single season in Tennessee history and the fifth best in SEC history in receiving yards.
In the season opener against top 10 Cal, Meachem turned out 182 yards and two touchdowns to announce his presence. He would continue to be the definitive go-to guy in David Cutcliffe’s Vol offense, finishing the year with 71 catches for 1,298 yards.
His performance against LSU’s vaunted secondary pushes him onto this list: with the Vols playing without injured starter Erik Ainge at quarterback, Meachem picked up a young Jonathan Crompton by hauling in five passes for 121 yards and two in-traffic touchdown catches. A first round draft pick the following April.
9. Anthony Lucas, Arkansas (1995-1999)
Lucas finishes as the all-time receiving yardage leader at Arkansas and is 8th all-time on the SEC list, but it’s his performance at the tail end of his career that cements him. He’s one of only a dozen guys in SEC history to turn in a season with an average of over 100 yards receiving per game, going just over that mark in Arkansas’ almost-magical 1998 season. Those numbers helped push him to another impressive feat: Lucas is the all-time SEC leader in yards per catch, at a whopping 21.0.
We’ve previously documented his performance against the ’98 Vols, almost beating Tennessee single-handedly with 172 yards and 2 TDs, one of his many dominant performances in that season. What’s more, he was the focal point of the Razorback offense in ’98 and ’99, and carried the Hogs on his back.
8. Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt (2005-2007)
What’s truly astounding about Bennett is that, when you look at him and his numbers, you assume he must’ve played with Jay Cutler his entire career. But when you realize that Cutler was only around for Bennett’s freshman year, and you remember he’s playing for Vanderbilt, you begin to realize how great these numbers really are.
Bennett, in only three years, is the SEC’s career leader in receptions (236), is in the top 10 in career receiving yards (2,852), and would completely own most of the SEC’s receiving marks had he chosen to stay in school for his senior season. And again – he played for Vanderbilt. Not much else for the defense to worry about, and he still dominated. He pulled in 13 or more catches in a game five different times in his career.
His 2006 season was his individual best, with 82 catches for 1,146 yards. Bennett is a two-time All-SEC and one-time All-America selection, and all three of reception totals for each of his three seasons rank in the top 20 in SEC history.
7. Jabar Gaffney & Reche Caldwell, Florida (2001)
Two All-SEC selections who were Rex Grossman’s most dangerous targets and, when combined with Earnest Graham in the backfield, made up one of the most formidable offenses in modern SEC history.
Gaffney led the way in ’01 with 1,191 yards, which still ranks 9th in SEC history for a single season. And while we’re focusing on the 2001 combo season here with Caldwell, it’s certainly worth mentioning that Gaffney is the only player in SEC history to finish his career with a yards per game average over 100 (103.3 to be exact).
Alongside Graham, the presence of Caldwell meant defenses couldn’t focus solely on Gaffney. Caldwell matched the 1,000+ yards feat, hauling in 1,059 yards and 10 touchdowns. Both guys went over 100 yards in the December showdown with Tennessee to determine the SEC East title. Especially in this offense, this combination was especially terrifying to try and stop.
6. Donte’ Stalworth, Kelley Washington & Jason Witten, Tennessee (2001)
Doing them one better are the ’01 Vols, who not only beat the Gators that season, but had an added dimension to their passing attack in the form of tight end Jason Witten.
While Stallworth sat out the first month and a half of the season following a broken hand in the opener, Kelley Washington assumed the mantle and immediately made the nation take notice. At home against LSU in late September, KDub went off for 11 catches and 256 yards, which is still the single greatest performance in Tennessee history, and his 23.3 yards per catch average on the night is still the best in SEC history.
Just as Stallworth returned against Alabama, Jason Witten was also finding his stride. On that particular Third Saturday in October, the trio combined for 16 catches for 264 yards and 2 TDs.
Witten would close out the year with a 6 catch, 125 yard performance against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl to finish the year with 34 catches for 418 yards. Stallworth had his signature performance at Kentucky, with 8 catches for 169 yards and 3 TDs. When all three were playing together, the Vols were simply impossible to guard.
5. Joey Kent & Marcus Nash, Tennessee (1995-1996)
Otherwise known as “the guys who played with Peyton Manning”, Kent and Nash – with some help from Peyton – rewrote the Volunteer record book in their two years together, while Nash would continue on after Kent’s graduation to pull in 76 catches in 1997.
In their careers, Kent finished with 183 catches while Nash had 177, both finishing in the Top 20 all-time in SEC history, which is remarkable being that they played together. When Kent graduated, he was second all-time in SEC history in career receiving yards with 2,814.
It’s one thing to be a great quarterback…but it’s another thing to have receivers of this caliber to help you forward; during their two years starting together, the Vols were 21-3.
4. Peerless Price, Tennessee (1998)
What Kent, Nash, Stallworth, Washington and Witten couldn’t deliver together, Peerless Price brought home alone. Not that Price wasn’t helped by defense, running and the presence of Cedrick Wilson…but in the Vols’ 1998 National Championship season, nobody made more big plays than Peerless.
Playing with Tee Martin, you won’t find many of his numbers in the record books, but Price’s presence on a championship team ranks him high on this list. After putting up solid numbers as the third option in 1996 and the second option in 1997 with Peyton Manning, with a new quarterback and the departure of Marcus Nash, the show belonged to Price in 1998.
In the opener at Syracuse, Price pulled in 6 balls for 87 yards and 2 TDs. He would later add 100+ yard performances against lesser opponents like South Carolina, UAB and Vanderbilt, but it was his knack for the big play that cemented his legend in Knoxville.
Against Florida, Price made a spectacular adjustment and catch between two defenders for a score. Against Alabama, he returned a kickoff 100 yards to turn a 14-11 game into a 21-11 lead. Against Arkansas, he pulled in the TD pass at the end of the first half that put the Vols back in the game. In the SEC Championship, his 6 catch, 97 yard performance was good for MVP. Without him, the outcome in all of those games is in serious doubt.
And then saving the best for last, against the No. 1 defense in the nation, Price took all of Peter Warrick’s hype by turning in a 199 yard performance, highlighted by the 79 yard bomb that essentially won the game in the 4th quarter. The best big play receiver in modern Tennessee history.
3. Reidel Anthony, Jacquez Green & Ike Hilliard, Florida (1996)
The National Champion Gator lineup, and I can still hear their names being called in my head on the receiving end of numerous touchdowns.
Anthony caught 18 of them in 1996, the best single season in SEC history. He added 1,293 yards along the way, good for 6th best in SEC history. All three rank in the Top 20 in SEC history for career touchdown receptions.
And they all contributed. Hilliard did the most with the most on the line, hauling in 7 catches for 150 yards in the title game against Florida State, three for touchdowns. Green and Anthony added another 129 yards between them.
Their combined numbers on the year – Anthony 72 catches for 1,293 yards and 18 TDs, Hilliard with 47 catches for 900 yards and 10 TDs, and Green with 33 catches for 626 yards and 9 TDs – may never be seen again.
2. David Palmer, Alabama (1991-1993)
Of all these great names, the only one to make it to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist is “The Deuce”.
What is more commonplace today was the exception in the early 90s, when Palmer was occasionally lining up under center, constantly taking the ball on reverses, and still getting open downfield to make big catches. On a team known for rushing and defense, Palmer was the spark that made Alabama’s offense a champion. That year, he provided a spark at 6.3 yards per carry on rushes and another 12.4 yards per catch.
In 1993, he bumped his numbers up with 61 catches for 1,000 yards, with another 278 yards rushing (6.6 per carry) and almost 700 yards in the return game to finish the season with just shy of 2,000 total yards. He was what guys like Percy Harvin aspire to be, except he did it about ten years before it was cool.
1. Josh Reed, LSU (2000-2001)
The single most dominant wide receiver in modern SEC history.
Reed was misplaced as a tailback his freshman season in 1999, and turned pro after his junior year in 2001. So keep in mind that all of these numbers come from just two years of work.
First of all, he has the single greatest game in SEC history in both receptions (19) and yards (293) against Alabama in 2001. I watched that game, and it’s not like Alabama didn’t know where the ball was going most of the time. They simply couldn’t do anything about it.
Reed caught 94 passes (and won an SEC Championship) in 2001, which ranks as the second best total in SEC history. That was good for 1,740 yards, which is the best single season in SEC history by almost 400 yards. The year before, he caught 65 passes for 1,127 yards, which ranks in the Top 15 in SEC history.
Those two seasons, combined with some small change from 1999, give him 3,001 yards for his career. Terrence Edwards, a four year pass catcher at Georgia, would barely eclipse that number the following season to become the SEC’s all-time yardage leader, but there’s really no comparison between what Edwards did in four years and Reed did in two.
He’s the best (and in some cases, the only) example on this list of a guy who you had to circle on the depth chart going into the game, who you knew the ball was going to…and then who turned in sick performances anyway. In that 2001 season, he caught 94 passes while still averaging an all-time SEC record of 18.5 yards per catch over the course of the year.
Palmer may have had the hype, Peerless the biggest plays, Earl Bennett the most with the least around him, and other groups of guys who were terrific together or played with the best quarterbacks. But Josh Reed is the definitive total package, who took all of the above and rewrote the SEC record books in only two years. He is the best wide receiver in the modern era of SEC football.