1. Marqise Lee, USC
Though USC’s 2012 season was ultimately disappointing, the continued ascent of Marqise Lee into super stardom was a decided bright spot. Lee was a legitimate Heisman contender even after Matt Barkley’s late season injured limited Lee’s targets. He finished the campaign with 118 receptions for 1721 yards on and 14 touchdowns. He was on pace for roughly 130 receptions before Barkley’s shoulder injury.
Lee ensures the new USC quarterback has a relatively smooth transition. He combines rare speed with decent size. At 6-foot-1, he’s not built like a prototypical possession receiver, but is taller than many deep-out threats like him. He runs routes as well as any receiver playing, and has a knack for catching balls in the tiniest of windows.
Lee is also an exceptional kick returner, employing the same speed that makes him so difficult to cover as a wideout to run back 856 yard on 30 opportunities.
2. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Brandin Cooks was outstanding last season, catching 67 passes for 1151 yards and five touchdowns — and that was as Oregon State’s No. 2 option. With Markus Wheaton gone for the NFL, Cooks becomes the Beavers’ go-to guy. Cooks’ is a much different style receiver than Wheaton, operating from the slot and doing his damage along the edges. But he’s a proven, reliable option who can turn seemingly minimal gains into huge chunks of yardage, evident in his over 17 yards per reception. Cooks is one of the smallest receivers in the conference at 5-foot-10 and less than 180 pounds, but he uses his size to his make tacklers miss.
3. Kasen Williams, Washington
A Washington state champion in the high jump and highly touted prospect, Kasen Williams really showed off his athleticism as the Huskies’ leading wideout. He was just under 900 yards and scored six touchdowns, despite quarterback Keith Price’s inconsistency. A rebound season from Price should translate to a stellar campaign from Williams — and Williams should certainly facilitate Price’s progression back to 2011 levels.
4. Shaquelle Evans, UCLA
Shaq Evans recorded some impressive numbers as the leading target for quarterback Brett Hundley a season ago. He finished just shy of 900 yards on 60 receptions. Tight end Joseph Fauria gobbled up many red zone opportunities, which limited Evans’ scoring chances. Still, he managed three touchdowns and should see more in 2013.
5. Josh Huff, Oregon
Quarterback Marcus Mariota spread the ball among multiple receivers, and running back De’Anthony Thomas was the Ducks’ leader in 2012 (it’s worth noting Thomas primarily operated as a wide receiver in 2011). Josh Huff was the leading target among the Ducks’ tight ends though, and could emerge as a dangerous threat a la Lavasier Tuinei.
Huff isn’t the biggest receiver, standing just 5-foot-11. But he does have a rhythm with Mariota, which was well established down the stretch. Huff’s best games were against Stanford, Cal and Oregon State; all of which were in November.
6. Nelson Agholor, USC
Five-star 2012 recruit Nelson Agholor factored into the USC offense immediately en route to Freshman All-American recognition. With Robert Woods gone for the NFL, Agholor is primed to garner a majority of the Woods’ targets. Agholor is a perfect complement to Marqise Lee, even reminiscent of Lee in many ways. He has similar explosiveness off the line, combined with good size.
7. Dominique Williams, Washington State
Mike Leach’s pass-happy air raid offense only functions with quality receivers. Dominique Williams fits that bill. He wasn’t Washington State’s leading receiver, even after embattled Marquess Wilson left the team, but he was the Cougars’ most explosive at over 16 yards per catch. Williams heads into 2013 with momentum, as well. He ended 2012 with his two best games, which were also the Cougars’ two best in conference, catching seven passes against UCLA and eight in the win over Washington.
With more consistency at quarterback — Jeff Tuel’s departure should stop the revolving door behind center — Williams is Wazzu’s most likely breakout star.
8. Kevin Ozier, Arizona State
Kevin Ozier didn’t catch the most passes in 2012 — just 21, in fact. But he scored a touchdown on nearly one-fourth of his grabs, and averaged better than 15 yards per. Ozier is primed for a breakout season with Rashad Ross’ departure freeing more opportunities.
9. Chris Harper, Cal (or Darius Powe)
The arrival of spread offense guru Sonny Dykes means a lot more passing in Berkeley. With star Keenan Allen gone, the most logical option to move into the No. 1 position is Chris Harper. Harper was Cal’s only other receiver with multiple touchdowns, and actually averaged more yards per catch than Allen, but he missed the spring season due to injury.
Darius Powe gained some acclimation to the new offense during spring practices, and was Cal’s leading receiver in the spring game with four catches for 47 yards. Powe is a big target, which makes him a viable option for new quarterback Zach Kline.
10. Nelson Spruce, Colorado
Nelson Spruce had an impressive debut season for the Buffaloes. He caught 44 passes for 446, both team highs, and reached the end zone three times. In new head coach Mike MacIntyre’s free-flowing offensive system, Spruce’s targets should increase substantially.
11. David Richards, Arizona
Standout Austin Hill’s torn ACL leaves a sizable void in the Arizona receiving corps. But like Hill stepped in for departed Juron Criner before him, David Richards has a skill set to similarly assume Criner’s role. Like Hill, Richards is tall — 6-foot-4, to be exact. He also started to come into his own down the stretch of the Wildcats’ 8-5 season.
12. Brett Bartolone, Washington State
As a freshman, Brett Bartolone established himself as a consistent weapon in the Cougar spread offense with 53 receptions, most on the team. Bartolone is small and fast, which provides Washington State with a nice option on the outside to keep defenses spread around the field.
13. Dres Anderson, Utah
Utah’s problems at quarterbacks last season translated in none of the Ute wide receivers really standing out. However, speedy Dres Anderson was reliable with 36 catches and three touchdowns. He had two of his best games against a pair of Utah’s best defending opponents: BYU and UCLA. The arrival of co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson brings intriguing possibilities. The emergence of Anderson as a premiere target is one of them.