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August 10, 2005

Pac-10 loaded with top receivers again

Pick the top five receivers in the Pac-10. Pick the top five out of all ten other Division I-A conferences combined. Given the choice, some coaches would take the first group.

The Pac-10's reputation for producing high-powered passing offenses and great wideouts may grow by the end of the upcoming season. Three of the Rivals.com's top 10 receivers in the nation are from the conference, including two of the top three.

The two top tight ends in Rivals.com's top 5 tight ends are also from the Pac-10.

RECEIVERS

1. Derek Hagan (Arizona State)

It's hard to believe that this 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior was blamed for dropping too many passes two years ago. He spent last season catching everything within reach and emerged as one of the best and most consistent offensive weapons in the nation.

A stat machine, the veteran has gone over 100 receiving yards in 14 of his last 20 games and will leave Arizona State as the school's career leader in receptions and receiving yards. But, questions remain about his ability to make an impact in big games after failing to make any big plays against USC or California in 2004.

The loss of Andrew Walters won't make changing that any easier, but talented replacement Sam Keller will give Hagan a chance to put up big numbers again and be a first-round draft pick.

2004 stats: 83 catches, 1,248 yards (15.0 yards per catch), 10 touchdowns.

2. Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech)

No receiver made more spectacular grabs in 2004. The highly-touted 6-foot-4, 225-pound highlight machine spent his first college season out leaping veteran corners for deep balls and making clutch catches.

Johnson was voted the ACC Rookie of the Year and first-team All-ACC in 2004. With some more consistency from quarterback Reggie Ball and the return of healthy running back P.J. Daniels, the Jackets receiver could land on the All-American team.

2004 stats: 48 catches, 837 yards (17.4 yards per catch), seven touchdowns.

3. Dwayne Jarrett (USC)

This physically imposing sophomore has the job every receiver wants - being Matt Leinart's favorite target.

The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder was supposed to spend most of his freshman season learning from talented veterans. But, Mike Williams was ruled ineligible days before the start of last season and Steve Smith broke a leg in the Trojans' fifth game. Jarrett was given his first start in the following game against Arizona State and put on a show, catching three touchdowns and racking up 139 receiving yards. He went over 100 receiving yards in three of the Trojans' four last games, including the blowout over Oklahoma in the national title game.

That sensational stretch created comparisons to Williams and Leinart said Jarrett might be even more athletic than his former receiver. Add that to the long list of reasons why Pac-10 secondaries should fear facing him.

2004 stats: 55 catches, 849 yards (15.4 per catch), 13 touchdowns.

4. Santonio Holmes (Ohio State)

With Holmes on his offense, not even the conservative Jim Tressel could stick to the running game last season.

The speedy 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior led a group of playmakers that gave the Buckeyes a feared passing attack in 2004. He excels at getting open downfield and gets a big chunk of his yards after the catch and already holds the record for most receiving yardage in a single game for a Buckeye at Ohio Stadium with 224 against Marshall last season.

With Ted Ginn lining up on the other side of the field, the Buckeyes will have the most dangerous receiving and kick return tandem in the nation.

2004 stats: 55 catches, 769 yards (17.2 yards per catch), seven touchdowns.

5. Steve Breaston (Michigan)

The biggest fear for Big Ten defenses might be a healthy Breaston.

After battling a handful of injuries for most of the regular season in 2004, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound junior showed what kind of damage he can do when given time to heal. He racked up a record 315 all-purpose yards against Texas in the Rose Bowl.

Known more as a kick returner and for his versatility, Breason will continue to line up all over the field. But with the loss of Braylon Edwards, he will get a chance to make more of a bigger impact catching the ball.

2004 stats: 34 catches, 291 yards (8.6 yards per catch), three touchdowns. 24.6 yards per kick return, 12.2 yards per punt return.

6. Jarrett Hicks (Texas Tech)

Look past the system and the numbers. This Red Raider is for real.

With a 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame that is loaded with athleticism, Hicks would be a big weapon in just about any offense. In Mike Leach's spread attack, he is one of the Big 12's biggest stars. A tough one-on-one matchup, he can outleap just about all defensive backs and caught at least five passes in 10 games last season.

Tech will be breaking in a new quarterback this fall but that should have little affect on Hicks posting another 1,000-yard season and putting himself in position to leave early for the NFL.

2004 stats: 76 catches, 1,177 yards (15.5 yards per catch), 13 touchdowns.

7. Courtney Taylor (Auburn)

Facing a third-and-long late in the game? Need someone to go over the middle and make a crucial catch in traffic? This extremely athletic 6-foot-2, 204-pound junior is your man.

The fearless Taylor may not have the gaudy stats of his peers, but receiver in the SEC makes bigger plays.
34 of his 43 catches went for first downs last season. In the SEC championship game, he made six catches for 111 yards.

Taylor will start getting the attention he deserves and be counted on much more with the loss of first-round picks Ronnie Brown, Jason Campbell and Carnell Williams.

2004 stats: 43 catches, 737 yards (17.1 yards a catch), six touchdowns.

8. Mike Hass (Oregon State)

Who led the Pac-10 in receiving yardage last season? Not anyone from USC or California. That title belonged to Hass, a former walk-on and arguably the nation's most underrated player.

The best individual performance of last season may have belonged to the 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior who made 12 catches for a Pac-10 record 293 yards and three touchdowns against Boise State.

2004 stats: 86 catches, 1,379 yards (18.4 yards per catch), 14 touchdowns.

9. Greg Lee (Pittsburgh)

Pitt's new coach Dave Wannstedt and his staff bring a run-first philosophy to the Big East program but they still shouldn't have problems recruiting receivers. Lee is just the latest in a long line of Panther wideouts to put some impressive stats.

Unlike Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Lee didn't arrive at Pitt with a lot of hype or expectations. But, after catching 10 balls as a true freshman he emerged as one of the nation's top deep threats in 2004. With the return of strong-armed quarterback Tyler Palko, he could give the Panthers their third Biletnikoff award winner in the last six years.

2004 stats: 68 catches, 1,297 yards (19.1 yards per catch), 10 touchdowns.

10. Todd Watkins (BYU)

Cornerbacks and safeties will be taking turns giving this 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior a little extra cushion on his routes. The ones who didn't last season were burned badly.

Arguably the nation's top deep threat, the junior college transfer had four touchdown catches of 68 yards or longer in 2004. The return of quarterback John Beck will give him a chance to increase that number.

2004 stats: 52 catches, 1,042 yards (20.0 yards per catch), six touchdowns.

TIGHT ENDS

1. Marcedes Lewis (UCLA)

Several NFL coaches wish their tight ends were built like Lewis. The muscular 6-foot-6, 256-pound senior towers over opposing linebackers and even some defensive ends.

Lewis uses that frame and remarkable athleticism to be the most well-rounded tight end in college football. A dominating blocker, he is also a major receiving target, especially in the red zone.

2004 stats: 68 catches, 830 yards (12.2 yards per catch), 11 touchdowns.

2. Zach Miller (Arizona State)

No true freshman tight end may have ever been better than Miller was last season.

Ranked the No. 1 tight end from the class of 2004 according to Rivals.com, the 6-foot-4, 253-pounder immediately showed why, breaking the school's freshman record for receptions and the record for most receptions by a tight end - which was held by NFL star Todd Heap.

Miller underwent shoulder surgery in the offseason but is expected to be completely healthy by the start of the season and be one of the main weapons on one of the nation's top offenses.

2004 stats: 56 catches, 552 yards (9.9 yards per catch), six touchdowns.

3. Leonard Pope (Georgia)

Looking for a reason why Georgia's new quarterback D.J. Shockley will succeed? How about a tight end so big that it is nearly impossible to pass the ball out of his reach.

This 6-foot-7, 250-pound junior fits that description and will greatly help Shockley make the adjustment into a starting role. He looked superb in the spring and with a large upside his NFL stock should continue to rise.

2004 stats: 25 catches, 482 yards (19.3 yards per catch), six touchdowns.

4. Greg Olsen (Miami)

Nobody seems to produce more productive or better NFL tight ends than the Hurricanes and this highly touted recruit out of Wayne, N.J., is the latest to continue that tradition.

Several tight ends put up comparable and even much better stats in 2004, but Olsen was splitting time with third-round draft choice Kevin Everett and missed three games with a broken wrist. The 6-foot-5, 252-pound sophomore is healthy now and will play the bulk of the snaps. Look for him to quickly develop into one of new quarterback Kyle Wright's favorite targets.

2004 stats: 16 catches, 275 yards (17.2 yards per catch), one touchdown.

5. David Thomas (Texas)

In most offenses, Thomas would be a star but with the talented and run-oriented Longhorns the veteran has usually been the third or fourth option.

Still, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior has managed to steadily improve each season and he will be counted on more than ever with the loss of Cedric Benson and opposing defenses determined to make Vince Young pass the ball.

2004 stats: 25 catches, 430 yards (17.2 yards per catch), five touchdowns.



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