Top 6 SEC Candidates for the Biletnikoff Award
Top 6 SEC Candidates for the Biletnikoff Award
Every year since 1994, the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation has presented the Fred Biletnikoff Award to the nation’s most outstanding receiver. Several NFL greats have won this prestigious trophy in its short history, including Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Michael Crabtree.
Although it’s produced a number of next-level receivers during this time period, SEC schools have combined to win this award just once. That happened in 2001 when LSU Tigers WR Josh Reed took home the honors over Wisconsin's Lee Evans and Florida's Jabar Gaffney.
So what chance does the nation’s strongest conference have to break this 12-year drought in 2013?
That’s tough to say. After all, the competition for this award is so fierce that future Pro Bowlers AJ Green, Julio Jones and Jason Witten didn’t even make the final cut despite having impressive seasons. Considering that the conference has produced just one Biletnikoff finalist (South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery in 2010) since its impressive string of national championships began in 2006, it would be easy to assume that this negative trend would continue this season.
With that said, I expect the SEC to win the award this season. Sure, most of the elite teams in the conference have made it to the top by featuring a bruising ground game. However, with five teams finishing in the top 20 in rushing defense last season, it only makes sense for offensive coordinators to start throwing the ball more often. That will present an opportunity for some of the nation’s most elite athletes to show what they can do.
While there are plenty of SEC players that are capable of winning the award this season, here are the top six contenders.
No. 6 - Odell Beckham, Jr.
Odell Beckham, Jr. might be one of the most underrated receivers in the country. Despite playing in a run-heavy offense for the LSU Tigers, he has quietly recorded 40+ catches in each of his first two seasons in Baton Rouge.
Although he’s had just two 100-yard games in his career, Beckham will have a monster year in 2013. With new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron calling the plays, the Bayou Bengals will take more shots down the field this season. That means more opportunities for Beckham, who led the Tigers with 16.5 yards per catch last year.
No. 5 - Malcolm Mitchell
One of the most athletic players in the league, Malcolm Mitchell started at both cornerback and wide receiver for the Georgia Bulldogs last fall. Despite splitting time between these two positions, he finished the season as the Dawgs second-best receiver, catching 40 balls for 572 yards and four touchdowns.
With the departure of top target Tavarres King, UGA will be counting on Mitchell to step up big this fall. Since he’ll be playing only offense in 2013, look for him to double last year’s numbers.
No. 4 - Donte Moncrief
One of the top deep threats in the conference, Donte Moncrief ended the season with a bang. Playing against the star-studded defenses of the LSU Tigers and Mississippi State Bulldogs, Moncrief was at his best, catching 13 passes for 334 yards and five touchdowns.
While those numbers are impressive enough by themselves, it’s worth noting that Moncrief compiled them against two secondaries that featured four future NFL draft picks.
Expect for Moncrief to play a huge role in the Ole Miss Rebel offense this season. As long as Bo Wallace returns at full strength, Moncrief should easily eclipse 1,000 yards receiving in 2013 after coming up just short a year ago with 979.
No. 3 - Mike Evans
Aside from teammate Johnny Manziel, no other redshirt freshman had the type of impact that Mike Evans did. Despite playing alongside veterans Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu, Evans led the Texas A&M Aggies in receiving last year, grabbing 82 passes for 1,105 yards and five touchdowns.
He will be even better this season. With opposing defenses making it a point to contain Manziel, Evans will end up with more one-on-one matchups. Even if—and it’s a big if—opposing defensive backs can cover Evans, his 6’ 5”, 218 pound frame will give him the advantage on any “jump balls” (see above).
How impressive was Evans this spring? My distinguished colleague Joshua Cook wrote that Evans could be the best receiver in college football history by the time his career ends.
No. 2 - Jordan Matthews
Let’s be honest, Jordan Matthews should have been a Biletnikoff Award finalist last year.
Sure, some receivers had more yardage than he did, but Matthews managed to catch 94 passes for 1,323 yards despite playing against some of the top defenses in the country. And unlike some of the other finalists for the award, Matthews was at his best in big games, posting three outstanding performances against SEC East heavyweights Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
Even with a new quarterback this fall, don’t expect to see any drop off in production. While Matthews is capable of beating people deep, he’s also adept at taking a short gain and turning it into a big play.
No. 1 - Amari Cooper
After a so-so first half of the 2012 campaign, Amari Cooper was the most dangerous receiver in the conference by the end of the season. Over the final eight games, Cooper was practically unstoppable, catching 38 balls for 737 yards and eight touchdowns.
That eight-game span is a solid season for most wideouts.
Now that Cooper is clearly the go-to guy for the Alabama Crimson Tide, expect him to receive plenty of touches again this season. Provided that offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier continues to take shots down the field like he did a year ago, Cooper should have the numbers to win the Biletnikoff Award in 2013.