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The 50 Most Precocious College Receiver Seasons of the Decade: 25-1
image credit to Neon Tommy
image credit to Neon Tommy

pre·co·cious

priˈkōSHəs
adjective
having developed certain abilities or proclivities at an earlier age than usual.

This is part two of a series about the best age-adjusted seasons since 2005. To read more about the methodology or purpose, please read part one.

25)  Kenny Britt, Rutgers, 2007, Age 19.28

Making his second appearance on this list, Britt caught 37.3 percent of Rutgers’ receiving yards in route to a 1200-yard, eight touchdown season. Playing on a team that featured Ray Rice in his final college season, Britt surpassed 80 yards on nine occasions and had two multi-TD games.

24)  Richard Sherman, Stanford, 2006, Age 18.75

Yes, that Richard Sherman. In the final year before Jim Harbaugh came to the rescue, true freshman receiver Richard Sherman led Stanford in receiving yards, more than doubling up his nearest teammate. In the first quarter of his first game straight outta Compton, Sherman caught a TD from Trent Edwards in a thriller against San Jose State. In Stanford’s lone win of that depressing 2006 season, Sherman ripped off six catches for 177 yards and a TD in a 20-3 win over the Washington Huskies. In total, he accounted for 33.8 percent of the receiving yards that season.

23)  Amari Cooper, Alabama, 2012, Age 18.54

As an 18-year-old, Cooper lead national champion Alabama in receiving yards and TDs, accounting for 32.7 percent of the receiving yards. He had five games of at least 100 yards and a TD, the most by a debut-season SEC receiver since 2000. Sliced a different way, Cooper had four multi-TD games, all of which came against BCS-quality competition. By these lofty standards, 2013 was a “down year” for Cooper, but the fact that he accumulated 15 catches for 299 yards and a TD in his final two games has the arrow pointing up for 2014. He’s widely considered to be the top draft-eligible receiver in the country.

22)  Tajae Sharpe, UMass, 2013, Age 19.02

In 2012, Sharpe accomplished one of the most amazing feats in the history of young awesomeness when he caught a pass in all 11 games in which he played during his debut season. I suppose I should qualify that by saying that Sharpe wasn’t old enough to vote in the 2012 election, turning 18 only after the Minutemen had played their final game. Fast forward to 2013 and Sharpe accounted for more than 36 percent of the passing offense on a lousy UMass team. Looking ahead to 2014, the lanky third-year receiver will open his season with four straight BCS conference foes (Boston College, Colorado, Vanderbilt, Penn State) which will be a good barometer for gauging how strong a prospect he is.

21)  Austin Franklin, New Mexico State, 2012, Age 20.07

Playing for a 1-11 WAC team is an easy way to get overlooked, but Franklin gets the nod for hauling in 43.6 percent of the Aggie’s receiving yards en route to a 1200-yard, nine-TD season. He scored at least one TD in seven of the first eight games and tallied nine games with at least 80 receiving yards. A fraction undersized, Franklin went undrafted in 2014 and is vying for a spot on the Rams roster.

20)  Derrick Smith, Louisiana-Lafayette, 2007, Age 20.95

An undersized receiver on a 3-9 Sun Belt team, Smith captured 50.0 percent of the receiving yards in eight games played of his junior season. Playing in a run-heavy offense, Smith went over 70 yard receiving in six of eight games while also contributing about 50 yards per game on special teams. An ankle injury forced him to miss 10 of the last 16 games of his college career.

19)  Mike Thomas, Arizona, 2005, Age 18.58

During his true freshman campaign the 5’8”, 187 lb. receiver led the Wildcast in receiving with 771 yards and five TDs. Playing in 11 games, Thomas went over 85 yards and a TD on four occasions. The highlight of the year on a lowly 3-8 team was the shocking 52-14 win the Wildcats pulled over then No. 7 UCLA in November, where Thomas went over 120 yards from scrimmage and contributed both rushing and receiving TDs. In total, he accounted for 33.4 percent of Arizona’s receiving yards.

18)  Allen Robinson, Penn State, 2013, Age 20.35

In his final college season Robinson accounted for 46 percent of Penn State’s receiving yards on his way to a 1400-yard, six-TD season. That yardage total is the fourth-best single season in Big Ten history. Moreover, he averaged 123 yards per game in conference play, which is the most since 2005 in the Big Ten. Despite the fact that he went in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, I maintain that Robinson is a first-round talent.

17)  Sammy Watkins, Clemson, 2011, Age 18.55

Watkins is only the fourth player in college football history to be a consensus All-American as a true freshman; the others were Herschel Walker, Marshall Faulk, and Adrian Peterson. In that magical 2011 season, Watkins accounted for 33.6 percent Clemson’s receiving yards while leading Clemson to its first BCS game. Contributing in the pass, run and return games, Watkins scored TDs in nine of Clemson’s 13 games, averaging more than 175 all-purpose yard per game for the year. For his career, Watkins ranks 8th in ACC history in receiving TDs and third in receiving yards.

16)  Keenan Allen, California, 2011, Age 19.68

Probably the man most responsible for the RotoViz age crusade, Allen was phenomenal as a 19-year-old sophomore, accounting for 41.9 percent of Cal’s receiving yards while catching passes from his half-brother Zach Maynard. Sharing targets with then-senior Marvin Jones, Allen surpassed 75 receiving yards in 11 of 13 games on his way to a 1300-yard, six-TD season. Although his draft stock fell due to a 2012 injury, Allen’s NFL debut was brilliant, as he became only the 12th man since the merger to achieve 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie.

15)  Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt, 2012, Age 20.46

Making his THIRD appearance on this list, Matthews’ 2012 was remarkable, as he amassed 47.7 percent of Vandy’s receiving yards. He surpassed 110 yards in seven different games and caught TDs in eight different games. The highlight of the year was his 9-153-1 performance in a thrilling road upset win over Ole Miss. The 2012 campaign ranks as the eighth-highest single season yardage total in conference history. For his career, Matthews ranks first on the SEC receiving yards list with 600+ more yards than second place.

14)  T.Y. Hilton, Florida International, 2008, Age 19.13

As you’ve seen elsewhere on this list, sometimes these small conference receivers post big seasons and they never amount to nothing. In T.Y. Hilton’s case, his 2008 debut foreshadowed his NFL potential. Appearing at receiver in 11 games, Hilton went over 80 yards in seven of them, accounting for 38.7 percent of FIU’s receiving yards that season. He went over 1,000 yards receiving and 1,000 yards in the return game and would do so again in 2011, before being selected 92nd overall by the Colts in the 2012 draft.

13)  Jack Tomlinson, Ball State, 2010, Age 18.8

Tomlinson was the top dog in a lousy Ball State passing offense, catching 484 yards and six TDs on his way to accounting for 37 percent of the receiving yards. Later in his career, he would transfer to Saginaw Valley State, home of the one and only Jeff Janis, but never appeared in any games for SVSU.

12)  Kenny Britt, Rutgers, 2006, Age 18.28

Despite seeing limited action as a freshman, Britt came on strong down the stretch, surpassing 80 yards in Rutgers’ final four regular season games, including a multi-TD game against Syracuse. This was the start of a brilliant career for Britt, who would go on to play 32 games for Rutgers, averaging more than 90 yards and half a TD per game.

11)  Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State, 2008, Age 20.15

In his last full season at Oklahoma State, Dez Bryant massacred the Big 12 to the tune of 1,480 yards and 19 TDs, accounting for 47 percent of State’s receiving yards. For his efforts, he was a Biletnikoff finalist (lost to Michael Crabtree) and a consensus All-American. Foreshadowing his NFL dominance, Bryant recorded SIX multi-TD games that season en route to the 12th-highest single-season TD total in FBS history. For his career, he caught 29 TDs in 28 games. Oh, and then there’s this.

Over the final 17 games of his #OKstate career, @DezBryant caught 25 of his team’s 33 TD passes. Is that good?

— Jon Moore (@TheCFX) July 23, 2014

10)  Jarett Dillard, Rice, 2005, Age 20.03

Also appearing at No. 49 on this list, Dillard was great in 2005 too. As a 20-year-old freshman, he accounted for 46.1 percent of Rice’s receiving yards. Playing on terrible team that was the second-most run-heavy team in America, Dillard notched 524 yards and five TDs; nobody else on his team had more than 210 receiving yards or one TD. For his career he ranks 13 in NCAA history for most receiving yards and first for most receiving TDs. His 60 career TDs are 10 more than second place on the all-time list.

9)  Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech, 2008, Age 21.02

Playing in one of the nation’s most run-heavy offenses, Thomas accounted for 53.1 percent of the receiving yards on his way to 627 yards and three TDs for the season. There aren’t a lot of sexy stats about this season, but stay tuned to read about his 2009 season, which was when he became Demaryius Thomas.

8)  Stefon Diggs, Maryland, 2012, Age 19.09

On a forgettable 4-8 Maryland team, Diggs was brilliant in his debut season. Playing in 11 games, Diggs surpassed 80 yards in four of them, on his way to 848 yards and six TDs. Not only did he account for 39.6 percent of the receiving yards, but he also contributed more than 900 yards and two TDs through the return game. Looking ahead to the 2014 college football season, Diggs is one of the premier receivers to watch.

7)  Eric Page, Toledo, 2009, Age 18.27

Making his debut for the Rockets, Page contributed more than 100 yards per game through the air and on the ground. Playing in 12 games, Page surpassed 110 receiving yards on six occasions en route to accounting for 34.7 percent of the team’s receiving yards on the year. 2009 was the start of a brilliant three-year career that would see Page accumulate the fourth-most catches in NCAA history; everyone above him played four seasons.

6)  Corey Davis, Western Michigan, 2013, Age 18.97

Younger brother to No. 27 on the list (Titus Davis), Corey owns the highest-ranked season among players still in college and has been a beast from the word go. Playing in his first career game against eventual Rose Bowl champ Michigan State, Davis went for 96 yards and a TD, then backed it up with 112 yards and a TD two weeks later against Northwestern. On a really bad Western Michigan team, Davis went over 90 yards receiving in seven of 10 games (technically he played in 11 games, but left the Iowa contest in the first quarter with a concussion) en route to capturing 39.7 percent of WMU’s receiving yards for the season. Unlike other small conference guys on this list who have flamed out, I think Davis has a chance to stick thanks to his 6’2”, 200 lb.-plus frame. If you’re in a Devy league, this guy is a savvy addition to the bottom of your roster.

5)  Marquess Wilson, Washington State, 2010, Age 18.29

Making his collegiate debut at age 17, Wilson went for 104 yards and a TD in his first career game against Oklahoma State. In total, that debut season saw him surpass 85 yards on six occasions, five of which came against BCS conference competition. Overall, he accounted for 35.1 percent of Wazzu’s passing yards that season. 2010 was the start of a brilliant career for Wilson, who averaged nearly 100 yards per game for his 33 game college career. Despite playing less than three full seasons, he ranks 11th in Pac-12 history for most career receiving yards. He’s one of the top Phenoms in my database.

4)  Eric Page, Toledo, 2010, Age 19.27

A consensus All American in 2010, Page accounted for 42.9 percent of Toledo’s receiving yards while also leading the team in kick returning and punt returning. Not only did he haul in eight receiving TDs, he also threw three TDs and scored three in the return game.  For his career, he accounted for more than 6,000 receiving, rush, and return yards and 31 TDs. The diminutive Page is now on the Buccaneers roster and was a return man in 2013.

3)  Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt, 2006, Age 19.78

Bennett was a one-man wrecking crew for the 2006 ‘Dores as he caught 47.4 percent of the receiving yards and more than tripled the production of the number two receiver. Despite Vanderbilt’s offensive futility, Bennett posted four games with at least nine catches and 150 receiving yards. The highlight of that season was Bennett’s 89 yards and a TD in an upset win at Georgia. Drafted in 2008, Bennett showed promise in his second year, going over 700 yards receiving, but that was the high water mark. Every year since he has seen a decline in his receiving yards per game.

2)  Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech, 2009, Age 22.02

Despite being the oldest player season on this list, Demaryius ranks so highly thanks to the otherworldly 65.1 percent of passing yards he accounted for in his final college season. Blame that high market share on the Georgia Tech option offense if you want, but I’m thoroughly impressed with his raw numbers too; he posted eight games with 75-plus yards and a TD, all of them coming against BCS conference competition. Despite missing the Combine with a foot injury, Thomas still went in the first round to Denver. After two years of overcoming injuries and Tim Tebow, Thomas has grown into arguably the best receiver in the game, going over 1400 yards and 10 TDs in each of the last two seasons.

1)  Sidney Rice, South Carolina, 2005, Age 19.33

Rice took the college football world by storm in 2005, accounting for 48.9 percent of the Gamecocks’ receiving yards en route to 1143 yards and 13 TDs in 11 games. He caught TDs in nine different games, including seven of eight SEC contests. In his final seven games, all against BCS conference foes, he averaged a stat line of 7.5 catches, 120 yards, 1.3 TDs. Despite playing only two collegiate seasons, Rice ranks 20th on the all-time SEC receiving TD leader board. A second-round draft pick, his pro career was slowed thanks to being paired with Tarvarris Jackson and Gus Frerotte for his first two seasons. In 2009, Brett Favre came to town and vaulted Rice to a top eight WR season in 2009, going for  83-1312-8. Unfortunately, he’s missed 25 games in the four seasons since that breakthrough.

What does it all mean?

While the importance of age continues to be a heavily debated topic, I think it’s hard to look at this list and say that “peak age-adjusted season” doesn’t have some connection to NFL success. Yes, other factors like draft position and size are important too, but the age factor isn’t going away any time soon.  What excites me most about this exercise is the ability to score current college players as they progress through their career and compare them against historical receivers.  Through this exciting new paradigm, you can expect RotoViz to continue to push the envelope with prospect evaluation and the early identification of premier talents.


Jon Moore is a contributor at RotoViz and a coach at RotoAcademy.  Continue this conversation with him on Twitter or Google+.

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