2018 proved to be the final year of college football for fantasy studs Courtland Sutton, James Washington, Calvin Ridley, and Michael Gallup. Unlike running backs, the void of top-tier fantasy receivers is far larger in 2018. This article examines the top-10 next men up at receiver who are sure to make a name for themselves this season.
10. Tee Higgins, Clemson
If you’ve seen any tape on Tee Higgins, you’ll understand why makes this list. First off, he’s 6-foot-4 and high-points passes, giving him the edge for most 50/50 balls. Second off, he ran a 4.56 40-yard dash this offseason, showcasing his ability to stretch the field. Lastly, Deon Cain and Ray Ray McCloud have left for the NFL, making Higgins the No. 1 receiving target for the Tigers in 2018. Higgins has the potential to give Clemson its first top-tier fantasy receiver since the departure of Mike Williams, especially with one of the softest ACC schedules in 2018.
9. Hakeem Butler, Iowa State
An argument could be made for Butler to be higher or lower on this list, but I’m choosing to leave him at No. 9 until after Spring games. Allen Lazard has concluded his career at Iowa State as possibly the best receiver in its history, so needless to say, there is a hole left wide open in the Cyclone offense. Matt Campell’s offense may be based on the running game, but the offense is still run in a way that opens up the passing game. Gunslinger Zeb Noland is likely to be the starting quarterback this season, and a target like Hakeem Butler may just fill the void.
8. Davontavean Martin, Washington State
This one is really simple: Davontavean Martin is the next man up for Washington State. The top receiving option for the Cougars has produced 800+ yards in every season since 2009, and in some cases, they have had two separate receivers put up over 1,000 yards. The quarterback situation for Washington State is somewhat of a question mark, but it likely won’t matter who plays due to the plug-and-play nature of Mike Leach’s offense. Sometimes it is just that easy.
7. Gabriel Davis, UCF
UCF’s 2017 undefeated season was nothing short of remarkable, and the Knights are sure to have a new look in 2018. Scott Frost is obviously gone, but the big loss comes in Tre’Quan Smith. Smith accounted for 1,171 receiving yards in 2017, which was close to 500 yards more than the next closest option. Dedrick Snelson and Jordan Akins are also gone, leaving Davis as the top returning wide receiver for Central Florida. Davis shined in the season opener against FIU, putting up 53 yards and a touchdown, and he had several games with 90+ yards throughout the season. McKenzie Milton is a big name at quarterback in 2018, and Davis will get his full attention as UCF tries to make it to the playoffs this season.
6. Tyler Vaughns, USC
Tyler Vaughns isn’t exactly new to Los Angeles, but the Trojans receiving corps usually operates with one key receiver. In the past seasons, SoCal has featured receivers such as Deontay Burnett, JuJu Smith-Schuester, Marqise Lee, and Robert Woods, all of whom found fantasy relevance in their college tenures. Vaughns will take over for Burnett in 2018 and has potential to have a huge season with a young quarterback. JT Daniels will likely take over for the departing Sam Darnold, and he has potential to make the Trojans offense something special. Vaughns finished 2017 with 57 receptions and 809 yards as the two-option for USC.
5. Preston Williams, Colorado State
Preston Williams is another one of those players that could find themselves higher on this list after the Spring games. Williams didn’t play last season after transferring in from Tennessee in 2016. After signing on at Tennessee as a top-50 prospect in 2015, Williams lost favor in the eyes of Butch Jones and decided to leave the program. Williams has elite size and speed of a 5-star recruit, along with the ability to high-point the ball. He also provides a leadership role that has carried over from his redshirt season. If he can fulfill his true potential in 2018, Williams could easily be No. 1 on this list.
4. Emanuel Hall, Missouri
It may seem hard to believe, but Drew Lock is possibly the best quarterback in the 2019 NFL Draft, and Emanuel Hall is next in line to replace J’Mon Moore in the most productive SEC passing attack. Hall was the third option in the Tigers’ heavy passing attack in 2017 and still went for 817 yards on 33 receptions (24.8 YPR). Even if he doesn’t get the yards that are expected of him this season, there’s no reason to suspect that Hall doesn’t see increased receptions.
3. Devin Butler, Syracuse
Syracuse was undoubtedly one of the fastest — if not the fastest — offenses in the nation last season and had two receivers top 85 receptions and 900 yards. Both Ervin Phillips and Steve Ishmael have graduated, and Devin Butler is next in line to put up ungodly numbers in Dino Babers’ offense. Butler has the benefit of a returning Eric Dungey and a bottom-25 strength of schedule (Power 5 only), which spells a monster season for the Notre Dame transfer. Butler also plays corner, so health may become a factor that holds him back in the long term, but there’s no reason for him to underperform under Dino Babers.
2. Da’Monte Coxie, Memphis
Memphis proved to everyone last season that even though Justin Fuente is gone, they aren’t going away anytime soon. The Tigers lose one of their best players in history in Anthony Miller and brought in three-star receiver Coxie to replace him. Coxie also held offers from Alabama and Florida and was committed to LSU before finally signing with Memphis. He has a great ability to get in and out of breaks and has been likened to a certain Bengals receiver named A.J. Green. Norvell loves the kid, and there’s no reason to think he won’t produce huge numbers in 2018.
1. TJ Vasher, Texas Tech
Come on, you had to know this was coming. Texas Tech has produced fantasy gold at wide receiver under Kliff Kingsbury in Dylan Cantrell, Jonathan Giles, Cameron Batson, and Jakeem Grant, so it only makes sense to put their next heir TJ Vasher at the top. Vasher finished 2017 with 545 yards on 29 receptions with six touchdowns and will take over the Z-Receiver position this season. With Dylan Cantrell graduating and the unexpected draft declaration from KeKe Coutee, Vasher will be the go-to guy for the Red Raiders in 2018.
Curious to see the new kids on the block at other positions? Check out the top 10 new starters for Quarterback and Running Back and tune in next week for Tight Ends. Also, check out the best returning players at Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, and Tight Ends.