The Southeastern Conference is once again a conversation starter at the NFL Combine. With 74 participants, the SEC leads all power five conference for most athletes attending.
Much talent returns to the conference this fall, and some of it stems from the wide receiver position. LSU will have both Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre, while Texas A&M welcomes Speedy Noil, Christian Kirk and Josh Reynolds back to the fold.
Calvin Ridley had a strong freshman campaign for Alabama in 2015, totaling 89 catches for 1,045 yards and seven scores.
Listed below is a breakdown of the top five wide outs returning to the SEC, via yours truly of Touchdown Alabama Magazine.
5. Antonio Callaway, Sophomore- Florida Gators
Rising sophomore Antonio Callaway will be looked upon to guide Florida’s receiving unit for the departed Demarcus Robinson. He finished second on the team in receptions (35), first in receiving yards (678) and first in touchdowns with four last season.
Callaway was electrifying on special teams, recording 30 punt returns for 435 yards and two touchdowns. He gave Florida a 7-2 lead in its meeting with Alabama in the 2015 SEC Championship Game on an 85-yard punt return touchdown in the second quarter.
An effective quarterback is in high demand for Florida as it enters year two under head coach Jim McElwain. It intends on moving rising junior Treon Harris to wide receiver, making it more of a need to locate a signal-caller for Callaway.
4. Damore’ea Stringfellow, Sophomore- Ole Miss Rebels
The departures of Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core to the NFL Draft will call for rising junior Damore’ea Stringfellow to step up. He developed a connection with quarterback Chad Kelly last season, bringing in 503 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 36 receptions in 12 games.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder sat out the 2014 season due to the NCAA transfer rule.
He was solid during his freshman season in the Pac-12 with the Washington Huskies, collecting 259 yards and a touchdown on 20 catches. Mississippi also returns tight end Evan Engram and wide out Markell Pack this fall.
3. Christian Kirk, Sophomore- Texas A&M Aggies
Kirk exploded onto the scene last year, catching passes from both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray. His compact frame (5-foot-11, 200 pounds), strong hands and playmaking abilities guided him to being Texas A&M’s primary target. He led the team with 80 receptions for 1,009 yards and seven touchdowns.
He was more so of a hassle for defenses on special teams.
Kirk totaled 341 punt return yards, 385 kick return yards and two touchdowns. One of his scores came against Alabama in 2015 on a 79-yard punt return touchdown. He ignited a fire in the crowd at Kyle Field; however, the Aggies would lose the game 41-23.
Texas A&M lost both Allen and Murray to transfers. It brings in former Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight, an individual who had a strong performance against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. A solid connection from Knight to Kirk could be prolific if both are on the same page.
2. Malachi Dupre, Junior- LSU Tigers
Dupre improved upon his numbers from 2014, snatching 43 passes for 698 yards and six touchdowns. He was LSU’s leading receiver last season, yet he could be even better with a talented quarterback. Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris both have issues, but Harris seems to have the better upside.
It will up to Tigers’ head coach Les Miles to make a decision, nonetheless, Dupre’s size (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) should be enough to make any signal-caller want to get him the ball.
He is a capable big play wide out with hands and breakaway speed. Dupre stands at 57 receptions for 1,016 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career.
1. Calvin Ridley, Sophomore- Alabama Crimson Tide
Former Alabama standout Amari Cooper will always have a place in the hearts of Crimson Tide fans, but it was a nice surprise watching Calvin Ridley in 2015. He strung together some catches in a few games, before having a breakout performance against Georgia. Ridley had four 100-yard receiving outings last season, with one coming against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
He helped Jacob Coker become a solid quarterback and will certain help out the new man under center this fall. Ridley led Alabama in receiving with 89 catches for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns. He earned Freshman All-American honors from Sporting News and made the SEC’s All-Freshman team.