SEC WR Rankings 2023: Antwane Wells Jr. and Zakhari Franklin Top the List Ahead of the 2023 Season

Antwane Wells Jr. highlights a group of proven receivers, high-ceiling prospects, and veterans in our 2023 SEC WR Rankings.

It’s simple really, the 2023 SEC WR rankings are a star-studded group. Who tops the charts and which newcomers should you be aware of this fall? Hint: He’s new and his name is Zakhari Franklin.

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2023 SEC WR Rankings

Unlike our previous rankings (QB and RB), the 2023 SEC WR rankings are shedding light on more individuals than units. While the quarterback rankings in each conference outlined the strength of a clear-cut starter, they were still based on the strength of the QB room in some situations, albeit by a small amount.

The 2023 SEC WR rankings are truly a list of the best wide receivers we project to see on the field based on what they’ve shown in their collegiate careers to date. Some players are expected to break out, but this list aims to highlight the known commodities at this stage of the offseason.

Wide receiver play comprises far more than statistics, and the more a receiver has shown over his time on the field, the higher they’ll rank here.

1) Zakhari Franklin, Ole Miss

A latecomer to the SEC party, it’s always meant more for Zakhari Franklin. During a multi-year stint at UTSA, Franklin’s prowess on the football field has been unmatched.

MORE: SEC QB Rankings, 2023

One of the best college football receivers of all time is set to star on Saturdays for one final season of college, transferring to Ole Miss as an immediate impact player. Franklin has a top speed that cannot be caught and a lurking presence on the outside.

He’ll nab contested catches in any situation and at every level of the field. But his game isn’t predicated on contested-catch win percentage. Rather, he uses elite separation skills and a full route tree to make defenders look silly.

No matter which of the quarterbacks are throwing his way in Oxford, Franklin is in consideration as one of the top returning receivers in all of college football.

2) Antwane Wells Jr., South Carolina

The definition of proving it on the biggest stage, Antwane Wells Jr. transferred to South Carolina with lofty expectations. After hauling in three different JMU single-season records in 2021 as a redshirt freshman, Wells put the country on notice with his 928 yards on 68 receptions in 2022 at South Carolina.

For his career, Wells has 2,781 receiving yards and a whopping 27 touchdowns, proving to be too much for any one defense to manage.

He has a terrific release package at the line of scrimmage and can play through contact at every level. Wells can outjump defenders at the ball or lose them all together along his routes.

He is the full package as a pass catcher for Spencer Rattler and the Gamecocks.

3) Malik Nabers, LSU

Exploding onto the scene in 2022, Malik Nabers hauled in 72 receptions for 1,017 yards last fall. Nabers proved to be too much for defenses to contain as the season went on, dominating with three 100-yard games over the final four outings of the season.

He’s versatile, lining up and winning both inside and outside as a receiver, but that doesn’t sum up Nabers’ overall ability. He is a constant threat for a first down as he excels in the intermediate range of the field, using his speed to create separation from man defenders or his route savviness to find open spots against zone.

There is a lot to like about Nabers’ game, as he’s also a true after-the-catch savant with the ball in his hands.

4) Malik Benson, Alabama

We told you last time around, remember the name: Malik Benson. The top overall JUCO recruit this past cycle, Benson could’ve played at any school in the country, choosing Alabama over a final list of Georgia, LSU, Oregon, and Tennessee.

So why all the fuss over a JUCO receiver? It’s simple really: Benson is nearly untouchable as a prospect with an incredibly high ceiling. He took multiple receptions the distance with his mix of speed, agility, strength, and balance as he set the Hutchinson CC record for career receiving yards at 2,152.

Benson has terrific routes, routinely losing defenders at the line of scrimmage with his release or just simply outmuscling or outrunning them along the way. He’ll not shy away from contact and doesn’t let the first defender bring him down in the open field.

He’s ridiculously strong at the catch point and after, making for one terrific weapon for Alabama to deploy this fall. The only question will be just who exactly is around to throw him the ball.

Benson slides in our rankings not as an indictment in his talent but because of the uncertainty around the signal-caller position in Tuscaloosa.

5) Ainias Smith, Texas A&M

A true threat with the ball in his hands, Ainias Smith was sorely missed in 2022. After making a major impact in the first four games, Smith suffered a season-ending injury that paused his streak of 27 straight games with a reception.

Smith is as shifty as they come and has game-changing speed in the open field. He’ll work his way open at each level of the field but dominates in the short area with his after-the-catch prowess.

Spruning the NFL for one more season, Smith is back to cement his place as one of the top pass catchers in the SEC.

6) Rara Thomas, Georgia

With a lot to like about his overall game, Rara Thomas has transferred from Mississippi State to Georgia as a likely one-and-done player with eyes on the 2024 NFL Draft. Until then, however, the Bulldogs can rely on the ridiculous catch radius that he offers as they hone in on their new starting quarterback this fall.

Thomas offers a massive frame with highlight-reel-worthy hands. He’ll outmuscle defenders all along the field, at any level and on any route, dominating them with his strength and fast hands. If he doesn’t run by defenders on his routes, he’ll leave would-be tacklers in the dust behind him after the catch.

7) Jyaire Shorter, Auburn

Look up the term “body control” in your football dictionary. If the name Jyaire Shorter doesn’t come up in the results, you’ve got to update your dictionary.

Shorter is the definition of a talented receiver at the catch point, contorting his body and timing his angles to near perfection every time. He also has a full bag of skills along his routes, release, and footwork. Shorter is one of the best college football has to offer.

He makes his SEC debut after transferring in from North Texas in the spring transfer window.

8) Jermaine Burton, Alabama

With sure hands and underrated athleticism, Jermaine Burton came on strong in his first season at Alabama. Burton is a versatile weapon that can be deployed from any position as a receiver, proving to be just as well-rounded pre-snap as he is post-snap.

He’s shown to have a full route tree and loses no speed through his breaks. Burton shines over the middle of the field and has no fear at the catch point. He can separate well and is as reliable as they come with his hands.

9) Will Sheppard, Vanderbilt

Underrated no more, Will Sheppard is a household name after hauling in nine touchdowns and 60 catches for 776 yards last season. This came after he flashed at times in 2021 with 43 receptions, 577 yards, and four scores.

Sheppard is a big-time threat as the focal point of the Commodores’ offense. He can line up anywhere, on any side, and still wins. What makes him a perfect fit inside the Vanderbilt offense is the fact that he can get open quickly, becoming a reliable option when protection breaks down as it did often for the ‘Dores in 2022.

10) Evan Stewart, Texas A&M

The sky is the limit for the highly-touted Evan Stewart. In his freshman season, Stewart did not disappoint, hauling in 53 receptions for 649 yards in just 10 games. His average of 64.9 yards per game ranked eighth in the SEC among receivers, and he flashed highlight-reel ability on multiple occasions.

Stewart has an effortless fluidity about his game, both on his routes and with the ball in his hands. He’ll take routine receptions and inch out every possible yard while making the seemingly-impossible receptions look like child’s play.

Stewart’s ascension should continue in 2023 — don’t be surprised if he’s much higher on this list by the end of the season.

11) Luther Burden III, Missouri

All Missouri had to do was given Luther Burden III the ball in 2022, and he opened eyes to his talent and why he was such a highly-recruited player coming out of high school. Burden turned 45 receptions into just 375 yards but had to work ridiculously hard to even get those figures.

He was routinely targeted in the backfield on pop passes, a manufactured way to get the ball into his hands and on the move to utilize his talents. That led to a ridiculous amount of yards after the catch, as he averaged 8.3 yards per reception, all of which felt like they came after he caught the ball.

Still, his athleticism shined, and he was able to play a major role in Missouri’s offense during the majority of the season. With more reps and perhaps some consistent quarterback play in 2023, the ceiling could be lifted for Burden.

12) Dane Key, Kentucky

In what became an eye-opening freshman season, Dane Key proved to be far more than just the big-framed receiver many thought he was in high school. Key displays a great sense of awareness all over the field, finding soft spots in coverage for easy receptions.

MORE: 2023 SEC Weekly Football Schedule

When it does come down to it, however, Key is a physical presence who offers much more than a 50% chance on 50/50 contested catch balls. He’ll use great body control to maintain possession through contact with defenders and the ground and has an expanding tree of routes to work from.

13) Dominic Lovett, Georgia

First Iteration Ranking: 20th

Another transplant for Georgia, Dominic Lovett transfers in from Missouri. Heavily downfield for the Tigers in 2022, Lovett’s prowess headlined most of the aerial success for Missouri a season ago. He can get open quickly but really works his magic downfield against slower receivers.

Yet, Lovett is perhaps at his best when he can get the ball in space and work after the catch. If the Dawgs can figure out his best usage package, Lovett has a chance to expand on his 800-plus yards from a year ago.

He jumps in our rankings after our first iteration after a dominant spring performance. Georgia’s top two receivers just so happen to be in-conference transfers, playing well off incumbent Ladd McConkey.

14) Bru McCoy, Tennessee

What a wild career and journey it has been for Bru McCoy. First, it was the recruitment, then it was the stop at Texas, the much-maligned stint at USC, before finally emerging as the talent we saw on tape in high school with Tennessee in 2022.

McCoy has every bit of an elite receiver in his game and finally showcased it consistently last fall. He dominated Florida, LSU, and Missouri en route to career numbers in every metric and highlight-reel catches across the board.

If he stays consistent with his game in 2023, McCoy could rise up these rankings potentially faster than anyone else.

15) Tayvion Robinson, Kentucky

One of the country’s top receivers over the past four seasons, Tayvion Robinson has excelled all over the field when given opportunities at every pass. Robinson starred at Virginia Tech for three seasons before transferring to Kentucky in 2022.

He quickly adjusted to life as a Wildcat and hauled in over 100 yards in two of his first four games. Robinson is far more than a gadget-type player from the slot, stacking defenders with speed off the line of scrimmage and losing them in the open field.

Robinson returns as one of the most productive receivers in all of college football in 2023.

16) Moose Muhammad III, Texas A&M

Flashing against New Mexico back in 2021, Moose Muhammad III turned heads in 2022. Muhammad turned just 38 receptions into 610 yards and has now caught four touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.

With his 6’1″, 205-pound frame, Muhammad actually plays bigger than his size would indicate. He’ll out-body defenders at the catch point and proved to be a valuable weapon past the sticks for first downs in 2022.

Improving the quarterback play will only take Muhammad and the Texas A&M trio on our SEC WR Rankings further in 2023.

17) Tyrone Broden, Arkansas

A massive man at 6’7″, 210 pounds, Tyrone Broden transfers in to Arkansas after two great seasons in four years at Bowling Green. Once injected into the starting lineup for the Falcons, Broden rewarded MAC viewers with his sure hands, massive catch radius, and contested-catch dominance.

Broden moves his frame well for such a big man and is obviously one of the top red-zone threats entering this fall. He can win at every level but is best deployed past the sticks.

18) Ja’Corey Brooks, Alabama

A potentially special player, Ja’Corey Brooks’ selfless play helped him carve a big role in the Crimson Tide’s offense in 2022. He finished the season as the Tide’s top touchdown receiver with eight scores, turning 39 receptions into 674 yards.

Brooks is a sound returner as well as he’s a threat with the ball in his hands just as he is without it. Consistency is the only key to seeing Brooks’ ascension in these rankings.

19) Barion Brown, Kentucky

Playing much bigger than his frame would indicate, Barion Brown put on a show at times in 2022. The rising sophomore receiver was electric after the catch, leaving multiple tacklers in his wake on seemingly every reception.

Brown turned it on down the stretch, most notably against Georgia, but did disappear at times in 2022. Improving the down-to-down consistency on a weekly basis will only see his usage surge, and then we’ll really get to see what the highly-touted speedster is really about.

20) Tre Harris, Ole Miss

With three years of dominating Conference USA defenders behind him, Tre Harris has transferred to Ole Miss, where he’ll be relied upon heavily and early in 2023. Harris plays a terrific all-around game from the outside, winning one-on-one battles with ease and physically defeating defenders at the line of scrimmage.

He’ll release well from the line and lose defenders on a dime. If that skill set he’s shown during his time at Louisiana Tech stays the course against SEC defensive backs, Ole Miss might have gotten a huge steal from the portal.

Honorable Mention SEC WRs

  • Andrew Armstrong, Arkansas
  • Isaiah Bond, Alabama
  • Ahmarean Brown, South Carolina
  • Mookie Cooper, Missouri
  • Eddie Lewis, South Carolina
  • Lideatrick Griffin, Mississippi State
  • Shane Hooks, Auburn
  • Ramel Keyton, Tennessee
  • Jalen Knox, Ole Miss
  • Kyren Lacy, LSU
  • Nick Mardner, Auburn
  • Ladd McConkey, Georgia
  • Koy Moore, Auburn
  • Ricky Pearsall, Florida
  • Kobe Prentice, Alabama
  • Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Georgia
  • Brian Thomas Jr., LSU
  • Dont’e Thornton, Tennessee
  • Jaden Walley, Mississippi State
  • Jordan Watkins, Ole Miss
  • Theo Wease Jr., Missouri
  • Squirrel White, Tennessee