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August 8, 2007

Backup wide receivers provide an air boost


The intent of this story was to salute the backup receivers who have made reliable catches while playing in the shadows of better-known wideouts.

Accordingly, our list of the top 10 backup receivers includes a reserve who made a critical play in Nebraska's come-from-behind victory over Texas A&M last year. It features a guy from South Florida who has delivered against top-notch competition. And it also mentions a receiver from North Carolina who caught 11 passes against Rutgers last season.

Our attempts to reward backups with solid track records kept us from including any of the talented but unproven reserve receivers from Florida. Southern California's uncertain depth chart made it too dificult to determine which of the Trojans' highly touted receivers would fail to win a starting job.

But this list still features a little more star power than we expected.

A couple of schools made interesting decisions with their preseason depth charts that left their best-known receivers fighting for their jobs. Most readers probably never expected the top two guys on this list to be mentioned as backup receivers.

In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if those wideouts play their way off this list by the start of the season.

Rivals.com Top 10 Backup Wide Receivers
1. Greg Carr, Jr., Florida State:
Carr finds himself in an unusual position at this point. He is a preseason first-team all-conference selection who's a second-stringer on his team. Florida State opened the preseason with Carr behind junior Richard Goodman on the depth chart. The move appears to be an attempt to motivate Carr, a tremendous red-zone weapon who still must improve his consistency. Considering that Carr has caught 21 touchdown passes the last two seasons and Goodman has never started a game in his career, we wouldn't be surprised if Carr is back with the first team by the time the Seminoles open the season at Clemson. Until Carr rejoins the starting lineup, we can't think of a better backup receiver in the nation.
2. Tony Burks, Sr., Mississippi State:
Burks is another guy who shouldn't really be on this list, but we weren't the ones who made him a third-stringer at the end of spring practice. Burks caught 35 passes for 850 yards and five touchdowns last season. His average of 24.3 yards per catch was the highest of anyone who ranked among the top 82 players in receiving yards per game. Those sound like the numbers of an all-SEC candidate, not of a backup for one of the league's weakest teams. Burks has performed so well in preseason practices that we're assuming he will return to the starting lineup by the season opener. But until Burks moves up the depth chart, we'll feel comfortable keeping him near the top of this list.
3. Darnell Jenkins, Sr., Miami, or Sam Shields, So., Miami:
Assuming Miami doesn't open the season in a three-receiver set with one guy in the slot, one of these talented players will have to open each game on the sideline. Jenkins was leading the Hurricanes in receiving last year before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the third game of the season. That opened up more playing time for Shields, who collected 37 receptions for 501 yards and four touchdowns. Indianapolis Colts star Reggie Wayne is the only Miami player ever to catch more passes as a true freshman. Jenkins now has returned to action and is competing with Shields for the right to start alongside Lance Leggett.
4. Amarri Jackson, Sr., South Florida:
Jackson made a national name for himself two years ago when he threw a touchdown pass and ran for two scores in a 45-14 whipping of Louisville. While Jackson hasn't necessarily lived up to the promise he showed in that game he ranks below Marcus Edwards and Taurus Johnson on the depth chart he continues to possess versatility and big-play ability. Jackson caught 26 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns last season and also threw for a pair of completions.
5. Richard Sherman, So., Stanford:
Sherman is another sophomore receiver who made the most of an opportunity when a teammate got hurt last year. With injuries sidelining Evan Moore and Mark Bradford, Sherman emerged as Stanford's leading receiver with 34 catches for 581 yards. He averaged 101.5 receiving yards per contest over his last four games of the 2005 season. Now that Moore and Bradford have returned, Sherman finds himself having to prove himself all over again. The 6-foot-7 Moore utilized his height to compile 616 receiving yards in 2004 before injuries bothered him the last two seasons. Bradford had averaged 36 catches per game each of his first three seasons before hurting his foot last year. Bradford and Moore are both seniors who enter the season as the most likely starters at receiver, though Sherman still has plenty of time to beat one of them out for a starting job.
6. Brooks Foster, Jr., North Carolina:
Although he started only three games last year, Foster still caught 38 passes for 486 yards. That included an 11-catch effort in a season-opening loss to Rutgers. Foster caught at least one pass in every game last year and closed the season against Duke by catching four passes for 71 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown. North Carolina already had Brandon Tate and Hakeem Nicks ahead of him on the depth chart before signing five-star receiver Dwight Jones and four-star prospects Greg Little and Rashad Mason. Foster's track record indicates he will make the most of whatever opportunities he gets.
7. Justin Harper, Sr., Virginia Tech or Josh Morgan, Sr., Virginia Tech:
Harper and Morgan currently are listed as co-starters at split end, which means one of them won't be starting by the time the Hokies open the season. Morgan caught 33 passes for 448 yards and four touchdowns last year, while Harper provided 21 catches for 324 yards and one touchdown. The 6-foot-4 Harper offers the Hokies a bigger target than the 6-1 Morgan, but Morgan's speed allows him to turn short completions into long gains. The Hokies only have room in the starting lineup for one of these guys because Eddie Royal already has locked up one spot.
8. Jordan Shipley, Jr., Texas:
Shipley's presence on this list underscores the depth of Texas' receiving corps. Limas Sweed, Quan Cosby and Billy Pittman all are listed as returning starters because the Longhorns frequently line up in three-receiver sets, but even the fourth-best wideout on Texas' roster merited a spot in our rankings. A variety of injuries kept Shipley from playing at all in 2004 or 2005, but he bounced back last season and caught 16 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns. He also was versatile enough to carry the ball seven times and serve as the Longhorns' main holder on field goals and extra-point attempts.
9. Todd Peterson, Jr., Nebraska:
Peterson doesn't possess the big-play ability of Nebraska starters Maurice Purify and Terrence Nunn, but he makes up for it with his reliability. The former walk-on caught 19 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns last year while showing an ability to step up in big games. Peterson had seven receptions for 82 yards against Texas A&M, including a 22-yard reception on a fourth-and-3 play that set up the Cornhuskers' winning touchdown. He caught two passes for 72 yards in the Big 12 championship game loss to Oklahoma.
10. Nikita Stover, Jr., Alabama:
Playing behind DJ Hall and Keith Brown has limited Stover's opportunities, but the junior-college transfer still proved last year he can deliver in big situations. Stover's only two touchdowns of the season came against Louisiana State and Auburn, two of the Tide's toughest foes. Stover caught five passes for 101 yards and scored a 52-yard touchdown against Auburn. Although he finished the season with only 12 catches for 192 yards, Stover could see more playing time this year under a new coaching staff that figures to utilize more three-receiver sets. First, however, Stover must impress the staff enough to make sure teammates Mike McCoy and Matt Caddell don't take some of his playing time.
Rivals five: Slot specialists
Putting together a list of the top backup receivers in college football proved difficult because a team's No. 3 receiver often starts the majority of the games. Many programs now open games in formations that include a slot receiver as well as the two wideouts. The following list includes five notable players who will probably open the season in the starting lineup as slot receivers.
1. Robert Jordan, Sr., California:
Jordan has caught at least one pass in each of the last 30 games he has played, which ranks as the fourth-longest streak in the nation. He earned honorable mention all-Pac-10 honors last year after catching 46 passes for 579 yards and four touchdowns. Jordan has started 26 games and has collected 109 receptions over the last three years. He teams up with Biletnikoff Award candidate DeSean Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins to give California arguably the nation's top receiving corps.
2. Jordan Norwood, Jr., Penn State:
Norwood made eight starts last year and finished the season with 45 catches for 472 yards and two touchdowns. The son of Penn State safeties coach Brian Norwood has caught 77 passes in his two-year career. The return of Norwood, Deon Butler and Derrick Williams gives Penn State three receivers who caught at least 40 passes last year.
3. Jacoby Ford, So., Clemson
Ford showed his big-play ability last year by scoring on punt and kickoff returns of at least 90 yards. Now this special-teams dynamo should get a chance to make more of an impact on offense. The Tigers intend to use him as a slot receiver alongside Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham. Ford ran the 60-meter dash in 6.52 seconds to win the ACC indoor title and later finished third in that event at the NCAA championships. That speed should allow him to stretch defenses all season.
4. Juaquin Iglesias, Jr., Oklahoma:
Iglesias showed his star potential last year by catching six passes for 120 yards in the Fiesta Bowl after all-Big 12 receiver Malcolm Kelly injured his knee early in the game. Iglesias finished the season with 41 catches for 514 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Iglesias will operate out of the slot at the start of games this season while Kelly and Manuel Johnson line up wide.
5. Danny Oquendo, Jr., Maryland:
This valuable punt returner also delivered on offense last year by catching 34 passes for 396 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He scored the only touchdown of the game in Maryland's 13-12 victory over Clemson. He added a team-high 65 receiving yards along with a score in a 38-16 loss to Boston College. Oquendo will remain in the slot this year while Darrius Heyward-Bey and Isaiah Williams line up wide.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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