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Anthony Chiusano | | August 17, 2016

College football: 6 top deep threats returning in 2016

  USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster led the Trojans in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2015.

Last year’s NFL Draft was jam-packed with receiver talent in first round picks Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell.

One common denominator between this gifted stock of receivers was their ability to win on the deep ball, whether it stemmed from superior size, speed or physicality.

And while college football fans will miss watching these receivers on Saturdays, college football still boasts a bevy of must-watch deep threats in 2016. Here’s the best of the bunch:

Jehu Chesson – Michigan

Chesson has been involved in the Wolverines’ offense for the past three years but really took off in 2015 as a first-year regular starter.

At 6-foot-3, 203 pounds, the graduate student has the size to go up against defensive backs, but it’s his speed that stands above all else. The part-time special teamer – he has one career kickoff return touchdown – has a knack for getting a step or two ahead of the defender to give his quarterback easy looks downfield.

And once he has his hands on the ball, he’s dangerous in the open field. Just ask Indiana, who gave up 10 receptions, 207 yards and four touchdowns to Chesson in last year’s matchup.

Corey Davis – Western Michigan

Davis could make a living catching screens and short passes with his ability to break tackles and find the open hole. But leave the 6-foot-2 receiver in 1-on-1 coverage downfield and he will burn you just as much.

Davis is one of the MAC’s top performers and possesses above-average route running, sneaky speed and elite ball-tracking ability. With all this talent, in addition to experience, Davis ranks first in the nation in active receiving yards (3,785).

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Had Davis entered last year’s draft, he would’ve ranked up there with the other first round picks. Now back for his senior season, he should continue to improve his stock.

Gabe Marks – Washington State

Wazzu Football: Marks fights for score
Marks is smaller than the average “deep threat,” standing at six feet and 176 pounds, but he has elite athleticism, can create separation and can go over the top or come back for the ball.

The rising senior finished with 104 catches, 1,192 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2015 after redshirting the previous season.

Marks won’t burn defenders with speed or outmuscle them with his height or frame, but he has improved each season and uses his route running and adjustment skills to excel.

In coach Mike Leach’s high-octane passing system, Marks should get plenty more targets and deep balls thrown his way in 2016.

James Washington – Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State has a recent history of successful deep threat wideouts starting with Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon. Washington is the newest installment.

As a sophomore, Washington tallied 1,087 receiving yards and made big plays seem routine. He led the Cowboys with 17 plays of over 20 yards and led the nation with four 70-plus yard catches in 2015.

Some of these plays stemmed from his ability to break tackles on screens and short patterns. But many of his yards came on deep runs down the sideline or up the middle of the field where he was steps ahead of the defensive back.

Washington made difficult plays look easy and even added a couple of one-handed grabs to his highlight reel in 2015.

Calvin Ridley – Alabama

Alabama Football: Ridley 81-yd TD
Ridley had a tough act to follow after Amari Cooper’s great success on the outside for the Crimson Tide in 2014, but the rising sophomore didn’t disappoint last year when he broke Cooper’s freshman yards record.

Five of Cooper’s seven touchdowns went for over 30 yards, including an 81-yard score against Arkansas that Ridley caught 40 yards down the field and ran the rest of the way untouched.

With a new quarterback in the fold and the departure of Heisman running back Derrick Henry to the NFL, Ridley will be the unquestioned focal point in Alabama’s 2016 offense. With tight end O.J. Howard as a reliable second option in the passing game, Ridley should continue to see bountiful targets downfield.

JuJu Smith-Schuster – USC

USC Football: Smith-Schuster 54-yard TD
Smith-Schuster has started 26 of 27 games over his first two years and enters his junior season as one of the premier wide receivers and arguably the top deep threat in the nation.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver led the team in catches (89), receiving yards (1,454) and touchdowns (10) and averaged more than 16 yards per catch in 2015.

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In traffic, he uses his big build to create space and give his quarterback a target and on the deep ball, he has soft hands and catches it at the highest point. Add in his speed and Smith-Schuster had his share of wide open deep looks in the end zone.

College football fans are lucky enough to see Smith-Schuster and Ridley go head-to-head in week one of the season when Alabama faces off against USC in a primtime matchup.

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