Ranking the best college football wide receivers of the 21st century, including Heisman Trophy winner, DeVonta Smith who is the first receiver to win since 1991.
The wide receiver is not the star player in college like it is in the NFL. For every Randy Moss and Terrell Owens stealing headlines, there is a Reggie Bush and Adrian Peterson cutting defenses at the ankles and making plays on the field. Quarterbacks get a lot of the hype for a passing attack in college football, but obviously, that doesn’t mean some of the best players to ever grace the football field aren’t at wideout.
The conversation gained steam this season after Alabama’s DeVonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy. It’s been three decades since a wide receiver took the award home. The last time it happened, Desmond Howard took the award home while playing for the University of Michigan. In all, only four wide receivers in history have won the Heisman Trophy.
This just shows the underappreciation of the wide receiver position in college football. It’s not like there haven’t been seasons worthy of a wide receiver Heisman. This position just doesn’t get the hype and the headlines that a big quarterback or running back season gets.
There have been some amazing careers and those careers deserve recognition. There are 34 receivers in the College Football Hall of Fame, but a lot of the most recent greats aren’t eligible for the Hall because their careers are still active. However, the past two decades have seen maybe the best overall wide receiver play in the history of college football.
Best college football wide receivers this century
30. Jeff Samardzija – Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Jeff Samardzija hasn’t been considered a wide receiver in a very long time, but that shouldn’t take away from his credentials. He decided against an NFL career to go play baseball. He made $19.8 million last season alone, so he’s probably not regretting the decision. However, if he did continue his football career, he could have been one of the very best.
It all started in college with Notre Dame. Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune called Samardzija’s game a mix between Plaxico Burress and Keyshawn Johnson. That’s high praise for a player that was almost a lock to go in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Samardzija was a first-team All-American twice while playing for Notre Dame. He ended his career with 2593 yards and 27 touchdowns. His best season came his junior year when he scored a touchdown in every single game outside of one against Navy. He put up 99 yards and a touchdown in a brutal loss to then-number 1 USC. He also scored in an upset win against then-number 3 Michigan.
Samardzija wasn’t going to rack up big plays like some of the other receivers on the list, but he was one of the most reliable receivers in college football. He was especially good in the red zone, scoring touchdowns whenever his team needed them. He helped make Brady Quinn a superstar. His career might not get the recognition it deserves because of his baseball career, but what he did in college shouldn’t be forgotten.