College News & Analysis

College Football: The top-10 returning wide receivers for the 2024 season

2WANBFW ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 29: Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Emeka Egbuka (#2) runs up field after a catch during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic football game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Missouri Tigers on December 29, 2023 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

• Missouri’s Luther Burden III: The sophomore is the top returning receiver in college football and will evoke many comparisons to Deebo Samuel thanks to his dominance after the catch.

• Arizona’s Tetairoa McMillan: The sophomore has a massive catch radius at 6-foot-5 and is a close second to Burden among returning receivers. 

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With the 2023 college football season in the books, it’s time to turn our attention to 2024 by ranking the top returning players at every position. 

Next up is wide receiver. While the 2024 NFL Draft is loaded at the position (three projected top-10 picks), there are still plenty of talented pass-catchers returning to the college ranks.

Below is a list of PFF’s top-10 returning wide receivers in college football in addition to an honorable mention nominee. Please note that NFL projection was not taken into account in these rankings.

(Be sure to view PFF’s top-10 returning quarterbacks and top-10 returning running backs list.)

1. Luther Burden III, Missouri Tigers

If you’re looking for the next Deebo Samuel, look no further. Burden has similar size to the San Francisco 49ers’ star receiver (5-foot-11, 208 pounds compared to Samuel’s 6-foot, 215-pound frame) and the two are at their best with the ball in their hands. The sophomore’s 725 yards after the catch were third among all FBS receivers this past season while his 314 receiving yards after contact were the fourth-most. 

Burden also displayed impressive hands and body control this past season, dropping just four of his 94 catchable targets while coming down with 56.5% of his contested targets. The former five-star recruit was targeted on 32.7% of his receiving snaps this past season, the highest rate among Power Five receivers. 

2. Tetairoa McMillan, Arizona Wildcats

If you throw it McMillan’s way, there’s a very good chance he’ll come down with it. There are two main reasons for that. The first is that he presents a massive target to throw to at 6-foot-5, giving him a larger catch radius than anyone on this list. His 17 contested catches in 2023 were second among FBS receivers to only Rome Odunze. The second is that he also has excellent hands, finishing with the lowest drop rate among Power Five receivers with at least 100 targets this past season (2.1%). Only Malik Nabers and Odunze finished with more receiving yards than McMillan this year in the Power Five (1,396), and those two were the only FBS receivers who had more receiving first downs/touchdowns than the Arizona sophomore (63). Both Nabers and Odunze are projected top-10 picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, a feat McMillan should accomplish in 2025 if he maintains this pace. 

McMillan also has the advantage of having more chemistry with his quarterback than anyone else on this list. He and Noah Fifita, one of PFF’s top-10 returning signal-callers, played together both in middle school and in high school.

3. Emeka Egbuka, Ohio State Buckeyes

Egbuka entered 2023 as my No. 2 wide receiver in college football, trailing only his teammate in Marvin Harrison Jr. While Harrison continued to shine and is now off to the NFL, Egbuka is returning for his senior season after missing three games due to an ankle injury as a junior. The year before, he finished as the second-most-valuable receiver in the Power Five according to PFF’s wins above-average metric, trailing only Harrison. He was fifth in that same group in receiving yards (1,151) and tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns (10) in 2022. 

Egbuka is a smooth route-runner who routinely finds the soft spots in zone coverage. His 86.1% open-target rate puts him in the 96th percentile of wide receivers over the last couple seasons while the junior’s 97.7 PFF receiving grade since 2022 against zone/underneath/top coverage places him in the 90th percentile. Egbuka will be the veteran leader in Ohio State’s receiving room this year, bringing along the next generation of Buckeye greats at the position.

4. Tez Johnson, Oregon Ducks

Formerly at Troy, Johnson made the transition from the Sun Belt conference to the Pac-12 look seamless this past season. Despite only weighing 160 pounds, Johnson was one of the most dangerous receivers in America with the ball in his hands. He paced all Power Five receivers this past season with 727 yards after the catch while his 278 receiving yards after contact were fifth. The junior averaged 3.45 yards per route run, which placed him behind only Malik Nabers among Power Five pass-catchers. His 93.4% open-target rate also placed him in the 99th percentile of FBS receivers.

Johnson should be one of new quarterback Dillon Gabriel’s best friends next season out of the slot.

5. Xavier Restrepo, Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Restrepo is the most productive returning slot receiver in college football. His 1,074 receiving yards from that alignment were second among FBS receivers this past season to Virginia’s Malik Washington, who’s heading to the NFL. The junior finished with an 87.5 PFF grade this past season, seventh among Power Five receivers. 

Restrepo is the ultimate security blanket. In 2023, he was third among returning Power Five receivers with 53 catches that went for either a first down or touchdown. He’ll be new quarterback Cameron Ward’s best friend in 2024.

6. Tre Harris, Ole Miss Rebels

Like Johnson, Harris made the jump from the Group of Five level to the Power Five this past season, transferring in from Louisiana Tech. Harris looked even better as a Rebel than he did as a Bulldog. The senior’s 89.6 receiving grade was tied for sixth among FBS receivers this past season and was over nine points higher than his previous mark in 2022 (80.5).

He averaged 3.17 yards per route run in 2023 which was ninth among all receivers in the country. Harris could stand to improve as a route-runner, as he was open on only 28.6% of his targets against single coverage. Still, he enters his fifth season as the clear second-best receiver in the SEC and should have another big year with top-10 quarterback Jaxson Dart returning as well.

7. Elic Ayomanor, Stanford Cardinal

Ayomanor suffered a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus in 2022, which caused him to miss all of his freshman season. Finally healthy in 2023, Ayomanor became a breakout star with 1,022 receiving yards, which ranked fifth among returning Power Five receivers. He’s a bigger receiver at 6-foot-2 who takes advantage of that size, his 14 contested catches this past year were tied for fourth among Power Five pass-catchers. Ayomanor did all of that while dealing with the worst quarterback situation of anybody on this list. As a team, Stanford’s 57.7 PFF passing grade was 112th in the FBS.

The redshirt freshman announced himself to the college football world in Week 7 against Colorado. After being held without a catch in the first half, Ayomanor exploded for 13 catches, 294 yards (program record) and three touchdowns in the second half/overtime. Making that performance even more jaw-dropping is that he was guarded by future first-round pick Travis Hunter on seven of those catches and two of his touchdown grabs.

8. Brennan Presley, Oklahoma State Cowboys

While Presley is just 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, he’s still proven to be incredibly difficult for defenders to bring down. Since 2022, the senior’s 1,099 yards after the catch are the third-most among Power Five receivers while his 51 forced missed tackles are tied for the second-most in that same group. He was also third among Power Five receivers in 2023 with 313 receiving yards after contact. 

For a receiver that dominates so much after the catch, it should come as no surprise that the majority of Presley’s production comes underneath. In fact, he led all FBS receivers this past season with 695 yards on short targets (0-9 yards). Although Ollie Gordon II, PFF’s top returning running back, will be the focal point of Oklahoma State’s offense, Presley also needs to be accounted for on every play.

9. Evan Stewart, Oregon Ducks

Stewart is the lone receiver on this list who’ll be playing for a new team in 2024, transferring to Oregon from Texas A&M in January. He and Tez Johnson also make up the only duo in this top-10 as well. The former top-10 recruit showed immense potential immediately for the Aggies. His 643 receiving yards in 2022 trailed only Tetairoa McMillan, the No. 2 receiver on this list, among FBS true freshmen. 

Stewart caught the injury bug as a sophomore, missing five games with a leg injury. While this ranking is based mostly on projection, there’s no denying that the soon-to-be junior has the potential to move up much higher on this list. 

10. Ricky White, UNLV Rebels

While White is the only Group of Five receiver on this list, he no doubt belongs after a dominant junior campaign. In 2023, only Nabers and Odunze had more receiving yards (1,487) than White among FBS receivers. The former Michigan State receiver was also second in the nation with 3.83 yards per route run while leading the country with a 34.8% target rate. 

Honorable Mention: Kevin Concepcion, NC State Wolfpack

While he entered Raleigh as just a three-star recruit, Concepcion was the most productive true freshmen receiver in America this past season. He led them all in receiving yards (845), yards after the catch (527) and receiving yards after contact (226). His 10 receiving touchdowns were also four more than any other FBS true freshman. Concepcion’s a speedy receiver who placed in the 92nd percentile of FBS receivers with an 85.7% open-target rate.

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