By David Seigerman
We learned a few things Thursday night when the 2013 college football season opened. We learned, for instance, that the only way to stop a force of nature like Jadeveon Clowney is with forces of nature (high heat, stifling humidity, lightning).
And we had the chance to gather some first impressions of some of the top wide receiver prospects in the country. Four of the top six receivers on our preseason Big Board were in action Thursday. While a single game isn’t going to scuttle anyone’s rankings, it can suggest something about how the 2013 season is going to unfold for four premier pass-catching prospects.
Marqise Lee, USC (Preseason No. 3 prospect)
8 rec., 104 yards
Forget the fact that he opened with a 100-yard game; Lee’s season did not get off to a promising start. He was taken out of the game early, not by Hawaii’s defense but by his own quarterback’s inability to get him the ball. Lee didn’t really have a chance to make a play until Max Wittek replaced Cody Kessler in the third quarter. There’s been no indication which sophomore is going to get the call in Week 2, but USC is going to have to get creative in finding ways to get the ball to Lee in the open field. He’s a dynamic playmaker, especially in space, but Kessler looked so uncomfortable early that it seemed to affect Lee’s concentration (he dropped catchable throws inside the 10-yard line for both quarterbacks).
He didn’t do anything in the return game either (30 total yards on two punt returns and one kickoff return), and that may be the area where he’ll have the most opportunities to show off his explosiveness this season. At least until a quarterback emerges who can get the ball to the college game’s top receiver.
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (No. 21)
10 rec., 178 yards, 1 TD
This guy is the real deal. He showed everything a scout would want to see – good body control, great hands and game-changing speed.
The only thing that could limit his production this season is the development of the rest of the Vanderbilt offense. Quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels showed glimpses of potential in his first start since the 2010 season (when he was with Wyoming). And the suspension of receiver Chris Boyd makes Matthews the lone true threat in the passing game. It is easy to project that SEC defenses will gameplan to take Matthews away from the Commodores, rolling covering his way every week until Carta-Samuels and another receiver (Jonathan Krause did have six catches and threw a huge block that sprung Matthews on his 55-yard touchdown) can develop.
Brandon Coleman, Rutgers (No. 33)
9 rec., 94 yards, 2 TDs
Coleman showed his great hands early and often, from his first grab on a post corner on third-and-long to his touchdown in overtime. That he couldn’t haul in the two-point conversion that would have won the game shouldn’t diminish what Coleman showed throughout the night – he’s a top-tier receiving prospect, quite possibly a first-rounder, who may be in the best position of the four receivers on this list. Quarterback Gary Nova showed significant improvement in terms of his accuracy and taking care of the football. Once in the first half, Coleman broke open down the right sideline, and the ball was well underthrown and off target. But for the most part, Nova looked like a comfortable quarterback, and clearly he’ll be looking for his top target in every phase of the game.
Donte Moncrief, Mississippi (No. 57)
5 rec., 56 yards
Moncrief is in an interesting position. He entered Week 1 as Ole Miss’ primary target, at least in the eyes of Vanderbilt’s defense, which put Andre Hal, its best cornerback, on him most of the game. By game’s end, Moncrief may have been surpassed by Laquon Treadwell, the No. 1 receiver recruit in the country. In his debut, Treadwell looked more like a true No. 1 receiver, and Bo Wallace seemed to look for him more often in the second half of the Rebels’ comeback win on the road.
Defenses may soon switch their top corners to cover Treadwell, which might give Moncrief more favorable matchups as the season progresses. But Thursday seemed to solidify what some scouts already think about Moncrief – perhaps he’s more of a complementary piece at the next level.