HERO Sports is counting down the days until the kickoff of the 2018 college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, by featuring the best player in the FBS at each jersey number, from 99-1. Each day, from May 18 through Aug. 24, we'll publish one article showcasing the best player whose jersey number matches the number of days remaining.
James Gardner edges Albert Okwuegbunam, Caleb Wilson and a couple others for the best No. 81 in college football.
Gardner had a strong start to his 2016 season, catching 26 passes for 461 yards and five touchdowns over Miami's first seven games, but he not yet on the national radar. Then he did this vs. Bowling Green:
Gardner, a former three-star recruit with zero Power Five offers, exploded as a junior last season, posting five 100-yard games and a 19.7 yards-per-catch average on his way to 927 yards and 11 touchdowns. On passes at least 20 yards downfield, he caught all 15 targets, tying him for first among 2019 draft-eligible receivers for most receptions on deep passes without a drop.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native was a First-Team All-MAC selection and enters 2018 as one of the top receivers in the country and a rising NFL Draft prospect.
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