As we hit the preview portion of the 2023 FCS offseason, HERO Sports will rank the top returning players by position group.
While what happens on the field and how things finish at the end of the season is what really matters, preseason rankings give fans an idea of what players and teams they should keep an eye on.
Here are the top returning wide receivers in 2023.
These rankings are formed by a combination of the author’s opinion/FCS knowledge (watching guys play, knowing what system they play in, strength of opponents, etc.), on-field production, pro potential, postseason accolades, how they perform against their toughest opponents, and PFF grades.
Best Returning FCS Wide Receivers
25. Kahtero Summers, Rhode Island
24. Brandon Porter, UIW
23. Jourdan Townsend, Delaware
22. Will Huzzie, ETSU
21. Zach Patterson, Northwestern State
20. Jarrod Barnes, Central Arkansas
19. Jaden Smith, Tarleton State
18. Isaiah Wooden, Southern Utah
17. Efton Chism III, Eastern Washington
16. Dymere Miller, Monmouth
15. Jadon Janke, South Dakota State
14. Bo Belquist, North Dakota
13. Jalen Coker, Holy Cross
12. Landon Ruggieri, Bryant
11. Jaaron Hayek, Villanova
10. Bryce Oliver, Youngstown State
9. Jermaine Jackson, Idaho
8. Darius Cooper, Tarleton State
7. Ryan Flournoy, SEMO
6. MJ Wright, Fordham
The Top 5
5. Devron Harper, Mercer
Harper forms a lethal duo with teammate Ty James (below). The 5-foot-9, 175-pounder is electric with the ball in his hands, making plays on an FCS field since 2019 when he had 51 receptions for 653 yards and four touchdowns at Gardner-Webb. In the 2020-21 season where he was limited to four games, he had 16 catches for 171 yards in his first year at Mercer. Harper made a bigger impact in the 2021 fall, totaling 872 all-purpose yards. Last season he exploded with 1,878 all-purpose yards and 16 total touchdowns. Harper caught 78 passes for 987 yards and 10 TDs, rushed for 199 yards and four TDs, recorded 528 yards and a TD on 18 kick returns, and returned 10 punts for 169 yards and a touchdown.
4. Chandler Smith, Samford
Smith was the favorite target for Michael Hiers last year as part of a special offensive season. The 5-foot-10, 186-pounder caught 100 passes for 1,071 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 100 receptions tied for the second most in the FCS. Smith had 14 catches for 144 yards in a massive win over Mercer to end the regular season to set Samford up for a playoff seed. In the quarterfinal loss at NDSU, he recorded six catches for 120 yards and a TD. With Hiers coming back as the No. 1-ranked FCS QB, expect another special season from Smith.
3. Jaxon Janke, South Dakota State
Janke’s combination of size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), fluid route-running, hands, and agility/speed after the catch on top of his abilities to return punts made him an enticing NFL prospect in the 2023 draft cycle. However, he and his twin brother Jadon (above) announced minutes after winning SDSU’s first FCS national title that they decided to return to Brookings for their sixth and final season. Another big year followed by likely crushing the pre-draft measurable process could see Jaxon as the next NFL Draft pick from SDSU. Already a four-time all-MVFC selection, Janke has a career 193 catches, 2,859 yards, and 24 TDs. In 2021, he had 72 catches for 1,176 yards and five touchdowns. Last season, he totaled 60 catches for 857 yards and nine scores.
2. Ty James, Mercer
James has torched FCS defenses along with his teammate Devron Harper (above). The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder is a tremendous talent. After starting his career at Georgia, he transferred to Mercer before the 2020-21 season and has led the Bears in receiving in three straight seasons. James had 30 receptions for 518 yards and three touchdowns in 2020-21, 26 catches for 611 yards and seven scores in 2021, and 52 catches for 1,105 yards and 13 TDs last season. His 2022 PFF grade of 92.2 is the highest for a returning FCS wide receiver.
1. Hayden Hatten, Idaho
Hatten was simply on a different level when he walked on the field last season. He is part of a dynamic, two 1,000-yard WR duo with Jermaine Jackson (above). Hatten rose to stardom in the spring season, catching 43 passes for 613 yards and three touchdowns in only six games. He was limited to four games in the 2021 fall but returned to his All-American self last year. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder exploded for 83 catches, 1,209 yards, and 16 TDs. Hatten finished fifth in FCS receiving yards and second in receiving touchdowns. His ability to snag any pass thrown in his vicinity has resulted in several highlight-reel catches. Hatten’s PFF grade in 2022 was 91.8, which is the second-highest among returning FCS WRs.
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