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Forecasting the Winner of the 2024 Biletnikoff Award

WR Fred Biletnikoff—Oakland Raiders
© Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Biletinikoff Award is given annually to the top receiver in college football. Named after Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, legendary award recipients include Biletnikoff's fellow Hall-of-Famers Randy Moss (1997 inductee) and Calvin Johnson (2021 inductee). Marvin Harrison Jr. received the award last year.

Some of the major contenders for the award are discussed in this article.

On Aug. 7, the official Biletnikoff watch list will be released. On Dec. 12, the award will be officially announced.

Legendary Fred Biletnikoff

At the collegiate level, Biletnikoff played wide receiver at Florida State. In his final year as a Seminole (1964), he was a consensus first-team All-American after leading the nation in receiving yards and touchdown receptions.

Hall of Fame Bust — Fred Belitnikoff
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders selected Biletnikoff in the second round of the 1965 AFL Draft. The AFL and NFL eventually merged, and Biletnikoff went on to play 14 seasons for the Raiders. He made first-team All-Pro in 1972, and he was the MVP of Super Bowl XI, in which the Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings.

Although Biletnikoff lacked breakaway speed, he was regarded as a silky-smooth route runner with fantastic hands. He was a favorite target of fabled Raiders quarterback Ken ("The Snake") Stabler. Biletnikoff was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1988.

The Biletnikoff Award has been presented annually since 1994.

Leading 2024 Candidates

In 2024, FBS teams, particularly those in the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten Conference, are chock full of talented and exciting receivers. Five such receivers are discussed below. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, the named receivers are leading contenders for the 2024 Biletnikoff Award.

Luther Burden III (Missouri Tigers)

Burden is the favorite to win the award. Both ESPN and Pro Football Focus rate him as the nation's top collegiate receiver in 2024.

Belitnikoff Award contender: Luther Burden III - Mizzou
© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Comparisons are often drawn between Burden and All-Pro San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel in terms of their physiques and abilities. Burden will be a junior this year. As a sophomore, he led the Missouri Tigers with 86 receptions for 1,212 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-SEC.

Burden and Mizzou quarterback Brady Cook are likely to be a potent duo this year. Cook is a redshirt junior who is returning after two seasons as the Tigers' starting signal caller.

Burden was on the 2023 Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list.

Zachariah Branch (USC Trojans)

Branch is an electric true sophomore. In his freshman season at USC, Branch was named first-team All-American as a return specialist.

Belitnikoff contender: USC wide receiver Zachariah Branch
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Branch has an impressive pedigree. His great uncle is the late Cliff Branch, the legendary Oakland Raiders wide receiver who is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Branch also competes on the Trojans' track team. 

CBS Sports named Branch one of the top 100 players in the nation heading into the 2024 season. Branch's prospects of winning the Biletnikoff Award will depend on him developing an effective connection with USC's likely starting QB Miller Moss.

Emeka Egbuka (Ohio State Buckeyes)

Egbuka is a gifted receiver who had 1,151 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions in 2022 while sharing pass-catching duties with Harrison. He was named second-team All-Big Ten.

Belitinikoff Award contender: Emeka Egbuka
© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY NETWORK

Although Egbuka's performance tailed off in 2023, he looks to have a bounce-back season in 2024, with Kansas State transfer Will Howard under center for the Buckeyes. Now that Harrison is in the NFL, Egbuka will be Howard's principal target in Ohio State's passing game.

Egbuka was on the 2023 Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list.

Tre Harris (Ole Miss Rebels)

Harris is a senior wideout who began his collegiate career at Louisiana Tech, where he was named first-team All-Conference USA in 2022. Following that season, he transferred to Ole Miss.

Belitnikoff contender: Ole Miss WR Tre Harris
© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In his sole season with the Rebels, Harris had 985 receiving yards with 8 touchdown receptions. He had an impressive average of 18.2 yards per reception.

Harris' quest for the Biletnikoff Award will likely be boosted by Mississippi's standout QB Jaxson Dart, who is a preseason frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.

Harris was on the 2023 Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list.

Tez Johnson (Oregon Ducks)

Johnson is a senior entering his second season in Eugene after transferring from the Troy Trojans. Paired with QB Bo Nix last year, Johnson had 1,182 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions.

Belitnikoff Award Contender: Oregon WR Tez Johnson
© Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard/USA TODAY NETWORK

This year, Johnson will be the favorite target of Dillon Gabriel, who transferred to Oregon from Oklahoma. Johnson and Gabriel figure to be a dynamic duo as Gabriel is among the preseason favorites to win the Heisman.

Johnson was on the 2023 Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list.


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