A lot of things have gone right for Pitt this season. Kenny Pickett has turned into a quarterback that should receive an invite to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation, the offensive line has finally come together into a cohesive unit that fuels one of the highest-scoring offenses in college football and a deep, talented group of skill players points toward a bright future.
Perhaps the brightest light from the Gulf Tower, however, comes from sophomore wide receiver Jordan Addison.
After leading Pitt with 666 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman in a pandemic-altered season, Addison has broken out as one of the very best wide receivers in college football this season. And when the lights have shined the brightest this season, Addison has delivered. With Pitt needing a win to not just control its own destiny but win the ACC Coastal division, Addison showed Pitt is safe in his sure-handed grasp.
Aside from reaching heights previously unmatched in Pitt history (yes, even Pitt legend Larry Fitzgerald), Addison almost single-handedly — alright, he used both hands — to seal a division title for Pitt.
With a 3rd-and-5 from the Pitt 38-yard line, and the fourth quarter rapidly slipping away at Heinz Field, redshirt senior center Owen Drexel snapped the ball to Pickett under center. Pickett was immediately flushed to his right, rolling with the pressure to buy some time to let the play develop downfield, and threw a ball back across his body toward Addison’s general vicinity.
Of course, the play wouldn’t have even been possible without sophomore running back Daniel Carter laying an impressive block to buy Pickett even more time.
However, Pickett’s heave, in all honesty, should have been intercepted. UVa’s Darrius Bratton found himself in prime position to let Pickett’s ill-advised throw simply fall into his hands. Addison, whose crisp route carried him further upfield from Bratton, played the pass like a cornerback, jumping Bratton’s position on the ball, ripping the ball away and further showing his ability to come down with catches he has no business in making.
Addison turned upfield and raced into the end zone from 62 yards out, salting away a win for Pitt and a trip to the ACC title game with one of the best effort plays of the college football season.
JORDAN ADDISON. 4TH TD TODAY.
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) November 21, 2021
While Addison’s effort on the 62-yard touchdown catch and run would’ve been an impressive enough feat on its own, he wreaked havoc upon UVA’s defense all afternoon. If his late fourth quarter touchdown didn’t clinch Pitt’s division title, his full body of work did.
After a scoreless first quarter, Addison scored twice in the second quarter for good measure. And he scored again in the third quarter. And again on the aforementioned touchdown in the fourth quarter. He racked up 14 receptions for 202 yards and four touchdowns in one of the most impressive individual efforts of the season.
In a season of impressive performances (five games cracking the century mark and two games recording three touchdowns) before Saturday, Addison’s record-setting performance wasn’t expected per se, but it wasn’t surprising for anyone who has followed Pitt over the past two seasons.
Through just 11 games, and three games still left on the schedule with the ACC title and bowl game, Addison’s 74 receptions for 1,272 yards and 15 touchdowns already leave him in rarefied air.
70 rec, 1200 rec yd, 15 rec TD, P5, last decade:
S Bailey, 2012%
D Hopkins, 2012#
B Cooks, 2013*#
A Cooper, 2014*#
C Coleman, 2015*#
D Westbrook, 2016*
J Chase, 2019*#
J Jefferson, 2019#
D Smith, 2020*#
Jordan Addison, 2021
— 💫🅰️♈️🆔 (@ADavidHaleJoint) November 22, 2021
So, let’s evaluate the players on the exclusive list Addison has joined, shall we?
2012 — West Virginia’s Stedman Bailey and Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins
A tale of two very good wide receivers playing with other very, very good wide receivers.
WVU’s 2012 season was a rollercoaster, but the offensive firepower boasted by the Mountaineers was legitimate. There’s a strong case to be made that Bailey was robbed of the 2012 Biletnikoff after posting a 114 catch, 1,622 yard, 25 touchdown season (with teammate Tavon Austin also racking up nearly 2,000 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns).
Bailey’s redshirt junior 2012 season featured seven games of at least 100 yards, three games of at least 200 yards and one 300 yard receiving performance.
Hopkins, playing on an offense featuring future NFL wide receiving talent in Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Adam Humphries, was the man for Clemson as a junior.
Hopkins racked up 82 catches for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns with Tahj Boyd as his quarterback. Hopkins has, obviously, thrived at the professional level, recording 10,495 yards and 67 touchdowns in the NFL as one of the best wideouts in the league over the last decade.
2013 — Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks
The 2013 Oregon State football team wasn’t exactly a world-beater, but Brandin Cooks likely would take a 7-6 season as opposed to his Houston Texans’ current 2-8 record.
However, while Cooks leads the Texans this season, he led the Beavers in 2013 to a Biletnikoff honor with 128 receptions for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns. His efforts for little-publicized Oregon State edged out Watkins and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans.
Although, Fresno State’s Davante Adams’s 131 catch, 1,718 yard, 24 touchdown performance, playing for a dreaded Group of Five team with future Las Vegas Raider Derek Carr, not only went under the wayside but may have set a precedent for future seasons.
2014 — Alabama’s Amari Cooper
Cooper was a part of Alabama’s down season in 2014 (finishing the season ranked fourth in the AP Poll, the horror), but it wasn’t because of his lack of effort in bouncing back from a “down season” of his own as a junior.
Cooper racked up 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns on 124 receptions on Alabama’s 11-2 team, a team where only Deandrew White recorded more than 500 yards through the air (504) and with Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake in the backfield.
Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins and West Virginia’s Kevin White named as finalists, Higgins’s 1,750 yard, 17 touchdown season rivaled Cooper’s, but the SEC pedigree won out over the Mountain West Conference.
2015 — Baylor’s Corey Coleman
Coleman’s strong junior season came at a perfect time during which there wasn’t a slam-dunk Biletnikoff leader.
A key contributor on an interesting Baylor offense that boasted two 1,000 rushers and three wide receivers with 750 receiving yards, Coleman’s 74 catch, 1,363 yard, 20 touchdown season paced the group.
With TCU’s Josh Doctson and Laquan Treadwell both ranking outside the Top 10 in receptions, yards and touchdowns, it was an odd year.
And with USC’s Juju Smith-Schuster and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis racking up more receptions and yards than Coleman, the parity among candidates higher than ever, some strong contenders were left off the list of finalists.
2016 — Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook
Westbrook is the first of the wide receivers to either play with the Heisman winner/be the Heisman winner.
As Baker Mayfield’s top target in 2016, a key piece in a high-powered offense that made the College Football Playoff, Westbrook’s blazing speed made him Mayfield’s first and really only wide receiver target.
With Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine rushing for 1,000 yards each, along with Mayfield orchestrating the offense and future NFL star tight end Mark Andrews in the mix, Westbrook’s 80 receptions for 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns ranked among the best in college football.
As a junior college transfer, Westbrook was a senior during his Biletnikoff-winning season. Which came despite East Carolina’s Zay Jones setting the NCAA’s single-season reception record with 158.
2019 — LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson
LSU’s 2019 offense was perhaps the best offense in the history of college football.
LSU marched to the CFP national championship with relative ease, with just three one-score wins, and an offense featuring Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson was the reason why.
Burrow put together the greatest quarterback effort in college football history while CEH rushed for 1,400 yards and caught 500 more, Chase and Jefferson each racked up 1,500 receving yards and two more players cleared 500 receiving yards.
Chase’s 84 catch, 1,780 yard, 20 touchdown season was clearly Biletnikoff-worthy, winning the award as a true sophomore, but Jefferson’s 111 catch, 1,540 yard, 18 touchdown season didn’t garner a finalist spot.
It may have been a case of the “same team” bias, but Jefferson was college football’s third-leading wide receiver in terms of yardage, second to only Chase in touchdowns and tied for the national lead in receptions.
2020 — Alabama’s DeVonta Smith
Smith’s 2020 season was so good that the Biletnikoff Award simply wasn’t good enough for him. He had to smash the quarterback (and somewhat running back) barrier and become the first wide receiver to win the Heisman since Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991.
Smith helped lead a high-powered Alabama to a national championship and, in the process, dominated receiving in college football.
Smith’s 117 receptions were nearly 30 more than the next highest receiver, his 1,856 receiving yards were nearly 700 more than the next highest receiver and his 23 touchdowns were four more than the next highest receiver.
It wasn’t at all a shock that Smith won the Biletnikoff as a senior, and it was a pleasant surprise to see his excellence rewarded with the Heisman.
That level of positional dominance likely won’t be seen in college football for some time.
2021 — ?
If Addison continues the pace he’s set through 11 games, his final 2021 stat line will read something along the lines of 95 receptions for 1,600 yards and 20 touchdowns — barring injury or an outlying performance, one way or the other.
If you compiled and averaged the last 10 Biletnikoff winners, the aggregate would come out to roughly 99 catches for 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns. All from Power Five players.
As a semifinalist for the 2021 Biletnikoff Award, Addison already has a strong chance — 1 in 10 among the other semifinalists — to take home the top award for college wide receivers. But his chances should be better than that.
Utah State’s Deven Thompkins and Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns are college football’s highest-gaining receivers, both already pushing past the 1,500-yard plateau, but if trends continue, neither will land the Biletnikoff as G5 players.
Maybe this season is the year of G5 breakout (looking at you, Cincinnati), but it doesn’t appear likely. South Alabama’s Jalen Cowing, who ranks third in receiving yards, falls into the same boat despite not being named as a semifinalist.
USC’s Drake London appeared to be the frontrunner for the Biletnikoff, with 88 receptions for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns, but an injury after eight games has thrown a wrench into his current chances.
Purdue’s David Bell, North Carolina’s Josh Downs, Penn State’s Jahan Dotson and Wake Forest’s A.T. Perry have all cracked the 1,000-yard, five touchdown threshold — with Bell and Downs both cracking 1,200 yards and Dotson and Perry both cracking double-digit touchdowns.
Ohio State’s Chris Olave gained the Buckeyes’ Biletnikoff nod, with teammates Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba both leading Olave on receptions and yards, and as arguably the third-leading receiver on his team this season, it’s tough to name him as the nation’s top wide receiver — no matter how talented he is.
Alabama’s Jameson Williams, an Ohio State transfer, has been a revelation for the Tide this season, racking up 1,218 yards and 13 touchdowns on just 59 receptions. He’s not a bad bet to follow up Smith as an Alabama wide receiver winning the Biletnikoff.
However, Addison shouldn’t just be a finalist — he should be the favorite.
Addison’s stats speak from themselves, leading the nation in receiving touchdowns and ranking fourth in receiving yards, and he’s truly a threat whether he’s targeted behind the line of scrimmage on a quick screen, on a short slant, an intermediate crossing route or a deep shot down the field.
And if you’re looking for Addison’s “Biletnikoff Moment,” look no further than Saturday’s UVa game. His division-clinching touchdown is going to be tough to beat, in terms of impact and skill level. There are dozens of uber-talented wide receivers in college football this season, each with their own case of being “the best,” but Addison is and has been the top receiver in college football.
The three finalists for the Biletnikoff will be announced Tuesday morning, and through circumstance, precedent, individual and team excellence, Addison will be among them.