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Last updated: 02/21/2011 1:49 AM

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Football
Rating the Big Ten Receivers
By Tony Gerdeman

Now that we've already discussed the Big Ten's quarterbacks and running backs, simple math tells us that it's time to look at the wide receivers and tight ends. 

The conference returns seven of its ten most productive receivers from last season, and there are multiple receivers on each team who could make that list next year.

1. Michigan

Starters: Roy Roundtree (72-935-7), Darryl Stonum (49-633-4), Junior Hemingway (32-593-4), Kevin Koger (TE) (14-199-2)

Backups: Kelvin Grady (17-211), Martavious Odoms (16-241-1), Jeremy Jackson (4-55), Jeremy Gallon (4-49-1), Terrence Robinson (1-43), Je'Ron Stokes (1-11), Drew Dileo (1-3), Ricardo Miller, Jerald Robinson, D.J. Williamson, Brandon Moore (TE), Chris Barnett (TE) (Fr.)

Brady Hoke didn't bother bringing in any wide receivers in the 2011 recruiting class, and you can see why. Nobody returns the amount of statistical clout at the receiver position as the Wolverines do. They return every single wide receiver who caught a pass last year, and a handful of others who didn't. It remains to be seen how effective they will be in a new offense, but their talents can't be ignored. Consistency is still an issue, however. Had Roy Roundtree not had so many drops, he was probably looking at an 1,100-yard season last year. Both Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway can disappear, but neither can be disregarded. Tight end Kevin Koger should approach a 30-catch season in 2011.

2. Michigan State

Starters: B.J. Cunningham (50-611-9), Keshawn Martin (32-394-1), Keith Nichol (22-262-1), Brian Linthicum (TE) (18-230-1)

Backups: Bennie Fowler (14-175-1), Donald Spencer (2-21), Tony Lippett (r-Fr.), Keith Mumphrey (r-Fr.), Juwan Caesar (Fr.), Paul Lang (TE) (Fr.)

Michigan has the most returning production, but the Spartans may have the most returning potential. B.J. Cunningham has 1,780 receiving yards in his career, but the rising senior is still looking for a breakout season. This could be it. Keshawn Martin is the Swiss Army Knife of this unit. He's as dangerous as any player in the conference, but he tends to disappear for weeks at a time. Keith Nichol is solid, and after moving from quarterback last season, he should be much more comfortable this season. Bennie Fowler emerged as a freshman last year and showed that he needs to be involved in as many ways as possible this season. Keep an eye on Tony Lippett, who was the scout team Denard Robinson last season. Regarding that scout team performance, Spartan defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said it was the best that he had ever seen, but Narduzzi may ultimately snag Lippett for the defense, because he's also a coveted defensive back. Head coach Mark Dantonio compares true freshman Juwan Caesar to Ohio State's all-time leading receiver Michael Jenkins.

3. Penn State

Starters: Derek Moye (53-885-8), Justin Brown (33-452-1), Devon Smith (27-363-1), Andrew Szczerba (TE) (Injured 2010)

Backups: Kevin Haplea (TE) (3-39), Garry Gilliam (TE) (1-21), Brandon Moseby-Felder (3-13), Shawney Kersey, Alex Kenney, Curtis Drake, Allen Robinson (Fr.), Kyle Carter (TE) (Fr.)

Derek Moye was as productive as any receiver in the conference despite a quarterback situation that was anything but ideal. He caught a touchdown in his final five games of the season last year, and looks to continue that streak in 2011. Justin Brown is a big target that can move chains. He hasn't shown much run after the catch yet, but they don't necessarily need him for that. Diminutive Devon Smith (5'7”) continues to be used in a multitude of ways, but his role could be diminished by the return of a healthy Curtis Drake, who was possibly the most explosive receiver on the roster before being injured last season. Shawney Kersey has been rumored to transfer since September, but as he and Robert Bolden have found out, once you check in you can never leave. Tight end Andrew Szczerba was also lost for the entire season last year with a back injury, but he is expected to be fine and step right into the starting role that was his before his health diminished. Overall, there are plenty of receiving weapons for any eventual quarterback to succeed with.

4. Northwestern

Starters:  Jeremy Ebert (62-953-8), Drake Dunsmore (TE) (40-381-5), Demetrius Fields (25-291-2)

Backups/Possible Starters:  Charles Brown (16-198), Rashad Lawrence (12-178), Tony Jones (11-157-1), Venric Mark (5-43), Brendan Barber (2-17), Xavier Youngblood-Ary (Fr.), Christian Jones (Fr.), Cameron Dickerson (Fr.), Mark Szott (TE) (Fr.), Kain Colter (QB) (1-32)

Few teams return the sheer number of productive pass-catchers as the Wildcats will this season. Jeremy Ebert has yet to meet a chain he can't move. If it's third down, quarterback Dan Persa will be looking for him. Demetrius Fields started all 13 games last year, but should be more productive this season with the loss of Sidney Stewart, who caught 40 passes last year. Charles Brown is a rising senior with talent, but he'll have a difficult time of holding off a talented sophomore class of Rashad Lawrence, Tony Jones and Venric Mark who all produced as true freshmen last season. Another talented group of freshmen will be added in 2011, but there may not be any place to put them. Also keep an eye on Kain Colter, who might just be the future of Northwestern football at quarterback. His coaches say that he is too good to sit. While you're looking at all of the different receivers that Northwestern can throw at you, don't forget about Superback Drake Dunsmore. He provides a certain necessary toughness to an otherwise finesse offense.

5. Ohio State

Starters:  Devier Posey (53-848-7), Jake Stoneburner (TE) (21-222-2), Reid Fragel (TE) (9-121-1), Philly Brown (8-105-1)

Backups/Possible Starters:  Chris Fields (3-22), T.Y. Williams, James Louis, James Jackson, Verlon Reed, Evan Spencer (Fr.), Devin Smith (Fr.)

Due to Devier Posey's suspension, the Buckeyes will open the season with a group of wide receivers who have eleven career receptions to their credit. The tight ends will be a bit more experienced, having caught 32 career passes. But this being Ohio State, there is always talent on the roster, even if they haven't produced yet. Posey might be the best receiver in the conference, but the Buckeyes will need to answer some unknowns while he is out. Philly Brown looks to step into the starting lineup this year, but will need to eliminate the drops he suffered last year as a freshman. Chris Fields could become a very effective slot receiver. He has tremendous hands and is very good after the catch. The player that many are most-excited to see, however, is the 6'7” redshirt freshman receiver T.Y. Williams. He has the speed to run by defenders, and the ball skills to beat them at the jump as well. He's still a bit of a project, but one that everybody is excited about. While the questions are still being figured out, don't be surprised to see tight ends Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel being frequently targeted.

6. Indiana

Starters:  DeMarlo Belcher (78-832-4), Duwyce Wilson (32-488-3), Ted Bolser (TE) (27-407-5)

Backups/Possible Starters:  Kofi Hughes (7-42), Max Dedmond (TE) (5-37-2), Jamonne Chester (2-13), Tim O'Conner, Paul Phillips (TE), Logan Young, Cody Latimer (Fr.), Shane Wynn (Fr.), Jake Reed (TE) (Fr.), Jay McCants (Fr.)

No team lost more production at receiver than the Hoosiers, but they still return one of the most productive duos in the conference in DeMarlo Belcher and Duwyce Wilson, who combined for 110 receptions and 1,320 yards receiving in 2010. While Belcher did put up good numbers last year, he only averaged 10.7 yards per catch. He needs to become a downfield threat to help this offense reach its potential. But even if he can't, the sophomore Wilson has already shown that he can. He had four catches of at least 37 yards last year, and that was in a very limited role. In 2011, he may end up leading this team in receiving yards. Add in tight end Ted Bolser to this group, who was a Freshman All-American last season, and Indiana has a tremendous base to work with. A talented freshman class of receivers—all of whom hail from Ohio—will also bolster a deepening group of pass-catchers

7. Iowa

Starters:  Marvin McNutt (53-861-8), Keenan Davis (11-131-1)

Backups/Possible Starters:  Brad Herman (TE) (9-154), Zach Derby (TE) (1-17), C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE), Kevonte Martin-Manley (r-Fr.), Jacob Hillyer (Fr.), Ray Hamilton (TE) (Fr.), Austin Vincent (Fr.), Marcus Grant (Fr.)

Depending on how new starting quarterback James Vandenberg plays, Marvin McNutt could be the most productive receiver the Big Ten sees in 2011. He had a stretch of six straight games with a touchdown reception last year, so he's already shown a significant ability to produce. His size and hands make him a tough one-on-one matchup for any defensive back. Junior Keenan Davis will finally have a chance to show the promise that Iowa fans have been waiting for. He's had to bide his time behind McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, and now the only person standing in his way is himself. There really is no returning production on this roster past McNutt, Davis and tight end Brad Herman. Herman will battle with sophomore C.J. Fiedorowicz for the starting tight end spot. Fiedorowicz is a five-star recruit who burned his redshirt last year on special teams. He's got tremendous size (6'7” 250+), but it's his athleticism at that size which sets him apart. In an offense like Iowa's that throws to the tight ends, he could be very special.  Redshirt freshman Kevonte Martin-Manley will be a name to watch.  Don't expect much, if anything, from any of the true freshmen, however.


8. Purdue

Starters: Keith Smith (Injured), Antavian Edison (32-316-4), O.J. Ross (11-149-1)

Backups/Possible Starters: Justin Siller (12-104-1), Gary Bush (11-95-1), Al-Terek McBurse (5-30), Gabe Holmes (TE) (1-14), Justin Sinz (TE), Charles Towudzo, Sterling Carter (TE) (Juco), A.J. King (Fr.), Shane Mikesky (Fr.)

Purdue should be finding out this week whether Keith Smith will be granted a sixth year of eligibility after tearing his ACL and MCL in the second week of the season last year. If they get him back, he could make this unit one of the more prolific in the conference. Smith's 1,100 yards receiving in 2009 was the highest total since the trio of James Hardy, Devin Thomas and Mario Manningham all topped him in 2007. Antavian Edison proved himself to be quite the asset last year as a sophomore, and he even got some carries at running back due to mass injuries. O.J. Ross played well as a freshman last year, and should be able to show even more playmaking ability as a starter. Justin Siller will always be one of the more intriguing athletes in the Big Ten, but whether he can be an asset week-to-week remains to be seen. Purdue's passing offense has always been fond of a productive tight end, and there are about 45 catches from 2010 to replace. Gabe Holmes is an intriguing athlete who should get a good look.


9. Wisconsin

Starters: Nick Toon (36-459-3), Jared Abbrederis (20-289-3), Jacob Pedersen (TE) (8-132-2), Jake Byrne (TE) (5-43-1)

Backups: Jeff Duckworth (3-32), A.J. Jordan (Fr.), Kenzel Doe (Fr.), Frederick Willis (Fr.), Isaiah Williams, Chase Hammond, Marquis Mason, Manasseh Garner

Nick Toon only played in nine games last year, and his health in 2011 will be a key factor in how well the new Badger quarterback performs. When he's right, he's as good as any receiver in the conference. Jared Abbrederis was a bit of a surprise last year as a freshman, but now he'll be counted on to be the second receiver in the Wisconsin passing attack. As much as the Badgers love throwing to the tight ends, they'll be hoping Jacob Pedersen can build on his redshirt freshman season of last year. A couple of underclassmen will have to step up for the Badgers this year. Ohioan Jeff Duckworth got valuable time last year as a redshirt freshman, and Manasseh Garner is a talented receiver/tight end/defensive end. The question is where he will ultimately end up. The staff wanted to get him more involved in the passing game last season but wasn't able to do it. Chase Hammond is a big target at 6'5” 210, but may not have the speed to get separation out wide.

10. Minnesota

Starters:  Da'Jon McKnight (48-750-10), Eric Lair (TE) (39-526-2)

Backups/Possible Starters:  Tiree Eure (3-47-1), A.J. Barker (1-17), Victor Keise (1-1), Marquise Hill, Quentin Gardener (Fr.), Ge'Shun Harris (Juco), John Rabe (TE) (Juco), Peter Westerhaus (TE) (Fr.), Devin Crawford-Tufts (Fr.), Brandon Green, Marcus Jones (Fr.)

With the transfer of receiver Bryant Allen, who caught 16 passes last season, and the move of MarQueis Gray to quarterback full-time, the Gophers are returning just one wide receiver who caught more than one pass last year. Da'Jon McKnight is a very talented receiver, but he's only one man. Tight end Eric Lair was productive last year, and he'll pick up some of the slack in 2011, but the Gophers will need somebody else to emerge in order to help out Gray in his first year as the starting quarterback. Junior college transfer Ge'Shun Harris has a chance to be that guy. He's 6'3” and around 220 pounds and is already on campus. The coaches are excited about his potential. Another player to watch will be freshman Marcus Jones, who is also already enrolled. Jerry Kill compares him favorably to former Badger David Gilreath. Kill is also excited about the speed brought by freshman Devin Crawford-Tufts. There is some potential in this receiving unit, but so much of it has yet to be tested.

11. Nebraska

Starters: Brandon Kinnie (44-494-5), Kyler Reed (TE) (22-395-8), Ben Cotton (TE) (3-34)

Backups/Possible Starters: Jake Long (TE) (1-17), Quincy Enunwa (1-10), Kenny Bell, Tyler Evans, Taariq Allen (Fr.), Curenski Gilleylen, Khiry Cooper, Steven Osborne, Stanley Jean-Baptiste

Brandon Kinnie led the Huskers in receptions last year, but only had one 100-yard receiving day. Of course, that's as much a product of Taylor Martinez's passing struggles as anything. Kinnie will provide solid hands and leadership at a position desperate for it. Only one other returning wide receiver caught a pass last year. The other receivers have potential, but have yet to be asked to deliver it. Curenski Gilleylen entered last season as the fourth receiver, but injuries derailed him before he got a chance to show what he could do. The staff loves redshirt freshman Kenny Bell, as did the first-team defense that had to battle him while he was on the scout team last year. The Huskers start two very good tight ends. Ben Cotton is the blocker, and Kyler Reed is the receiver. Reed led the team in touchdown receptions last year, and averaged 18 yards per catch. He can stretch any defense, and linebackers can't cover him. He's one of Martinez's favorite downfield targets.

12. Illinois

Starters: A.J. Jenkins (56-746-7), Evan Wilson (TE) (10-135-2)

Backups/Possible Starters: Ryan Lankford (6-129-1), Fred Sykes (7-85), Spencer Harris (4-48-1), Darius Millines (2-42-1), Justin Lattimore (TE) (1-33-1), Anthony Williams, Jon Davis (TE) (Fr.), Kenny Knight (Fr.), Jeremey Whitlow (Fr.), Matt LaCosse (TE) (Fr.), Jordan Frysinger (Fr.)

A.J. Jenkins emerged last season as quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase's favorite target, and it's likely that will remain true in 2011 as well. Jenkins had an up and down season last year, but finished strong with four touchdown catches in his final six games. The Illini broke in three true freshmen last season in Ryan Lankford, Spencer Harris and Darius Millines, and all three will be better for it this season. At least one of them needs to step up and emerge as a complement to Jenkins. Tight end Evan Wilson started ten games as a true freshman last season, but needs to become more of a receiving threat for Illinois. Jon Davis comes to Illinois as one of the nation's top prep prospects at his position, so athletically he's ready to go from day one. Davis still has a long way to go with his blocking, however. If he's ready to add another component to this offense, then Paul Petrino will find a way to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses.

Rating the Big Ten Quarterbacks

Rating the Big Ten Running Backs

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