Ranking the Big Ten's Receivers — Legends Division
By Tony Gerdeman
How bad is the receiver and tight end situation in the Big Ten this year? Just look at the first team on the list. The Hawkeyes are replacing Marvin McNutt, who led the conference in receiving yards with 1,315 and touchdowns with twelve, and yet they sit atop this list despite returning just one full-time starter.
In reality, there may not be much separation between first and twelfth when it comes to the receivers and tight ends, but the Hawkeyes do return the only pair of receivers with at least 30 receptions last season.
This year, there may be no bigger crap shoot during this rankings series than the pass catchers. Just remember that if they turn out to be completely wrong.
Starters: Keenan Davis (50-713-4), Kevonte Martin-Manley (30-323-3), C.J. Fiedorowicz (TE) (16-167-3)
Backups/Possible Starters: Don Shumpert, Jordan Cotton (1-4), Jacob Hillyer, Steven Staggs, Cameron Wilson*, Greg Mabin*, Zach Derby (TE) (12-117), Ray Hamilton (TE) (1-15), George Kittle* (TE)
With the Hawkeyes' likely reliance upon the passing game this season, Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley should be the most productive tandem in the conference. Drops were an issue for Davis in 2011, but if he can fix that, he's looking at 70 or more catches in 2012. At 6-3 215, he's got the physicality to move the chains, but he hasn't yet shown too much shake after the catch. That's the next step for him, and the one that could turn him into the most productive receiver in the conference. Kevonte Martin-Manley had a pretty good freshman season last year, and should put up numbers similar to that of Davis last year. The third receiver could be redshirt freshman Jacob Hillyer. At 6-4 205, he's got the size that the Iowa coaches like. Expect similar numbers to Martin-Manley from last season for whomever that third receiver is. C.J. Fiedorowicz was a highly-coveted tight end recruit that had offers from everywhere. He was quiet as a freshman in 2010, and started just five games last year as a sophomore. Now a junior, this could be a 50-catch season that sees Fiedorowicz truly burst onto the national scene. There may be better receiving groups in the conference, but none will be as productive as Iowa's.
Starters: Kenny Bell (32-461-3), Quincy Enunwa (21-293-2), Jamal Turner (15-243), Kyler Reed (TE) (15-257-1), Ben Cotton (TE) (14-189)
Possible Starters/Backups: Tim Marlowe (12-113-1), Jordan Westerkamp*, Steven Osborne, Taariq Allen, Tyler Evans, Jake Long (TE), Sam Cotton* (TE)
To be honest, if James Vandenberg was Nebraska's quarterback, the Huskers' group would be at the top of the list. However, with Taylor Martinez's questionable passing ability, this group may not be able to reach its potential just yet. The only receiver lost from last year is Brandon Kinnie, and the Huskers return their top two receivers and top two tight ends. Kenny Bell is one of the fastest players in the conference and led the team in receptions and yards as a freshman last season. Obviously, more is expected of him this year. Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner are good complements to Bell. With an expected-to-be-improved passing game, Enunwa's numbers could double this season. Turner, a rising sophomore, may be the most dynamic athlete on the team. He came to Nebraska as a quarterback, but the need to get him on the field overruled so he was moved to receiver. He averaged 16.2 yards per reception last year and will be both a deep threat and a guy who can turn nothing into a whole lot of something. Kyler Reed is a big-play tight end, and Ben Cotton was honorable mention All-Big Ten last year. They combine to form arguably the best tight end duo in the conference.
5. Michigan State
Possible Starters: Tony Lippett (4-44), Bennie Fowler (2-20), Keith Mumphery (2-39), Dion Sims (TE) (12-99-3)
Possible Starters/Backups: DeAnthony Arnett (24-242-2), Aaron Burbridge*, Juwan Caesar, Dana Dixon, A.J. Troup, Andre Sims, Jeremy Langford, John Jakubik, Monty Madaris*, Macgarrett Kings*, Kyle Kerrick* Paul Lang (TE), Denzel Drone (TE), Josiah Price* (TE), Evan Jones* (TE), Jamare Mills* (TE)
As far as projections go, this one might be the most "out there". The Spartans return a total of eight receptions from their receivers last year, and the level of inexperience makes this ranking an educated guess. It was going to be hard for any young receivers to get snaps last year with the senior receivers that Michigan State had, but that doesn't mean that the returning receivers aren't talented. Bennie Fowler was injured last year and only played in five games as a sophomore. During his redshirt freshman year, he caught 14 passes for 175 yards and also carried the ball seven times for 62 yards. He was still recovering this spring, but once he's healthy, he will be heavily involved. Tony Lippett played both ways as a redshirt freshman last year, and started five games at cornerback. Offensive and defensive coaches have been fighting over him since he arrived, and now it looks like the offensive coaches have finally won. Redshirt freshman Andre Sims was the first receiver drafted during the Spartans' spring game draft, though both Fowler and Lippett were out with injury. DeAnthony Arnett is a Tennessee transfer who is eligible immediately and has skills similar to that of the departed Keshawn Martin. Dion Sims might be the most athletic tight end in the conference, and he should be one of the most productive.
Starters: Demetrius Fields (32-382-3), Rashad Lawrence (19-203-1), Christian Jones (16-195), Evan Watkins (TE)
Possible Starters/Backups: Kain Colter (QB) (43-466-3), Kyle Prater (Eligibility?) (1-6), Venric Mark (1-4), Tony Jones, Cameron Dickerson, Mike Jensen (2-23), Pierre Youngblood-Ary, Drew Moulton (4-40), Mike McHugh*, Tim Riley (TE) (1-2-1), Mark Szott (TE), Jack Schwaba* (TE)
The Wildcats have essentially lost their top three pass catchers as receiver Jeremy Ebert and superback Drake Dunsmore have moved on, and Kain Colter has moved to quarterback full time. Still, this might be Northwestern's deepest group of receivers ever. However, these receivers will need to do something that they haven't yet done—make big plays. Demetrius Fields has much expected of him this year, but only three of his 32 receptions last year went for longer than 20 yards. Nobody else on the roster had a catch over 40 yards. The Northwestern passing game relies on the short passing attack, but they also like to go over the top when the opportunity rises. Christian Jones might be the most complete receiver on the roster because he can move chains and he also has the speed to run by defenders. He started eight games last year as a true freshman. Don't be surprised if he catches 50 balls this year. Kyle Prater is a former #1 recruit in the nation who transferred from USC. He has applied for a waiver to be able to play right away, but that decision has yet to be made by the NCAA. Even so, he only caught one pass in two years at USC, so who knows exactly what Northwestern is getting in him. He is a freakish athlete, but will that translate to production? Lastly, finding a superback amidst the inexperienced candidates is a must.
Starters: Roy Roundtree (19-355-2), Jeremy Gallon (31-453-3), Brandon Moore (TE) (1-9)
Possible Starters/Backups: Drew Dileo (9-121-2), Jeremy Jackson (3-36), Jerald Robinson, Amara Darboh*, Jehu Chesson*, Ricardo Miller (TE), Devin Funchess* (TE), Jordan Paskorz (TE), A.J. Williams* (TE)
In 2010, in Rich Rodriguez's offense, Roy Roundtree caught 72 passes and was deadly out of the slot. Last year, in an entirely new offense, his production dropped to just 19 catches. He had just five receptions over Michigan's final five games last season and only caught more than two passes in a game twice. While many expect Roundtree to assume Junior Hemingway's role as Michigan's number one receiver, there is a danger that this is simply who Roundtree is in this offense. Jeremy Gallon emerged as a legitimate receiver last year and should find himself an even more important piece of the puzzle this year. Like Roundtree, however, there wasn't much production to end the season. He finished with just eight catches over the final five games last year. Drew Dileo had his moments out of the slot with Denard Robinson's impossible-to-stop play-action, and certainly has a chance to improve his numbers this year. Still, somebody else needs to emerge that can be relied upon. Jerald Robinson had a solid spring and most expect him to be the guy that steps up. However, he only played in two games as a receiver last season, so he is very much a question mark. There is also the possibility that backup quarterback Devin Gardner will move to receiver. While big (6-4 205) and athletic, he is not overly fast. The tight ends are completely unproven, but there are some very solid athletes here.
Possible Starters: Brandon Green (15-190-1), Malcolm Moulton (14-174), Marcus Jones (9-142), John Rabe (TE) (4-36-2)
Possible Starters/Backups: Devin Crawford-Tufts, Isaac Fruechte (JUCO), Andre McDonald*, Jamel Harbison*, K.J. Maye*, Drew Goodger, Kendall Gregory-McGhee, Moses Alipate (TE), Maxx Williams* (TE), Duke Anyanwu* (TE)
Minnesota will trot out a fairly inexperienced group of pass-catchers, with the most experienced being senior Brandon Green. Green is the leading returning receiver, and is being counted on to be MarQueis Gray's number one target in 2012. Da'Jon McKnight led the team with 51 receptions last year, and with Gray's improvement, there is a possibility that Green could approach 60 catches this year. Malcolm Moulton was right behind Green last year, and will be battling for one of the two outside receiver spots provided he is recovered from his ACL tear last year, Marcus Jones will be in the slot and should produce. He's a very dynamic player in space and has the speed to make defenders nervous. Devin Crawford-Tufts is a bigger receiver (6-2 195) and impressed the coaches this spring. He will likely be Moulton's most immediate competition to start. Keep an eye on true freshman Andre McDonald. At 6-2 200, he already looks like a collegiate receiver. He committed to Minnesota over offers from Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa and Michigan State. John Rabe started six games at tight end last season as a junior college transfer. He built a solid relationship with Gray during spring practice, and they'll need that to carry over during the season.
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