The Big Ten returns just two receivers who have 1,000-yard seasons in their careers, and just three with 900-yard seasons.
This is not a new thing, however. This is just how things are in the Big Ten.
Only 12 B1G receivers over the last five years have put up 1,000 yards receiving in a season. By contrast, 17 have done it in the SEC, 20 in the ACC, 23 in the Pac 12, and 26 in the Big XII.
(But it’s probably harder to throw in a conference featuring Ohio State cornerbacks.)
By the way, those two receivers with 1,000-yard seasons? Both of them missed the 2016 season due to injuries.
This position is pretty wide open, so keep that in mind as we continue our Big Ten Ratings in pursuit of our scientishic formula to figure out who exactly is going to win these two divisions.
Big Ten West
I’m going to list some names here and you’re going to be like, “Who?” This will be a pretty good indicator of just how thin this position is in the Big Ten West. Austin Carr is gone, but there are still some players here, and others will step up. Junior Flynn Nagel (40-447-2) has a tremendously Northwestern name and started 11 games last year. He replaces Carr in the slot. Senior Macan Wilson (22-306-1) is outside, and he will be joined by Oregon graduate transfer Jalen Brown. Brown started six times and amassed 407 yards receiving in his two seasons with the Ducks. Superback Garrett Dickerson is an effective weapon in the seam and the flats.
There isn’t a lot of returning production here, but there is talent on hand. Junior Stanley Morgan Jr. (33-453-2) had an okay season as a sophomore, but had just 68 yards receiving over the final four games of 2016. De’Mornay Pierson-El is now a senior and has ability, but has never recaptured the playmaking that we saw from him as a freshman when he returned three punts for touchdowns and caught four touchdown passes. Redshirt freshman J.D. Spielman is expected to help out in the slot. Freshmen Tyjon Lindsey and Jaevon McQuitty need to be more than rookies this year. Tight ends must emerge.
Tight end Troy Fumagalli is likely one of the nation’s best at his position. He caught 47 passes for 580 yards last year, but just two touchdowns. He needs to get into the end zone more often. Leading receiver (yardage) Jazz Peavy returns following a 43-catch season for 635 yards and five touchdowns. Peavy also rushed for over 300 yards on jet sweeps and the like. Behind those two, however, are a bunch of unknowns. Sophomore Quintez Cephus started five times as a true freshman last year, but caught just four passes. Senior George Rushing (12-136) has experience.
After being on the shelf for two years following a pair of ACL tears, Mike Dudek finally makes his highly-anticipated return. As a freshman, Dudek caught 76 passes for 1,038 yards and six touchdowns. He’ll be eased back, but his speed has returned and he is expected to be the Illini’s top playmaker. Still, there is some breath-holding going on here. Joining him will be senior Malik Turner, who has started games in each of his first three seasons. Turner led the team with 48 receptions for 712 yards and six touchdowns last season. There is almost no experience behind them, or at tight end. This group should be able to move up higher on this list, but caution is apt at the moment.
Given the quarterback issues over the last couple of years, it would be almost impossible for the Gophers to return much in the way of production. There is plenty of experience here, however. Senior tight ends Nate Wozkiak and Brandon Lingen have seen a lot and have been productive here and there. Junior Rashad Still (18-349) is the leading returning receiver. He averaged nearly 20 yards per reception, but never put that big-play ability into the end zone. Head coach P.J. Fleck is known for developing talented receivers. The guys he has now have been around for a couple of years, so they should be able to flourish immediately under his tutelage.
Junior tight end Cole Herdman (35-344-3) is the leading returning receiver on the team, which would be fine if there were some receivers even close to that kind of production. Unfortunately, receiver Gregory Phillips (17-172) is the closest to him in terms of numbers. Don’t get too hung up on the lack of names, however, as the Boilers are going to throw the ball a ton. Don’t be surprised when somebody on this team puts up 1,000 yards receiving. There’s just no telling who that guy might actually be.
The Hawkeyes return just three scholarship receivers, which seems really, really low. That number is even more jarring when you consider the fact that they also return seven scholarship tight ends. Senior receiver Matt VandeBerg is one of those returning receivers. He caught 19 passes for 284 yards in Iowa’s first four games last season, but a broken foot in practice cost him the rest of the season. So, yeah, Iowa’s best pass-catching hope is coming off of a broken foot. Don’t worry, though, there are four incoming freshmen to pick up the slack. Tight ends are an area of experience, but not production.
Big Ten East
1. Penn State
Penn State loses leading receiver Chris Godwin to the NFL, but they return pretty much everyone else who has ever seen a football thrown in their general direction. DaeSean Hamilton has 161 career receptions and is expected to look a lot like he did as a freshman when he caught 82 passes for 899 yards. Veterans DeAndre Thompkins and Saeed Blacknall both have starting experience and can score from anywhere. Sophomore Juwan Johnson (6-4 225) only caught two passes last season, but was a spring star. Irvin Charles is another 6-foot-4 sophomore to watch. And oh yeah, tight end Mike Gesicki (48-679-5) might be the toughest matchup in the entire conference.
Remember when I mentioned in the intro that the Big Ten only returns three players with at least 900 yards receiving in a season? Well, two of them are Hoosiers. Simmie Cobbs put up 1,035 yards in 2015 before missing last season. Nick Westbrook fell just short of 1,000 yards last season with 54 receptions for 995 yards and six touchdowns. There is not a ton of production behind them at receiver, nor is there much at tight end. What kind of drop off will the passing game have in 2017 without Kevin Wilson? There are plenty of questions, but the Hoosiers still have two of the most-proven receivers in the conference.
3. Ohio State
Speaking of questions, the Buckeyes have plenty of them. Junior Parris Campbell replaces Curtis Samuel, but only has 13 career receptions. Sharing the spot at H-back is sophomore K.J. Hill, who is actually the leading returning wide receiver with 18 catches for 262 yards and a touchdown last year. Junior Terry McLaurin started plenty last season, but caught just 11 passes. He had a solid spring. Sophomore Binjimen Victor is as talented as any receiver Urban Meyer has ever had, but now it’s time to start showing it. Keep an eye on junior Johnnie Dixon, who has battled knee injuries forever. Freshmen Trevon Grimes and Jaylen Harris are worth watching. Tight end Marcus Baugh (24-269-2) could be in for a big year. Behind him are talented redshirt freshmen.
It would seem questions are the theme of the day here, because Michigan has to somehow replace their top three pass catchers from last season. There are some projections out there that have true freshmen Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones in the Michigan starting lineup together. They will eventually get there because they are both very talented, but I’m not sure what it would mean for both of them to be there this year. Eddie McDoom has to show he’s more than just a jet sweep guy. There are some other non-freshman receivers, but they have 10 career receptions among them. Kekoa Crawford could emerge among those names. Tyrone Wheatley and Ian Bunting are experienced tight ends who will have to pick up the slack from the Jake Butt departure.
Senior Janarion Grant was recently declared 100% healthy for this season, which is huge news for Rutgers after he missed all but four games last season following an ankle injury. Grant is one return touchdown away from setting the NCAA career mark for special teams touchdown returns. Sophomore Jawuan Harris (39-481-3) led Rutgers in receiving in Grant’s place and did pretty well. Grant should move back into the slot, pushing Harris out wide. Senior Damon Mitchell is a graduate transfer from Arkansas. Junior tight end Jerome Washington is a transfer from Miami, FL. There is no returning production at tight end, so Washington will be relied upon heavily.
Junior D.J. Moore is the veteran here, with 23 starts to his credit. He led the team with 637 yards receiving last season (41 receptions) and six touchdowns. Former Ohio State commit Taivon Jacobs is now entering his fourth season at Maryland. He missed last season with an injury. He is explosive when healthy, but needs to be more hit than miss this season. Sophomore D.J. Turner is in the mix, but he had all of two catches last season. The Terps return a ton of experience at tight end, but basically no production. That’s not a very good sign, regardless of the turmoil at quarterback a year ago. Freshmen could help at receiver and tight end as well.
7. Michigan State
Sophomore Trishton Jackson (5-89-1) had a productive spring and looked like the possible No. 1 receiver this year for the Spartans. Fellow sophomore Darrell Stewart got a start last year but caught just three total passes as a freshman. Junior Felton Davis (12-150-1) will be relied upon this season. He’s a veteran in a room of very young players. Redshirt freshman Cam Chambers was one of Mark Dantonio’s big recruiting wins in 2016. He needs to make some noise immediately. Freshman Hunter Rison is a legacy Spartan. Cornerback Justin Layne could also maybe see time both ways. Tight end Matt Sokol has played in 26 games, but has just two career receptions.