After having three 1,000-yard receivers in each of the last three seasons, the Big Ten produced just one such receiver — D.J. Moore (Maryland 1,033) — in 2017.
You know things are a bit thin when the top two returning receivers in terms of yardage are both from Nebraska.
The East division returns just two receivers who put up more than 600 yards receiving last season. However, that just means there are about to be some new receivers emerge.
Those about-to-be-stars will greatly factor into the ratings below.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes lose tight end Marcus Baugh, but return every other contributing pass catcher from last year. Six starters split time at OSU’s three receiver positions and if you combine their numbers at each position, it looks like this: H – 96 rec, 1,133 yards, 6 TDs; Z – 47 rec, 858 yards, 14 TDs; X – 47 rec, 692 yards, 9 TDs. H-back Parris Campbell may be the most explosive receiver in the conference. K.J. Hill is a weapon over the middle. Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin can make things happen outside, and Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack should blossom in their second season as co-starters. Demario McCall will be involved in the slot as well. Redshirt sophomore tight end Luke Farrell emerged this spring. The Buckeyes also have 5-star Jeremy Ruckert in the TE mix now.
2. Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State’s receiving corps essentially came out of nowhere last year, but so did much of the Spartan football team. After two quiet seasons, Felton Davis emerged to lead MSU with 55 receptions for 776 yards and nine touchdowns. Another year in this offense should bring even bigger numbers this season. Darrell Stewart also surprised people as a sophomore last year with 50 catches for 501 yards. Cody White had a pretty decent freshman season of 35 receptions for 490 yards last season. The experience that all three receivers gained last year will allow them to hit the ground running this season. Starting tight end Matt Sokol (21-222-1) is back as well. This is a proven — and improving — group.
3. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan may have the two best young receivers in the Big Ten, but they still have to show it. Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones opened the season with the ones last year, but Black went down with a foot injury after just three games. Peoples-Jones played in every game, but only caught passes in seven of the 13 games in which he played. He finished with 22 catches for 277 yards, but he is also a dangerous weapon on jet sweeps and the like. Black looks like a future — and probably current — star. Michigan is deep at tight end, which is good because they use so many of them. Senior Grant Perry was Michigan’s best receiver last year. He won’t be this year. Sophomore Nico Collins will also be one to watch.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions
Junior Juwan Johnson is physically imposing (6-4 229) and athletic. While he only had one touchdown in his 54 receptions for 701 yards last season, he should become a viable red-zone threat this season. Senior DeAndre Thompkins is a consistent contributor over the years, never having more than 28 or fewer than 23 receptions in a season. Tight end Mike Gesicki and his 57 receptions from last season will need to be replaced. Penn State generally has options at tight end, however, so expect somebody to emerge there. There are also some talented freshman wide receivers in the mix this season, particularly 5-star Justin Shorter (6-4 220), who was the No. 1 receiver in the 2018 class.
5. Indiana Hoosiers
There is plenty to like here with the Hoosier receivers. Chief among them is the return of Nick Westbrook, who missed last season, but had 54 receptions for 995 yards and six touchdowns in 2016. He should step in just fine for the departed Simmie Cobbs. Luke Timian will again be in the slot, but the Hoosiers will be hoping he does more after the catch than he did in last year’s 68 receptions where he averaged just 8.7 yards per catch. Whop Philyor had a productive freshman season with 33 catches for 335 yards and three touchdowns. Taysir Mack also had a strong freshman season (23-310-3). A tight end will be needed, as the loss of Ian Thomas is significant. Overall, this is a good group with possibly the most-productive receiver in the Big Ten.
6. Maryland Terrapins
D.J. Moore and his 1,033 yards receiving are gone, but the void he left behind remains. The top two returning receivers for the Terps are seniors Taivon Jacobs (47-553-5) and Jahrvis Davenport (13-123), and their respective performances this season are paramount. D.J. Turner is a stocky slot receiver (5-9 200) who has been around a few years now. Tights ends will need to be found, but D.J. Durkin and new offensive coordinator Matt Canada have options. Durkin also brought in a handful of freshman receivers, so don’t be surprised if somebody emerges there.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Tight end Jerome Washington transferred over from Miami and led Rutgers with 28 catches for 282 yards and one touchdown last season. He is back for his senior season and much more is expected of him this time around. The rest of the Scarlet Knight pass catchers, however, have many questions to answer. Sophomore Bo Melton started three games last year, catching four passes. In the spring game, however, he was dynamic catching five passes for 187 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow sophomore Hunter Hayek started twice last year, but caught just eight passes for 62 yards. He will be in the slot. Outside of the names above, the rest of the production will have to come from young players who are promising, but still very inexperienced.