What the Big Ten West may lack in quarterbacks, it makes up for in receivers and tight ends.
Each team returns something to give them hope, and for those teams breaking in new quarterbacks, there are receivers there to help him out.
New offensive systems at Nebraska and Illinois will make things interesting as well.
Overall, it’s a pretty deep group of pass catchers, with some young players to watch coming along also.
1. Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin had a youth surge at receiver last year, which bodes well for them this season. Junior Quintez Cephus caught 30 passes for 501 yards and six touchdowns before missing a handful of games. Junior A.J. Taylor is the leading returning receiver, having put up 31 receptions for 475 yards and five touchdowns last year. Sophomores Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor came up huge last year as freshmen, particularly Davis and his 26 receptions, 418 yards, and five touchdowns. This group of receivers only produced four catches of 40 or more yards, which lends credence to those who have questions about quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s arm strength. Losing tight end Troy Fumagalli is big, but the Badgers return experience here as well.
2. Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Huskers have two of the most explosive receivers in the Big Ten in senior Stanley Morgan and sophomore J.D. Spielman. Morgan caught 61 passes for 986 yards and a Big Ten-high 10 touchdowns last year. He was second in the B1G in receptions of 20+ yards last year, and tied for the most 50-yard receptions with five. As a freshman last year, Spielman caught 55 passes for 830 yards and two touchdowns. He finished fourth in the B1G with 14 receptions of 20 or more yards. He will be used all over the field this year and is a threat from every angle. Sophomore Tyjon Lindsey is quick and fast, but needs to do more with the opportunities. The search for tight ends consists mostly of young players.
3. Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern returns their top two receivers in junior Ben Skowronek and senior Flynn Nagel. As a sophomore, Skowronek caught 45 passes for 644 yards, with two 100-yard games. The leading receiver last year was Nagel, who caught 48 passes for 489 yards and a pair of touchdown. Younger receivers like Riley Lees and Jace James are expected to complement the veterans, as will oft-injured senior Solomon Vault, who could add some needed playmaking to the group. This being Northwestern, the need for a superback is real, and junior Cameron Green looks like a good bet. He caught 20 passes for 170 yards last season as Garrett Dickerson’s backup.
4. Iowa Hawkeyes
Last year’s leading receiver Nick Easley returns for the Hawkeyes following a 2017 season where he caught 51 passes for 530 yards and four touchdowns. Surprisingly, however, none of those touchdowns came against Ohio State. There weren’t any big plays from Easley, as 29 of his 51 receptions went for 10 yards or less, and only one catch went for over 40 yards. Sophomore Ihmir Smith-Marsette has potential, following a freshman season where he caught 18 passes for 187 yards. The real playmakers in this passing game, however, are tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Last season as underclassmen they combined for 54 receptions for 814 yards and 14 touchdowns. They each scored twice against the Buckeyes last year.
5. Purdue Boilermakers
There are some guys here who could put up pretty good numbers for Purdue this year if they can start making just one defender miss. Jackson Anthrop averaged 9.0 yards per reception last year (47-423-5) and Terry Wright (29-274-0) averaged 9.4 yards per catch. Former quarterback Jared Sparks caught 19 passes for 222 yards as a redshirt freshman. Anthrop is the only receiver on the roster with a 30-yard catch last year. Interestingly, the bigger-play guys in the passing game are tight ends Brycen Hopkins and Cole Herdman, who combined for 45 catches, 680 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Twelve of their catches went for over 20 yards.
6. Illinois Fighting Illini
There is some promise here for Illinois. Dynamic receiver Mike Dudek is back and healthy after missing all of 2015, 2016, and essentially half of 2017. If he can return to his 2014 form as a freshman when he caught 76 passes for 1,038 yards and six touchdowns, then the Illini would have a nice base to start with. Because Illinois wasn’t going anywhere last year, head coach Lovie Smith relied on the young players so that they would grow up faster and produce in 2018. Ricky Smalling led the team last year as a freshman with 31 catches for 510 yards. He and Dudek, along with sophomore Carmoni Green have Illinois fans excited. Tight end Louis Dorsey caught 22 passes for 395 yards and a team-high three touchdowns last season as a freshman, so even more is expected of him this year.
7. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Like most of the state of the Minnesota football program thanks to Tracy Claeys and company, the present here at receiver is based on possibilities instead of probabilities. Tyler Johnson had a very good sophomore season with 35 receptions for 677 yards and seven touchdowns. He was able to do that essentially without a quarterback. There are some young guys from P.J. Fleck’s first recruiting class — Demetrius Douglas (11-83) and Chris Autman-Bell (redshirt) — who will be counted on. Third-year sophomore Phillip Howard (11-132) has starting experience as well. Freshman Rashod Bateman had offers from Georgia, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and others. Tight end is up in the air.
2018 Big Ten Ratings
Receivers and Tight Ends — East |