Our ongoing Big Ten conference positional ratings move now to the wide receivers and the tight ends of the East Division.
There are only three returning receivers in the East that averaged more than four catches per game last season. The tops among them is Ohio State’s KJ Hill, who finished fifth in the B1G last season with 68 receptions and 865 yards.
The next closest returning receiver in the East is Michigan State senior Darrell Stewart with 48 receptions for just 413 yards.
Don’t let the lack of numbers fool you, however, there is still plenty of talented pass catchers on hand. Of the three 5-star receivers in the Big Ten, all three are on the East side of the map.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (57)
The Buckeyes must replace three fifth-year seniors from last season, but they still bring back more talent than anybody else in the Big Ten. Senior KJ Hill caught more passes (68) for more yards (865) than any other returning receiver in the East. Seniors Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack are back in the starting rotation for a third season. Playing the same position the previous two years, they combined for 47 receptions each season. This year, they could be playing opposite each other. Joining them on the outside is sophomore Chris Olave, who stepped into the rotation last year when Mack went down. He scored twice against Michigan. Redshirt freshman Jaelen Gill had a tremendous spring in the slot. Fifth-year senior CJ Saunders is reliable in the slot as well. True freshman Garrett Wilson is a 5-star signee and sure looked like it this spring. All four tight ends from last season return. Fourth-year junior Luke Farrell started 10 games last year, catching 20 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. Fifth-year senior Rashod Berry is the most explosive athlete among the tight ends, and sophomore Jeremy Ruckert will get some time in the slot this season as well.
2. Michigan Wolverines (52)
The Wolverines return their three best receivers from last season, and each of them is potentially a No. 1 guy. Former 5-star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones led the team with 47 receptions (612 yards) and eight touchdowns as a sophomore. He is one of the most dynamic players after the catch in the conference and with a new higher-octane spread offense, he should put quite a bit of stress on opposing defenses. Junior Nico Collins led Michigan with 632 receiving yards and was second with six touchdown catches. His 38 receptions were 25th-most in the conference, but only three players in the conference had more than his eight 30-yard receptions last season. Redshirt sophomore Tarik Black has been saddled by foot injuries his first two years, and he could be the best of the bunch. They may be the best trio in the conference. True freshman slot receiver Mike Sainristil played well in the spring. Sophomore Ronnie Bell is a tremendous athlete. There is talent at tight end as well. Senior Sean McKeon caught 14 passes last year. Senior Nick Eubanks can stretch the field. Redshirt freshman Mustapha Muhammad was a top recruit.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions (47)
The Nittany Lions shed some skin from last season, as some inconsistent parts of the passing game transferred out. Penn State’s passing game improved with the reliance upon younger receivers, which bodes well for this year, assuming there is a quarterback to get them the ball. Slot receiver KJ Hamler led the team with 42 receptions for 754 yards last season, including a 93-yarder against Ohio State. Sophomore Jahan Dotson started four games last year as a true freshman, catching 13 passes for 203 yards. As a recruit, he was sought after by most of the top programs in the nation. He got his feet wet last season. Now it’s time for him to jump into the deep end. Redshirt freshman Justin Shorter was a 5-star signee last year, but did not make it into the rotation. Expectations are still high for him. Redshirt freshman Daniel George caught a 95-yarder last year. Sophomore tight end Pat Freiermuth (26-368) led the team with eight touchdown catches last year. Redshirt freshman tight end Zack Kuntz was one of the top tight ends in the 2018 recruiting class. There are playmakers inside and outside in Happy Valley.
4. Michigan State Spartans (47)
Michigan State returns a bunch of experienced receivers, many of whom had to step up last season as young playmakers due to injuries to veterans. Eight receivers missed a combined 25 games for MSU last year. The top two receivers return in junior Cody White and senior Darrell Stewart. White led the team with 555 yards receiving and Stewart led them with 48 catches, but they combined for just three scores. Quarterback Brian Lewerke was injured for much of last season, but him being healthy in 2019 should allow a deep group of receivers to shine. Sophomore Jalen Nailor caught eight passes as a true freshman last season. He may be the most explosive receiver on the team. Junior Cam Chambers (19-264) and Brandon Sowards (18-201) add depth. Junior tight end Matt Dotson could be the new starter this season. He has three career starts. Junior Noah Davis has four starts. There are two former 4-star tight ends and two former 3-star tight ends on this roster.
5. Indiana Hoosiers (42)
Indiana must replace their top two slot receivers from last season, but other than that, almost everyone is back. Starting wideouts Nick Westbrook (42-590-4) and Donovan Hale (42-508-6) provide the Hoosiers with two taller targets. Neither player was much of a home-run threat last season, but two years ago Westbrook led the B1G with seven receptions of 40 yards or more. Junior Whop Philyor (23-235-1) returns and could be the Hoosiers’ starting slot receiver. Junior Ty Fryfogle (29-381-3) started three games last year, as did Philyor. Starting tight end Peyton Hendershot returns. He caught 15 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns last year. There was also quite a bit of buzz about redshirt freshman receiver Miles Marshall this spring. This is a deep and experienced group with some young up-and-comers on the way.
6. Maryland Terrapins (54)
The Maryland passing game from last season was pitiful, so while there is quite a bit of experience returning at receiver and tight end, the production of those returners is quite lacking. There are 12 scholarship wide receivers looking for action this season, and they should find much more than they did a year ago when the Terps’ 125 completions were the fewest in the nation among offenses that didn’t run the triple-option. Sophomore Jeshaun Jones (22-288-5) had his moments as a true freshman and will be relied upon this season. Fellow sophomore Dontay Demus (13-278) only had 13 catches in 2018 but compiled as many 40-yard receptions (3) as Parris Campbell, KJ Hamler, Noah Fant, and Johnnie Dixon. There are a bunch of redshirt sophomores looking for their first contributions at wide receiver as well. Senior DJ Turner should make some plays in the slot. Tyler Mabry is an All-MAC tight end who transferred in from Buffalo.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (47)
Pretty much every part of Rutgers’ unsuccessful passing game from last season returns, save for a couple of tight ends. Junior Bo Melton (28-245) and sophomore Eddie Lewis (24-173) were the two leading wide receivers from last season, and neither had a reception of 30 yards. Melton is a former 4-star recruit who can do some different things, but hasn’t shown as much as expected yet. Junior Mohamed Jabbie has started games in each of his first two seasons but has very little production to show for it. Sophomore Daevon Robinson (8-62) has been moved from tight end as the staff is looking for bigger receivers. Sophomore Shameen Jones caught 15 passes for 155 yards last season, starting seven games as a freshman. Former true freshman starting quarterback Joahnathan Lewis is now a redshirt sophomore tight end, and he is joined by redshirt freshman Wisconsin transfer Matt Alaimo. Rutgers had four passing plays for 30 yards or more last season. (Ohio State had 36.)
Big Ten Ratings
Receivers — West