Wide Receiver in the Big Ten has had an ever increasing role in the past decade and while names like David Boston, Chris Chambers, Ted Ginn, Jr., Lee Evans, Braylon Edwards, and Charles Rodgers have proven in the past there is talent in the Big Ten at the wide receiver spot 2013 is a totally different animal.
Most of the starts of 2012 are back and that means a deep and very talented pool of players. It also means this wasn't an easy group to separate as it felt at times like I was splitting hairs. However, one thing was clear - the year of the wide receiver in the Big Ten is upon us and it's coming from places you'd least expect it.
So, as we roll into the last position group to get ranked this season let me remind you once again that these rankings are solely mine and don't represent everyone at the site - if you agree or disagree leave a comment below and let the rankings commence!
1. Nebraska: This is the deepest and best wide receiver group I've ever seen at Nebraska and it's the best all around group in the conference for me. They've got the speed burner in Kenny Bell, who as a sophomore last year had 50 receptions for 863 yards and 3 TD's. They've got the possession guy in Quincy Enunwa who had 42 receptions for 470 yards and 1 TD. They also have some great depth with junior Jamal Turner (a former QB) having 32 receptions for 417 yards and 3 TD's last season. Add in a really intriguing prospect in redshirt freshman Jordan Westerkamp and you get the picture. For once the passing game is just as good as the rushing game inside Memorial Stadium.
2. Indiana: The numbers for this unit are crazy and you'd expect that with a pass happy offense like the one Kevin Wilson and the Hoosiers run, but the details and people behind the numbers are for real. Shane Wynn, Cody Latimer, and Kofi Hughes are a hell of a 1-2-3 punch to throw at teams in the passing game. Wynn is an absolute burner and Latimer is a great combo of great size and speed. He ranked No. 17 on our Preseason Top 25 Players list for that. Wynn and Latimer had 119 receptions by themselves last season and Hughes, who has all the tools to be great too has been kind of the forgotten man in the mix despite having 43 receptions for 639 yards and 3 touchdowns. This group is the star of the Hoosiers offense by a mile, after all, all three of them were in the Big Ten's Top 10 in receiving yards per game last season - toping what the Buckeyes did.
3. Ohio State: How could a group that has Corey "Philly" Brown and Devin Smith not be a top three unit? After all the two combined for 90 reception last year on a team that struggled in the passing game. Brown and Smith both ranked inside the Big Ten's top ten last season in receiving yards per game. That certainly isn't anything to just brush off. Behind them there's some decent options in Evan Spencer and Michael Thomas. What separates this group from Nebraska is the fact that their options outside the top guys aren't quite as proven. Spencer was the 3rd best receiver on the team in terms of catches last season and he had less than half of Smith's 30 catches, so that's an issue if you want to talk about experienced depth.
4. Northwestern: It's a shame that Indiana and Nebraska are as loaded as they are because so to are the Wildcats. Of course the No. 1 question on everyone's mind is if now junior Kyle Prater can finally become the player that earned a five-star ranking out of high school. It's a good thing he may not have to be because this group has talent a mile wide in the likes of Christian Jones (team best 35 receptions), fellow junior Tony Jones (29 receptions), and Rashad Lawrence (34 receptions). Those last two are big targets that really stretch a secondary's ability to clamp down on the speed others bring to the table. If Prater can be a reliable option for this group they instantly would jump into my top two, but we have yet to see him do jack and squat to prove it on the field.
5. Penn State: Yes, Allen Robinson sprang out of nowhere to become the only Big Ten receiver to go over 1,000 yards last season. I was very impressed with what he did and how he did it. However, this isn't last season and he doesn't have Matt McGloin throwing him the football. Expecting his numbers to stay anything close to what he pulled off last year may be asking a bit too much. Brandon Moesby-Felder is a good target who hauled in 31 receptions on his own last year. Alex Kenney, a senior is another good option who had 17 receptions last season and is perhaps the best pure route runner in the wide receiver corp. If I hadn't pulled out tight end's on their own then this group would've been a top 2 or 3 type group. However, the depth of the wide receiver group on the whole isn't there to make them any higher than this, especially given the depth and weapons that are above them.
6. Michigan: No Roy Roundtree really could hurt this offense's transition back to a pure pro-style system. He's a perfect fit for it. However, looking at 2013 you see a team that has some decent parts, but just nothing that stands out and grabs your attention in terms of experience and eye popping numbers. Jeremy Gallon is a great route runner and did have 49 receptions last year, but he wasn't counted on to be the only guy and that's the case this season. Beyond him look for names like senior Drew Delio and sophomore Amara Darboh be bigger threats - especially Darboh, who's high school film I really loved while reading up on him during his recruitment process. So far I've talked a ton about potential and not a lot about proven results and that will get you down a list quick, especially one as loaded as WR is this season in the Big Ten.
7. Michigan State: Let's start with the good news, this group was young last season and that means there's no where to go but up for most of them after what could only be described as a vastly inconsistent 2012. In fact it got so bad that without Dion Sims and Le'Veon Bell this team would've drowned in the passing game more often than not - those two are gone so it's sink or swim time for the rest of the gang. Aaron Burbridge looks to be the guy QB Andrew Maxwell will turn to this season as he made the biggest jump this offseason. Along with Burbridge expect DeAnthony Arnett to make a jump as well. 2012's leading receiver, Keith Mumphrey is back following a 42 reception performance last season. Tony Lippet is another name to watch out of this group. On the whole there are some nice parts, but the issue is no one has stood out and no one has been a consistent enough performer to win me over as of yet - that could all change early on this season, but I'll wait for them to actually prove it on the field first.
8. Iowa: While the passing game was a bit of a mess last season you can't put that on the wide receivers as they featured a talented duo of Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley. Davis is gone, but Manley, the leading receiver last year with 52 receptions returns. In fact, Manley ranked 6th in receptions per game in the Big Ten last season. That's a nice building block, but if this team is to move forward at all in 2013 someone needs to emerge as a second option. Look for Jordan Cotton to get the first crack at that after a 12 reception, 14.3 yard average year a season ago. There are some young guys to look for as well, but the depth isn't experienced and needs to gel quickly or this part of the game could really suffer for Ferentz and Co. Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer are two of those younger names to watch for in 2013 and beyond. The duo of sophomores only caught a total of 4 balls last season, but with Davis gone their roles should increase this season.
9. Wisconsin: If there's a better receiver going deep down the field in the Big Ten than the Badgers' Jared Abbrederis I'd like for you to prove it. After all, he did average an incredible 17.1 yards a catch last year. 2012 wasn't his best season, but that was more about the three man QB rotation going on than anything else. He's a bona fide star in the Big Ten and was named our No. 13 player in our Preseason Top 25 Players list. So, why so low for this group? Well, who else do they have? Wisconsin features a bunch of promise in names like Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe, but that promise hasn't meant production yet. Fredrick has great size and could be the possession guy needed opposite of Abbrederis, but he needs to be more consistent. Look for Doe's role to increase as his speed and shiftiness could be utilized under new OC Andy Ludwig. Two other names to watch will be sophomore Reggie Love and incoming freshman Rob Wheelwright - both will have every opportunity to earn their playing time during fall camp. If any of them emerge as a true weapon and fast this group will be ranked far too low, but I'm not buying it until I actually see it happen on the field.
10. Minnesota: It's never a good sign when your best wide receiver and the one that tops the receptions list didn't even play for you for the final four games of the season. We're talking about A.J. Barker, who quite the team in November and still was their best WR when all was said and done. 2013 is a new year and for the Gophers offense it's about finding the weapons to complement a power running attack. Derrick Engel is a solid option as a possession type receiver, but if you want to scare opposing defenses you have to have a home run hitter. For Minnesota that may be Jamel Harbison, who's back after a knee injury killed off his freshman season last year. He could be the speed option this group is sorely lacking and if he can stay consistent in 2013 it'll be a big help to this team. The other name to watch and a name I'm expecting far bigger things from is Devin Crawford-Tufts - he's got the physical tools, but hasn't put it together yet. By now I hope you're seeing the pattern of why this group ranks so low - a ton of potential with no results to show for it as we speak.
11. Purdue: This group is in a world of hurt. Expected starter O.J. Ross hasn't been allowed back to the team yet by new head coach Darrell Hazel and according to sources don't hold your breathe for him to ever wear the black and gold of the Boilers again. So, this season the focus is on Dolapo McCarthy, a massive 6'5" target that I really happen to like. He's got the size obviously, but he also seems to know how to use his body to his advantage and that's something that usually takes some time for most guys to figure out. Expect a breakout year for him. However, this group is thin on names and anything else to go on outside of McCarthy. Someone else needs to step it up and help this group or they are in some serious trouble.
12. Illinois: Ryan Lankford and Darius Millines would've been a nice combo to start out with for new OC Bill Cubbit, problem is Millines couldn't stay out of trouble and was dismissed from the team, leaving Lankford as the lone returning receiver with any real experience under his belt. Lankford has 32 receptions a season ago and that number should increase significantly no matter what in 2013. Behind him though... Um, ya, uhhh.... Perhaps incoming JUCO transfer Martize Barr will be a good option for them, but outside of that it's a true crapshoot as to who actually contributes. My next best guess is Justin Hardee, a speedy sophomore that looked good in the spring and brings a different dimension to this offense. He just needs to be more consistent overall. This group is thin at best and really needs to pull it's weight in 2013 or this could be a second very ugly season in Illini Country.