Big Ten could be loaded at receiver in 2011

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
5:30
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Only two Big Ten wide receivers -- Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher and Indiana's Tandon Doss -- made my postseason Top 25 player rankings from the 2010 season.

I'd be stunned if the number doesn't increase in next year's rankings.

A look at the Big Ten landscape reveals that wide receiver could be one of the league's deepest position groups in 2011. Six of the league's top seven receivers return from 2010, and almost every squad has a No. 1 receiver who could legitimately contend for all-conference honors. We saw a fairly significant upgrade in Big Ten quarterback play between 2009 and 2010. Receiver could be the position that truly blossoms this fall.

I really like the No. 1 receivers throughout the conference. Some of the supporting casts are solid; others not so much.

Let's take a team-by-team look at the top receivers and grade the supporting casts:

ILLINOIS
  • Top target: A.J. Jenkins, 6-foot, 185, Sr. (56 catches, 746 yards, 7 TDs in 2010)
  • Supporting cast: Not great at the moment. Jarred Fayson departs, and running back Mikel Leshoure, who's leaving early for the NFL draft, finished third on the team in receptions (17) last season. Illinois really needs to develop No. 2 and No. 3 options this spring. Fred Sykes and Ryan Lankford could step into those roles.
INDIANA
  • Top target: Damarlo Belcher, 6-5, 214, Sr. (honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2010, league-high 78 receptions, 832 receiving yards, 4 TDs)
  • Supporting cast: Promising. Despite the departures of Doss and Terrance Turner, Indiana has more than one option at receiver. Duwyce Wilson had 32 receptions for 488 yards and three touchdowns in 2010, and Ted Bolser was one of the Big Ten's most productive tight ends with 27 receptions and five scores. The Hoosiers could use a No. 3 option at receiver and Kofi Hughes, who saw the field as a true freshman last fall, is a possibility.
IOWA
  • Top target: Marvin McNutt, 6-4, 215, Sr. (second-team All-Big Ten by coaches in 2010, 53 catches, 861 yards, 8 TDs)
  • Supporting cast: Looks iffy right now as Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Colin Sandeman both depart. Iowa really needs Keenan Davis to blossom this spring as a potential No. 2 option behind McNutt. Sophomore Don Shumpert is the only other receiver on the roster to have lettered for the Hawkeyes.
MICHIGAN
  • Top target: Roy Roundtree, 6-foot, 176, Jr. (second-team All-Big Ten by media in 2010, 72 catches, 935 yards, 7 TDs)
  • Supporting cast: Strong. Receiver is Michigan's deepest position, and Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway both provide good options behind Roundtree, who really blossomed in 2010. Kelvin Grady also adds some depth. The group must limit dropped passes, a problem at times last season.
MICHIGAN STATE
  • Top target: B.J. Cunningham, 6-2, 220, Sr. (honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2010, 50 receptions, 611 yards, 9 TDs)
  • Supporting cast: Very good. Despite the departure of Mark Dell, the Spartans should be excellent at receiver in 2011. Speedster Keshawn Martin returns after recording 32 receptions last fall, and Michigan State will look for more from senior Keith Nichol after a so-so season. Redshirt sophomore Bennie Fowler is an exciting prospect who could become a star this fall.
MINNESOTA
  • Top target: Da'Jon McKnight, 6-3, 214, Sr. (honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2010, 48 receptions, 750 yards, 10 TDs)
  • Supporting cast: Not great at this point. Minnesota's No. 2 receiver, MarQueis Gray, moves back to quarterback after recording 42 receptions in 2010. Although tight end Eric Lair should help the passing game once again, the Gophers need other options to emerge. Junior Brandon Green returns from injury and could step into more of a featured role.
NEBRASKA
  • Top target: Brandon Kinnie, 6-3, 225, Sr. (44 receptions, 494 yards, 5 TDs in 2010)
  • Supporting cast: Unproven. There's potential here with players like speedster Kenny Bell, junior college transfer Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Tyler Evans. Niles Paul's departure could hurt but this group pretty much gets a fresh start with a new coach (Rich Fisher) and a new offense. Could be a good thing.
NORTHWESTERN
  • Top target: Jeremy Ebert, 6-foot, 195, Sr. (first-team All-Big Ten by media in 2010, 62 receptions, 953 yards, 8 TDs)
  • Supporting cast: An encouraging group. Demetrius Fields and Charles Brown are good secondary options if healthy, but the real potential comes from sophomores Rashad Lawrence, Tony Jones and Venric Mark. All three players saw the field last fall and raised hope for the future. Superback Drake Dunsmore also could build on a 40-catch season.
OHIO STATE
  • Top target: DeVier Posey, 6-2, 213, Sr. (honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2010, 53 receptions, 848 yards, 7 TDs)
  • Supporting cast: Cause for concern. Not only does Ohio State need several receivers to emerge before September, but it shoulders the additional burden of not having Posey for the first five games because of suspension. Hopes are high for Corey "Philly" Brown, who had eight catches for 105 yards last season. Ohio State also will look to players like Chris Fields, James Jackson and James Louis. This is a spot where a true freshman like Evan Spencer could play right away.
PENN STATE
  • Top target: Derek Moye, 6-5, 202, Sr. (honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2010, 53 catches, 885 yards, 8 TDs)
  • Supporting cast: A lot to like. Penn State will miss big target Brett Brackett, but expectations should be raised for Justin Brown and Devon Smith, who combined for 60 receptions last fall. Curtis Drake, who was in line for a starting job before breaking his leg in August, also adds depth to the group.
PURDUE
  • Top target: Antavian Edison, 5-11, 175, Jr. (32 receptions, 314 yards, 4 TDs in 2010)
  • Supporting cast: I was tempted to put Justin Siller in the "top target" category, but he has to stay healthy and prove himself as a receiver this fall. Purdue obviously would have benefited from getting Keith Smith a sixth year of eligibility, but the overall depth here should be OK. O.J. Ross and Gary Bush both could take on enhanced roles.
WISCONSIN
  • Top target: Nick Toon, 6-3, 218, Sr. (36 receptions, 459 yards, 3 TDs)
  • Supporting cast: A little iffy. Toon first must rebound from a bit of a down year, and Wisconsin needs other options to develop alongside Jared Abbrederis, who was a pleasant surprise in 2010. The Badgers lose veterans David Gilreath and Isaac Anderson and will be looking for players like Jeff Duckworth and Marquis Mason to step up.

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