- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our Top 25 players countdown rolls on to No. 18 today. Once again, these rankings account only for 2011 performance and impact, and professional or future college potential.
A Champaign toast goes out now to ...
No. 18: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois, 6-foot, 190
Preseason ranking: Not ranked
2011 numbers: Jenkins led the Big Ten and was 13th nationally with 90 catches. He also finished third in the league in receiving yards with 1,276, to go along with eight touchdowns.
Why he's here: Had we done this list at midseason, Jenkins likely would have made the top five. He put up some ridiculous numbers early in the season, including a 12-catch, 268-yard, three-touchdown domination of Northwestern. He also posted 182 receiving yards against Indiana and 148 versus Arkansas State as he threatened to lead the nation in receiving yards.
But like the rest of the Illini offense, Jenkins' numbers took a plunge in the second half. He had only one 100-yard receiving day in the final seven games (103 in a loss against Michigan), was held to just four catches in the final two regular-season games and did not score a regular-season touchdown after Oct. 8. Marvin McNutt passed him in receiving yards and won the award as the league's top receiver.
Jenkins did bounce back with a key 60-yard touchdown in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl win over UCLA. His numbers could have reached historic levels if the rest of the offense didn't falter so badly down the stretch, and remember that Jenkins had very little help in the receiving corps, as no other player had more than 26 catches or 226 yards. Jenkins vowed to be the best receiver in the Big Ten this year, and he certainly made a compelling case most of the season.
No. 19: Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State
No. 25: Fitz Toussaint, RB, Michigan