- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Big Ten media days are around the corner, and preseason practice will begin right after. So we're getting a jump on the festivities by examining and ranking each of the position groups around the league.
Next in this series: Receivers and tight ends.
Best of the best: Ohio State
The Buckeyes have captured the top spot in each of our first three personnel rankings after also checking in No. 1 at quarterback and running back. This one is not as clear-cut as the first two.
Ohio State lost premier deep-ball receiver Devin Smith, along with valuable performers in receiver Evan Spencer and tight end Jeff Heuerman. So there will be some pressure on this unit going into the fall. Still, the talent on hand is exciting. Michael Thomas looks ready to become a true star after a breakout sophomore campaign, while the versatile Jalin Marshall could be even more dangerous following his promising true freshman season. Dontre Wilson is another speedster who should continue to develop, and teammates and coaches are high on Johnnie Dixon's potential. Corey Smith also contributed during last year's title run, and Nick Vannett is an experienced tight end. The Buckeyes will be just fine here.
Next up: Penn State
The Nittany Lions were very young at wideout last year, and it showed at times. But the good news is that all of those pups have matured, and they should form a strong group in 2015. DaeSean Hamilton led the Big Ten in catches last year with 82 and will look to rip off more big plays this year. Chris Godwin and Geno Lewis also flashed potential, while Saeed Blacknall is another talented youngster on the rise. Losing Jesse James stung, but Penn State still has a wealth of options at tight end, including Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman.
Kenny Bell is gone, but the Huskers could still be dangerous at receiver this fall. Maybe even more so if the electric De'Mornay Pierson-El can unlock his potential on offense and not just special teams. Jordan Westerkamp is a dependable veteran who can make the occasional highlight reel grab, while guys like Jamal Turner and Alonzo Moore have been around a while. Nebraska is also in good shape at tight end with Cethan Carter and Sam Cotton. Mike Riley's arrival could improve the passing attack and benefit this entire group.
Problem for a contender: Wisconsin and Minnesota
Receiver proved to be a problem position for both the Badgers and Gophers last year in what were otherwise successful seasons. Wisconsin never really found another option besides Alex Erickson, while Minnesota relied heavily on tight end Maxx Williams, who bolted for the NFL. The Badgers are left hoping once again that players such as Reggie Love, Robert Wheelwright and George Rushing can emerge into useful weapons, while the Gophers pin their optimism on several redshirt freshmen such as Melvin Holland and Isaiah Gentry. Both these teams have run-first mentalities and should have physical tight ends who get the job done. But if they want to reach the next level, they'll need some receivers to step up and make plays during the course of the season.