Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Ranking the Big Ten wide receivers
By Adam Rittenberg
Earlier today, Brian ranked the groups of wide receivers and tight ends in the Big Ten. Now it's time to look at the individuals. We'll break these into two sections: wide receivers are below, and tight ends will be posted Thursday.
The Big Ten is loaded with No. 1 receivers, so sorting them out for this list wasn't easy. Unlike the running backs or quarterbacks, there isn't a huge gap between No. 1 and No. 10 in the wide receiver rankings. And since many of the league's top wideouts have strong track records, these rankings lean heavily on past performance and also consider potential for 2011.
There are quite a few good receivers who don't appear on this list.
Here are the top 10:
Jeremy Ebert is Dan Persa's favorite target; Ebert caught three TD passes last week in Persa's return to the lineup.
1. Jeremy Ebert, Northwestern, senior: Ebert is as solid as they come, having earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media in 2010. He led the league in receiving yards (953) as a junior and showed the ability to stretch the field, averaging 15.4 yards a catch. Ebert hauled in eight touchdowns as quarterback Dan Persa's top target. He headlines one of the league's deepest receiver groups this fall.
2. Derek Moye, Penn State, senior: It took a while for Penn State's offense to get on track last season, but Moye made the most of somewhat limited opportunities. He had 53 receptions but averaged 16.7 yards per catch with eight touchdowns and 68.1 receiving yards per game. The 6-foot-5 Moye can stretch the field and out-jump opposing defenders. If Penn State's quarterbacks indeed take the next step in their development, Moye will have a very big senior season.
3. Marvin McNutt, Iowa, senior: After starting his college career as a quarterback, McNutt has found his natural position at receiver. He averaged 16.2 yards per reception and scored eight touchdowns in 2010, and he could have an even bigger year as Iowa's clear-cut No. 1 option in the passing game. Boasting size, speed and athleticism, McNutt is on the NFL radar and could emerge as the league's top pro prospect and receiver following the 2011 season.
4. Roy Roundtree, Michigan, junior: Roundtree definitely has the potential to move up this list if he can build on a solid 2010 season (72 catches, 935 receiving yards, seven TDs). His big challenge is eliminating drops that plagued him at times last fall. Michigan's new offensive scheme could mean even bigger things for the receivers, and if Darryl Stonum remains suspended, Roundtree might take on a bigger role in the offense. He boasts big-play ability and ended the 2010 season with several good performances.
5. Damarlo Belcher, Indiana, senior: Some folks might forget that Belcher led the Big Ten in receptions (78), recording six or more catches in eight of 12 games. He needs to find the end zone more after scoring only four touchdowns in 2010, but he's one of the league's most experienced receivers on a team loaded with talent at the position. Belcher slimmed down a bit this winter, which should help his speed and durability. Look for Indiana's new quarterback to look for No. 88 a lot this fall.
6. Da'Jon McKnight, Minnesota, senior: Like several players on this list, McKnight has a chance to put himself on the NFL draft radar with a strong senior season. He finished tied for second in the Big Ten in touchdown receptions with 10 last season and averaged 15.6 yards per catch. After splitting catches with MarQueis Gray in 2010, McKnight now will be receiving passes from Gray, the Gophers' projected starter at quarterback. Minnesota lacks much proven depth at receiver, so Gray will be looking for McKnight quite a bit.
7. B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State, senior: Cunningham has been somewhat overlooked during his career, but things should change this fall. Expect the senior to build on his 2010 performance (50 receptions, 611 receiving yards, nine TDs) as he moves into a No. 1 role following Mark Dell's departure. Cunningham has good size (6-2, 223) and will be entering his fourth season as the starter. He's got plenty of help at receiver with Keshawn Martin, Keith Nichol and Bennie Fowler.
8. DeVier Posey, Ohio State, senior: Of the four Ohio State players suspended for the first five games, Posey might be missed the most. He has started the past two seasons and represents the only proven wide receiver on the 2011 roster. Although Posey didn't turn in a breakout year in 2010 like many had expected, he still put up some good numbers (53 catches, 848 receiving yards, eight TDs). The pro potential is there, and he can help himself with a more consistent year. His early-season absence creates opportunities for other receivers to emerge, but he'll almost certainly reclaim the No. 1 receiver spot upon his return.
9. Nick Toon, Wisconsin, senior: Toon had a bit of a disappointing season in 2010, as he dealt with injuries and some inconsistent play. But I expect him to bounce back and reclaim the form he showed in 2009, when he had 54 receptions and 805 receiving yards. As Lance Kendricks departs, Toon becomes the No. 1 option in Wisconsin's passing game. He could play a big role in easing the transition for the Badgers' new starting quarterback.
10. A.J. Jenkins, Illinois, senior: After nearly leaving the program in December 2009, Jenkins reaffirmed his commitment to the Illini and turned in a solid junior season. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is making strides as a passer and Jenkins should benefit after recording 56 receptions for 746 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010. Illinois is looking for greater depth at receiver, but Jenkins provides a good No. 1 option.