Welcome to the third part of Off Tackle Empire's Spring Position Rankings series. Today we're talking about wide receivers, the mythical creatures known to catch things called "passes" in conferences that exist in faraway lands. Rumor has it that you can even find some in Big Ten country. The following players are ranked in order of projected awesomeness in 2016.
1) Jehu Chesson, Michigan
In today's era of college football, we usually see the most talented players jump to the NFL at the first opportunity. That mindset is what makes Chesson such an oddity. Instead of checking out his draft prospects following a breakout 2015 campaign that saw him haul in 50 passes for 764 yards and nine touchdowns, the super senior is trying to figure out which graduate degree program to dive into. Plus, he's one of the most unselfish players you'll ever find.
"It's great to have individual success, but that's not where I get my happiness from. If I don't play and I see other guys being successful, that's great. If I feel I can help the team win, anyway I can help I'll do it."
Chesson didn't get off to a fast start in 2015, but an incredible 207-yard, four-touchdown performance at Indiana led to a strong finish in which he reached 100 receiving yards in three of his final four games. Heading into 2016, Chesson is his conference's top returning wide receiver and someone who should help the Michigan offense adjust to its new signal caller.
2) Chris Godwin, Penn State
The Nittany Lion wide receiver we featured in this article last year was DaeSean Hamilton, but he has since been passed in the Penn State pecking order by Godwin. After bursting onto the scene with 140 yards and a score in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl, the rising junior became Christian Hackenberg's favorite target in 2015 with 1,101 yards and five touchdowns on 69 receptions.
Like Chesson, Godwin had his strongest performances later in the season, and he capped off his sophomore year with six catches and 133 yards in the TaxSlayer.com Bowl. It will be interesting to see if Godwin continues to dominate targets in 2016 or if the new Penn State quarterback will spread the ball more evenly between him and Hamilton, who caught a touchdown pass from Trace McSorley in the bowl game.
3) Simmie Cobbs Jr., Indiana
Considering the way Cobbs blew up in 2015, it's surprising to learn that he was originally committed to Purdue as a defensive back. I think it's safe to say he made the right choice, and not just because the Hoosiers finally made a bowl game while the Boilermakers toiled in obscurity. Indiana is not exactly a breeding ground for NFL talent, but it has put some decent wide receivers into the NFL recently, such as Cody Latimer and James Hardy.
Cobbs looks like he could be another future draft pick with 60 catches and 1,035 yards in his sophomore season while adjusting to the Nate Sudfeld injury. As a junior in 2016, Cobbs won't be catching passes from Sudfeld anymore, but he'll still have plenty of chances to boost his prospect status and increase his touchdown total (he caught only four in 2015).
4) Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska
Whoa. Writing about wide receivers is hard work. I'll let Jesse tell you about Westerkamp and the other Nebraska wide receivers.
At wide receiver, Nebraska is sort of stacked... in theory. Jordan Westerkamp returns and is about as solid a receiver as you'll get. He's not a burner, but he catches most everything thrown his way and he is sneaky great at route running. It would not surprise me to see him join the 1,000-yard club next year. Stanley Morgan Jr. was great as a freshman last year and I expect him to only get better this year. He makes highlight catches and has a little more speed than Westerkamp.
De'Mornay Pierson-El got the injury bug last year but word out of camp is that he's running again. I still think he has that beat you deep potential we were missing at times. Brandon Reilly is also sneaky fast. The incoming freshmen are intriguing, especially J.D. Spielman, who I personally think is going to be a star, but with this much receiving prowess returning, I don't expect them to be used unless injuries happen.
In 2015, Westerkamp led the Huskers with 65 catches, 918 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. With quarterback Tommy Armstrong returning as a senior, we could be looking at a Nebraska passing attack that's more potent than usual this fall.
5) Mike Dudek, Illinois
Don't forget Mike Dudek. Senior Justin Hardee will be healthy, and Malik Turner/Desmond Cain will return and maybe show more potential, but remember... Dudek was the real deal as a true freshman, and has serious game-breaking potential if that ACL is fully healed.
Despite Illinois's adverse relationship with nice things, I didn't forget Dudek! He was No. 3 on last year's list due to his incredible freshman performance (76 catches, 1,038 yards, six touchdowns). The knee injury he suffered during last year's spring practice held him out for the entire 2015 campaign, but he should return as a redshirt sophomore this autumn. When that happens, Dudek has a chance to be one of the top wide receivers in the Big Ten once again.
Other groups you might want to hear about
Iowa: StewMonkey says, "Matt VandeBerg returns as Iowa's leader in receptions and receiving yards, but he is the only known quantity. Several young receivers will get a chance outside. Jerminic Smith is currently the odds on favorite to replace Tevaun Smith (no relation) there."
Michigan State: Andrew K. says, "If MSU has a standout guy this year, R.J. Shelton would be my guess. Problem is he doesn't really fit the mold of the big, downfield receiver like Burbridge or Lippett did the last two years. We're looking at potentially big roles for true freshmen, so who knows how this shakes out. I still have great hope for Monty Madaris, but he hasn't put it all together yet."
Ohio State: With Michael Thomas, Braxton Miller, and Jalin Marshall all entering the NFL Draft, there's an opportunity for incoming freshman Austin Mack to carve out a lot of playing time while catching passes from experienced quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Rutgers: Zuzu thinks Janarion Grant and Carlton Agudosi can help fill the void left by the graduating Leonte Caroo. The pair of rising seniors combined for 52 receptions and 665 yards last year.