It’s a year of transition for the conference’s receiving corps; of last season’s top ten in receiving yardage, only three return. Inevitably, though, there will be 1,000-yard pass catchers no one sees coming. From what we know now, though, here are some guys to keep an eye on.
1. Nick Westbrook, Junior, Indiana
Kevin Wilson’s last offense at Indiana was a complete rebuild at the skill positions, but Westbrook certainly did his part. Finishing a few yards shy of 1,000, Westbrook showed uncommon ability after the catch as one of three Hoosier WRs to grab over 50 balls. His gamebreaking ability and better nose for the endzone gets him the nod over squadmates Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige, but the three of them together give IU the conference’s best corps.
2. D.J. Moore, Junior, Maryland
Notwithstanding Maryand’s offense frequently misfiring as a new system was put in place, Moore tracked down enough passes from the Terps’ gaggle of rotating QBs to put up some decent numbers. With Teldrick Morgan and Levern Jacobs both moving on, Moore is the clear top option through the air for Maryland, and with what should be an effective running game, the opportunities will be there for the taking.
3. Malik Turner, Senior, Illinois
Another standout on an offense that had a rocky transition to a new system, Turner accounted for roughly a third of Illinois’ receiving output. His career has been a steady progression of improvement even as the program has gone through constant coaching churn and frequent QB injuries and substandard play. Now operating with the same coaches for the first offseason of his career, Turner just needs a decent QB to emerge to build on a strong junior season.
4. Janarion Grant, RS Senior, Rutgers
After getting the nod from the NCAA for a medical redshirt and passing on the NFL draft, arguably the most dynamic playmaker in the conference will try to reprise the explosive start he had in 2016 before a season-ending injury. Grant isn’t much of a traditional downfield receiver, but yards racked up on screens count just the same, and he’s a threat to house every ball he touches. Moreover, he’s probably the best return man in the country. He’s by far Chris Ash’s biggest offseason recruiting success and should reinsert some life into a moribund Knights offense.
5. DaeSean Hamilton, RS Senior, Penn State
2016 was an unremarkable statistical season for Hamilton, but he played an important part in Penn State’s offense. As the screen threat, he helped stretch defenses to prevent proper attention being given to Saquon Barkley and the several deep threats that made the Nittany Lion offense so potent. Most of the offense returns, minus top receiving threat Chris Godwin. With almost 2,000 career receiving yards already under his belt, Hamilton is a bit of a projection for this list, but could easily surpass Godwin’s numbers from last season, depending on how his role changes this offseason.
Other Dudes To Consider
Mikey Dudek - RS Junior, Illinois
Dudek exploded onto the scene with a dynamite true freshman season; since then, his joints have failed him and he’s missed almost two entire seasons with injuries. If he’s somehow recaptured his old form, he’s better than anyone on this list. That’s a big ask, though.
Matt VandeBerg - RS Senior, Iowa
Although Iowa’s offense generally prevents its receivers from putting up big numbers, VandeBerg is the default #1 on an offense returning most of a pretty good OL and two 1,000-yard rushers. The wild card is QB; if the Hawkeyes find a guy who can get him the ball, VandeBerg could be in line for a strong final season.
Donnie Corley - Sophomore, Michigan State
The first thing that would have to happen for Corley is for his coaches to decide what side of the ball they want to play him on. Assuming he’s allowed to be a receiver, his highlight ability is already established, and this offense has a lot of targets to distribute from last year.