Ed. note: Welcome to Spring Fling 2021—your definitive guide to the Big Ten’s position groups for the upcoming Big Ten football season! Are these rankings subject to change? Sure! Will some of these players wind up not playing? Probably! Shut up and take your free content. —Mgmt.
Here is your definitive ranking of B1G receiver groups. My rankings, which are scientifically exact and not to be questioned, weight returning production, followed by recruitnik rankings (STARZ).
I also consider things like coaching staff and history, i.e. a program which consistently turns out good receivers will get the benefit of the doubt over ones that don’t. There may be other factors considered by me in the rankings, which I stress, again, are unassailable in their accuracy.
14. Illinois Fighting Illini: Brian Hightower, Donny Navarro, Dalevon Campbell, Carlos Sandy
I’m gonna be honest, finding info about Bert’s wide receiver corps this year has been a challenge. Leading receiver and syllable haver Josh Imatorbhebhe is gone, and what’s left is...well, hrm. We do have a Brian Hightower, a former top 150 recruit who transferred from the U. After him, I’m just guessing. Donny Navarro had 8 receptions for a tidy 88 yards last season, so he’s at least good with numbers. It appears Casey Washington has hit the portal, and if he is gone, you are getting guys like Sandy, who had 1 reception for 29 yards last year but is the fourth leading receiver returning. Get ‘em Bert.
13. Northwestern Wildcats: Stephon Robinson Jr., Malik Washington, Bryce Kirtz, JJ Jefferson
The Cats are in a bit of rough shape. They lost three senior receivers with a ton of production, and in their place are receivers who have the opposite of a lot of production. They bring in Stephon Robinson, a transfer from Kansas who they seem confident will be a top guy, though relying on a transfer from Kansas seems less than ideal. The leading returning guy is Bryce Kirtz, who caught six balls last season. Oh, and they are going to break in a new quarterback. A real mystery in Evanston at this position. I kept them out of last place mostly because they won the West last year and that is worth precisely one spot.
12. Nebraska Cornhuskers: Zavier Betts, Oliver Martin, Omar Manning, Samori Toure
I’m gonna be honest - I’ve read some previews from Huskers sites to try and get a read on what is happening here and...I have no idea. The one receiver you might have heard of is Wan’Dale Robinson, but he transferred to Kentucky. You may have heard of Oliver Martin, mostly because he has already played for Michigan and Iowa. He had five catches last year. Is Omar Manning, a highly touted JUCO transfer, the answer? Or Samori Toure, a transfer from Montana? They do have Zavier Betts, their leading returning receiver and a pretty highly rated recruit. But Nebraska always seems to be in a state of flux under Scott Frost, and this position seems to get the worst end of it.
11. Iowa Hawkeyes: Nico Ragaini, Tyrone Tracy, Charlie Jones, Keagan Johnson
Iowa is in a bit of rough spot here. They lost their top two receivers from last year in Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith. Ragaini and Tracy both averaged a couple receptions a game last year, and the only other receiver to record a catch was walk-on Alex Kritta. Charlie Jones was a former walk-on who returned punts last year. The Hawkeye faithful seem to like him, but walk on punt returner doesn’t move the needle for me. Keagan Johnson is a freshman who enrolled early but is a four star recruit. When all else fails, go with the STARZ.
10. Michigan State Spartans: Jalen Nailor, Jayden Reed, Ricky White, Tre Mosley
Sparty is in solid shape here. While their offense was in yet another tailspin, the passing game was at least sometimes solid and the receiver position is the main reason. They return everyone and even though they lost quarterback Rocky Lombardi, that might be a good thing. The main issue will be whether Mel Tucker can finally get the Spartan offense out of neutral, which will require some competency from the other positions on the team.
9. Minnesota Golden Gophers: Chris Autman-Bell, Daniel Jackson, Clay Geary, Mike Brown-Stephens
It seems pretty simple in Gopher land. Rashod Bateman is off to the NFL, and that is a huge hole to fill. Both Autman-Bell and Jackson took advantage of defenses keying on Bateman to make some big plays. What will they look like without him? After them is a guessing game - with all the weird COVID rules they have like 11 freshmen receivers on the team. Time to row that boat.
8. Michigan Wolverines: Ronnie Bell, Mike Sainristil, Cornelius Johnson, Roman Wilson
A turnover from the NFL quality types of the last couple years, the hope in Ann Arbor is they have a set of squirty guys who understand the offense and can make plays. You can do a lot worse than starting with Ronnie Bell, who has led the team in receiving the past two seasons. Word out of spring is that Johnson and Sainristil have separated from the pack, which apparently caused Giles Jackson to transfer. Still, as far as STARZ go this is a fairly unimpressive group (at least for Michigan) that will be relying on a new quarterback, so buyer beware.
7. Wisconsin Badgers: Danny Davis, Kendric Pryor, Chimere Dike, Jack Dunn
A bit of a difficult team to rank. Injuries and COVID really did a number on the Badgers last season. Pryor and Davis were supposed to be the top guys last season, but they combined for 11 catches and neither played in more than three games. The good news is that other guys had to step up - Dike and Dunn became the top receivers and they both return. Wiscy returns a lot of other guys, too, so this should be a strength for them, but it is also a prove it year.
6. Maryland Terrapins: Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett, Brian Cobbs, JeShuan Jones
Maryland returns dang near everyone, as far as I can tell. Demus has been their leading receiver for two years running, and that might only be threatened by uber-recruit Jarrett, who looked the part last year. They also have Nebraska transfer and former four star recruit Marcus Fleming. The big improvement may be they have a proper offensive coordinator in Dan Enos and an experienced quarterback in Taulia Tagovailoa. While I usually ding a group breaking in a new offensive coordinator, and Dan Enos is hardly the second coming of Bill Walsh, he has history with Mike Locksley and they should be on the same page.
5. Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Bo Melton, Shameen Jones, Aron Cruikshank, Isaiah Washington
Rutgers, believe it or not, is in great shape. Bo Melton has been the leading receiver the past few years but doubled his yards per game last season. His return is great and means Rutgers returns nearly everyone, and brings in some freshmen to boot. Shameen Jones and Aron Cruikshank are legitimate receivers and with Sean Gleeson returning as OC plus returning quarterbacks, you might see some real sparks coming out of New Jersey. Heck of a turn from two years ago.
4. Purdue Boilermakers: David Bell, Milton Wright, Jackson Anthrop, Maliq Carr
A tough group to rank. They return 1st team B1G David Bell, who has become nearly the entire Purdue offense. Wright was fine opposite him, and after losing Rondale Moore, the rest of the corps is a bit of a mystery. Carr was a big recruit who hasn’t produced much. Anthrop was not a big recruit but seems like the clear third guy. Given how much Purdue likes to throw, there will be opportunities, and you might as well bet your house on Bell leading them in receiving, but I’m curious as to who else steps up.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions: Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Daniel George
It’s always a good sign when you return nearly the whole room, and Penn State returns a lot. Dotson was a star last year and was third team All B1G. The rest, well, they played. The team does have a multitude of four star types to pull from. However, they are changing offenses again, which makes predictions difficult. They do return senior QB Sean Clifford, and as a general rule I view returning quarterbacks as good for receivers, no matter how much their fanbase hates them.
2. Indiana Hoosiers: Ty Fryfogle, Miles Marshall, Jacolby Hewitt, D.J. Matthews
Whop Philyor has left for the draft. All hail the Whop. But Ty Fryfogle was first team B1G, and he has returned. This is a pretty strong group the Hoosiers bring back - Fryfogle and Marshall were pretty strong big play threats. Whop led the conference in receptions last season, even if his yards weren’t particularly impressive, and replacing that will be a challenge. FSU transfer and former top 100 recruit D.J. Matthews will probably get first crack at it. If he hits, the Hoosiers will be cooking.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes: Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams, Julian Fleming
As about the biggest no-brainer you are going to find, OSU returns two of the top receivers in the nation in Olave and Wilson, who are both potential first round picks in 2022. Behind them are a treasure trove of STARZ - Fleming was the top receiver recruit of 2020, ahead of fellow five star Jaxon Smith-Njigba. They also have the top receiver recruit of 2021, Emeka Egbuka. Word out of spring practice is that freshman Marvin Harrison Jr. can play. They have the dudes, and probably have the most talented room in the nation. Do they have a quarterback to throw to them?