It’s time once again for Off Tackle Empire’s Preseason Position Rankings, in which we do our best to sort through fourteen teams’ depth charts, now with the added fun of both the COVID year of eligibility and the likelihood the transfer portal will make half these assessment obsolete within a few days. What fun!
Lest I be chastened for laziness, let it be known, I’m just reporting the results of highly informed, definitely-statistically-significant internal polling data amongst our “writers” and trying to contextualize what I think
these dipshits my colleagues were thinking.
1. Ohio State
The Buckeye receiver room over the last several years has been as loaded of a position group as has ever existed in college football, and the parade figures to continue this fall. Even with Garrett Wilson and all-time school receptions leader Chris Olave off to the NFL, C.J. Stroud has no shortage of weapons here, headlined by rising junior Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Buoyed by his jaw-dropping Rose Bowl line as Olave and Wilson sat out, Smith-Njigba actually finished with substantial team leads in counting stats. Deciding whether to clear 100 receptions for JSN or distribute more targets to the next wave of talent, i.e. Emeka Egbuka, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Julian Fleming is a (regrettably for the rest of us) fun problem for OSU to solve.
This ranking is based mostly on Jayden Reed and the strength of his synergy with QB Payton Thorne, but even without Speedy Nailor, there are some promising secondary options here. Tre Mosley, Montorie Foster, and Keon Coleman all figure to see more targets with Nailor gone, and incoming true freshman Germie Bernard might work in immediately as well.
As always with the Terrapins, there is substantial talent to work with here, if they could only get some good fortune with injuries. Dontay Demus was mounting a plausible B1G WROTY campaign when he was felled by an ACL last year, and Jeshaun Jones was likewise lost for the year. Former star recruit Rakim Jarrett had moments where he looked the part of a gamebreaker, so getting all three of these guys on the field might finally get this offense some consistent explosiveness.
After losing senior Ronnie Bell to an injury on a punt return early last year, Michigan’s passing game went into a shell for a long portion of the season. Nonetheless, the Wolverines have had plenty of their secondary options show explosive ability, and with Bell coming back for a 5th season, he helms a deep room of talented athletes. Cornelius Johnson, Roman Wilson, AJ Henning and Andrel Anthony finally made Josh Gattis’s promised speed in space a reality...when they chose to use it.
David Bell’s departure is a big blow for this unit, but Jeff Brohm’s offenses have consistently found good production from the next man up out wide in his time in West Lafayette. Seniors Broc Thompson and Milton Wright figure to be the top targets, but TJ Sheffield and Iowa refugee Tyrone Tracy Jr. will give this unit some depth.
6. Penn State
As with Purdue, Penn State must deal with losing their by-a-mile top option as Jahan Dotson departs for the NFL. The Nittany Lions do have a more clear-cut replacement in Parker Washington, who cleared 60 receptions and 800 yards himself last year even with Dotson’s commanding target share. KeAndre Lambert-Smith was a capable third option, but after him, no other returning wide receiver had more than 5 receptions last year. Perhaps noticing that, James Franklin reached into the portal and pulled out Mitchell Tinsley, the receptions machine that powered Western Kentucky’s high-flying Air Raid with 87 catches in 2021.
After the top six, the downward slope of receiver talent in the conference gets a bit steep. Minnesota finds itself here mostly on the deep ball prowess of Chris Autman-Bell. He’s had trouble staying healthy enough to play, and the complementary options, Dylan Wright and Daniel Jackson, have yet to show more than flashes in an offense that really prefers to not throw the ball.
After achieving some success with Samori Toure last season, Scott Frost opted to spin the transfer wheel again to deepen his receiver group. LSU transfer Trey Palmer and New Mexico State emigre Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda join Omar Manning, Oliver Martin and Zavier Betts in a group that should be pretty good - if the quarterback steeplechase shakes out someone capable of using them.
After a disappointing senior campaign from the now-departed Ty Fryfogle, Tom Allen has shuffled his offensive personnel extensively, and the receiver group is no exception. Former Florida State transfer D.J. Matthews was solid before his injury; Allen added UNC’s Emery Simmons and JUCO product Cam Camper to the group. It’s hard to untangle the mess the was the Hoosier offense last year, but Matthews isn’t a bad foundation to build a room around.
Despite the calamity that was the Wildcat offense last year, the receiver group actually looked about as well as could be expected. Grad transfer rental Stephon Robinson will be missed, but Malik Washington and Bryce Kirtz are far from the weakest part of this offense.
Losing Donny Navarro and Deuce Spann from a group that was already short on playmakers and thus far abstaining from dipping into the portal at this position, Illinois badly needs a breakout campaign from former elite recruit Isaiah Williams. Casey Washington is the only other notable returner, but was quiet in limited opportunities. Miami transfer Brian Hightower comes off his redshirt, and true freshmen Hank Beatty and Shawn Miller figure to see the field immediately.
That Iowa’s receiver group could so underwhelm last year on a division championship run is indicative of...something, we’re sure. The Hawkeye faithful will hope another sophomore named Keagan builds on a flashy freshman campaign with a breakout alongside possession receiver Nico Ragaini and jittery Charlie Jones.
Losing its only kind-of-menacing perimeter threat in Bo Melton, Rutgers turns to the portal for a jolt of playmaking, and came up with Syracuse import Taj Harris and West Virginia’s Sean Ryan. They’ll also return spark plug Aron Cruickshank from injury, as well as veterans for whom the clock is ticking in Shameen Jones and Isaiah Washington.
Yeesh. A group that has been a perennial shortcoming for the Badgers loses its top two options in Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor (and TE Jake Ferguson), leaving Chimere Dike as the only option in the room with substantial experience. UCLA transfer Keontez Lewis joins a room otherwise made up of redshirt freshmen and deep reserve upperclassmen. Paul Chryst’s decision to basically stand pat with this group of weapons is a bit puzzling given the way this passing offense looked last year.
The 2022 Big Ten Receiver of the Year will come from:
This poll is closed
Somewhere Else (show your work)