Hi guys! Welcome to the Spring Fling! In case you missed the first two articles in the series, this is where we discuss the top five players at each position heading into the 2015 Big Ten season. These are the guys that either already are big stars or are poised to break out and become household names this fall. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work. Oftentimes some guy we never saw coming turns into a big deal, while the players on this list regress. Who knows? Football is fun that way.
1. Leonte Carroo, the team from New Jersey
About three months ago we learned that Carroo would be returning to Rutgers for his senior season. That's good news for the Knights because they'll be breaking in a new quarterback next season, and I've heard that quarterbacks enjoy throwing to athletic targets who are both big and fast. Even though he caught just 55 passes in 2014, Carroo was one of three Big Ten receivers to surpass 1,000 yards. With Tony Lippett and Devin Smith graduating, the senior has a chance to be the league's premier pass-catcher in 2015.
2. DaeSean Hamilton, the team from Pennsylvania
Nicknamed "BaeSean" by the Penn State faithful due to his ability to catch awkward Christian Hackenberg passes while simultaneously melting our hearts, Hamilton led all Big Ten players with 82 receptions last year. There are two things about that figure though: First, Hamilton accomplished it as a freshman. That's awesome. On the other hand, he gained just 899 receiving yards for the year (about 11 yards per catch) thanks to the absurd amount of quick screens that James Franklin called for. If Hackenberg can up his game in 2015, Hamilton will gain more yards per catch as a result and blossom into an elite wide receiver.
3. Mike Dudek, the team from Illinois that isn't Northwestern
Along with Carroo, Dudek is the only other Big Ten returning player with over 1,000 receiving yards in 2014. That was a stat that surprised me even after I watched Dudek shred Penn State for 11 catches and 115 yards during the penultimate game of the regular season. A 200-yard outburst against Purdue gave Dudek a pair of 100-yard receiving games, but his real value is as a possession receiver who moves the chains. At 5'11", Dudek isn't going to make as many highlight-reel plays at the two guys above him on this list, but he might be even more important to his team's chances for a repeat bowl bid.
4. Michael Thomas, the team from the Ohio
Out of all the players on this list, Thomas has the chance to make the biggest leap in 2015. Sure, he caught nine touchdown passes for a high-octane offense in 2014, but Thomas's 54 receptions and 799 yards aren't blowing anyone away. Next season though, with Smith moving on, the rising junior has a chance to be a star in Columbus. Unlike the three players above him, we know Thomas will have a stud quarterback throwing him the ball come September.
5. Danny Anthrop, the team with the cute train logo
Anthrop is a bit of a wild card heading into next season. After combining for just 37 yards in games against Western Michigan and Central Michigan (when most other wide receivers are padding their stats), Anthrop had just one game with fewer than 50 yards the rest of the way. He was in the midst of a breakout campaign, but then missed Purdue's final three games with a knee injury that limited him to 616 receiving yards overall. Still, Anthrop's 68 receiving yards per game was good for sixth in the Big Ten in 2014. He's on track to be healthy in September, so look for Anthrop to build on that impressive figure next season.