Who is the best wide receiver in the Big 10? Seriously, who is it? In a year that anyone could emerge to take this crown, I am officially dubbing 2017 the Year of Potential. Only one player in 2016 cracked the 1,000 yard mark and Austin Carr went undrafted. Simmie Cobbs returns, and he had 1,000 yards in 2015, but who knows if he will return to form. In a wide open year, any player can emerge and 2017 has several leading candidates.
Here are my current top 5 Big 10 wide receivers for 2017:
5. Janarion Grant, Senior, Rutgers
2016 Stats* Grant only played 4 games due to injury.
Receptions: 20, Receiving Yards: 210, Yards Per Catch: 10.5, Rushing Yards: 138, Total Touchdowns: 5
Primarily known for his return abilities, this Swiss army knife of offense will be featured everywhere this season with Jerry Kill. Kill will use Grant to stretch the defense so he can get back to his bread and butter of running the football between the tackles. Grant has never had over 500 yards from scrimmage in a single season, but expect him to be their X-factor this season.
2017 Prediction: Grant finishes the season with 500+ receiving yards and 500+ rushing yards as he leads the Rutgers resurgence. Also, expect Grant to take a few kicks and punts back for touchdowns. I’m placing the over/ under at 3.5.
4. Simmie Cobbs, Junior, Indiana
2015 Stats* Missed the entire 2016 season due to injury
Receptions: 60, Receiving Yards: 1,035, Yards Per Catch: 17.3, Rushing Yards: 0, Total Touchdowns: 4
2016 was supposed the be THE year for Cobbs as he was named to the preseason Biletnikoff Award watch list, but an ankle injury ended his season before it began. The 6’4 receiver returns with the second leading passer in the Big 10 (Richard Lagow - 3,362 yards in 2016) and the leading returning receiver, Nick Westbrook (more on him later).
2017 Prediction: Cobbs will have an immediate impact, but expect it to be in more of a complementary role. I expect his yards to decrease from his sophomore year, but his touchdowns to increase as he becomes a premiere red zone threat.
3. Malik Turner, Senior, Illinois
Receptions: 48, Receiving Yards: 712, Yards Per Catch: 14.8, Rushing Yards: 5, Total Touchdowns: 6
Despite inconsistent quarterback production, Malik Turner continued to improve his numbers and finished ranked tenth in receiving yards in the Big 10. His receptions, receiving yards, yards per catch, and touchdowns, have increased every year during his tenure at Illinois. If Jeff George Jr. can play mediocre, Turner will crack the 1,000 yard mark as a senior.
2017 Prediction: The Illini will struggle defensively in 2017 and will subsequently find themselves in shootouts. Expect Turner to see 1,000 yards and the Illini to see a slightly improved win total from three in 2016.
2. Jazz Peavy, Senior, Wisconsin
Receptions: 43, Receiving Yards: 638, Yards Per Catch: 14.8, Rushing Yards: 318, Total Touchdowns: 6
You may remember 2016 Jazz Peavy from plays such as the jet sweep and the jet sweep. However, Peavy quietly accounted for five receiving touchdowns and 1,052 all-purpose yards. The reliable senior will carry the receiving load along with standout tight end Troy Fumagalli. Peavy will be responsible for stretching the defenses to open up the running game and create seams for Fumagalli.
2017 Prediction: Wisconsin’s offense returns 8 starters including sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook so expect Peavy to directly benefit from this team’s experience and Paul Chryst’s play calling. Peavy will be utilized similarly to Janarion Grant offensively, so expect 800 receiving yards, 350 rushing yards, and 150 punt return yards for the senior.
1. Nick Westbrook, Junior, Indiana
Receptions: 54, Receiving Yards: 995, Yards Per Catch: 18.4, Rushing Yards: 3, Total Touchdowns: 7
Could it really be anyone else? After Cobbs was injured, Westbrook emerged as the second leading receiver in the Big 10 and a game breaking type player. The 6’3 junior will benefit by having Cobbs take some of the attention off of him and with returning gunslinging quarterback Richard Lagow, expect another big season from Westbrook.
2017 Prediction: Cobbs will take some of the touches away, but Westbrook will still be the number one receiver on this team as he eclipses 1,200 receiving yards. This duo will be one of the best in the country in 2017.
Honorable Mention: D.J. Moore (Maryland), Someone from Penn State (DeAndre Thompkins, DaeSean Hamilton, or Saeed Blacknall), Someone from Michigan (Tarik Black, Kekoa Crawford, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Eddie McDoom)
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