Dienhart: Huskers pace Big Ten receiving corps

When you think of Nebraska, you don’t typically think of receivers. You think ground-pounding offenses that play physical football behind big lines and star running backs. Well, this year’s edition of the Cornhuskers has some very good receivers. In fact, it’s the best collection in the Big Ten. Here’s my ranking of the Big Ten receiving units.

[ RELATED: View all of Dienhart’s 2013 unit rankings ]

1. Nebraska. This is arguably one of the top collections of pass-catchers the school ever has had. Junior Kenny Bell is back after leading the Huskers with 50 catches. He’s a blazer. Senior Quincy Enunwa is a big, physical target who had 42 receptions in 2012. Junior Jamal Turner, a former quarterback, is another option. Redshirt freshmen Alonzo Moore and Jordan Westerkamp could be special. New tight ends must be broken in with Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton gone, however.

2. Northwestern. There is a cornucopia of talent. Junior Christian Jones paced the team with 35 catches in 2012. Mike Jensen is a savvy senior who just gets open. Junior Tony Jones (29 catches) and senior Rashad Lawrence (34) are bigger targets. Dan Vitale is coming off a big debut as the “super back,” catching 28 passes. Will USC transfer Kyle Prater, a junior, finally emerge?

3. Ohio State. There are no David Bostons, Terry Glenns or Ted Ginns, but the Buckeyes have some solid options in senior Corey Brown, junior Devin Smith, sophomore Michael Thomas and junior Evan Spencer. Brown ranked third in the Big Ten with 60 catches in 2012. Smith had 30 catches. Senior Chris Fields is a veteran option. There are some nice tight ends in sophomore Nick Vannett and junior Jeff Heuerman.

4. Indiana. Options abound. Diminutive junior Shane Wynn ranked second in the league with 68 catches. He’s a speedster. Junior Cody Latimer is back after making 51 catches; senior Kofi Hughes had 43 receptions. Senior Ted Bolser is one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends. He had 41 grabs in 2012.

[ VOTE: Who wins 2013 Big Ten helmet bracket championship? ]

5. Penn State. This will make the new quarterback smile: The top seven pass catchers are back, headlined by junior Allen Robinson. He broke out in 2012, pacing the Big Ten with 77 catches and 11 scoring grabs. He also was the lone conference player with over 1,000 yards receiving (1,018). Junior Alex Kenney is a good complement, while Brandon Moseby-Felder is a bigger target. There is no better collection of tight ends: sophomore Jesse James; senior Matt Lehman; sophomore Kyle Carter; freshman Adam Breneman. Carter paced Big Ten tight ends with 36 catches in 2012.

6. Michigan. This unit needs some playmakers to step up with Roy Roundtree gone. Diminutive senior Jeremy Gallon gets in and out of cuts quickly; he led the Wolverines with 49 catches last season. Seniors Drew Dileo and Jeremy Jackson are reliable blue-collar types. Sophomore Amara Darboh and redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson are big and intriguing. Lots of options at tight end. Rangy sophomore Devin Funchess may break out.

7. Michigan State. This basically is the same cast of characters that disappointed last season; too many drops. Progress needs to have been made by guys like sophomores Aaron Burbridge and Andre Sims and juniors Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphery and DeAnthony Arnett, along with senior Bennie Fowler. Mumphery led MSU with 42 catches; Fowler had 41; Lippett 36. Redshirt freshmen Monty Madaris and A.J. Troup have potential. TE Dion Sims left early and will be tough to replace.

8. Wisconsin. There is a lack of big-play makers. Senior Jared Abbrederis is one of the league’s top wideouts and paced the Badgers with 49 receptions in 2012, but he doesn’t scare defenses. Sophomores Reggie Love and A.J. Jordan along with juniors Kenzel Doe and Marquis Mason round out a pedestrian unit. Senior Jacob Pedersen is one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends (27 catches last year), a deep position on this team.

9. Minnesota. Coordinator Matt Limegrover makes no bones about it: more big plays are needed. Senior Derrick Engel is a blue-collar type who just gets open and catches passes. Jamel Harbison is back after a knee injury ruined his debut season; he could be special. Junior Isaac Fruechte is the team’s top returning pass catcher with 19 grabs. Junior Devin Crawford-Tufts needs to play a bigger role. Watch sophomore KJ Maye, a smallish speedster. Junior Drew Goodger is a nice tight end.

10. Iowa. This was a disappointing crew in 2012, but there’s some talent. While Keenan Davis, who had 47 catches, is gone, junior Kevonte Martin-Manley is back after pacing the Hawkeyes with 52 catches. Senior Jordan Cotton needs to play a role. Keep an eye on Tevaun Smith and Jacob Hillyer. C.J. Fiedorowicz will be one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends; he had 45 receptions in 2012.

11. Purdue. Questions abound. Will senior O.J. Ross be back? He is suspended for violating team rules after leading the team with 56 catches. Will senior Gabe Holmes finally emerge as a top tight end? Sophomore Dolapo Macarthy is a big (6-5, 220), intriguing option who may be primed for a breakout. Sophomore Shane Mikesky also is promising. Bottom line: more help is needed.

12. Illinois. This unit received a blow when Darius Millines was dismissed from the team in the spring. He had 32 catches in 2012. The Illini need seniors Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris, among others, to play bigger roles. Lankford led Illini wideouts with 37 grabs. Former senior quarterback Miles Osei is an athletic target. JC transfer Martize Barr needs to be a difference maker, while sophomore Justin Hardee is fast. There is a nice collection of tight ends, paced by junior Jon Davis.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (19 Comments)
Paul on 5/29/2013 @ 4:57pm EDT Said:

As a Boiler fan, I want to be mad at your for rating us so low at running back and receiver. Much to my dismay it is the right ranking. I hope that Akeem Hunt and Dolapo Macarthy can have huge seasons.

Mary Brennan on 5/29/2013 @ 7:17pm EDT Said:

I know Nebraska hasn’t had consistent success since joining the BiG10, but this years group has the potential to be great. With some defensive help, the Huskers could top the league.

Doug Moore on 5/29/2013 @ 9:31pm EDT Said:

Tom..its really hard to take you seriously! Ive read you several times..youre really a football writer? You state the LIONS have their 7 top receivers back..ARobinson far & away leads the B1G & the TEs are quality..super bonus- theyre lead by BILL! YET YOU RANK THEM #5!? Reading about those ranked ahead is comical! When are you ranking tail-gating? Bet its neb, osu & mich 1, 2, 3!

TonyQuestions on 5/29/2013 @ 11:47pm EDT Said:

Throw to the Fro!
Go BiG Red!!!

Common Sense on 5/30/2013 @ 10:22am EDT Said:

Good to see Big Brother on top of little Brother again Congrats to Michigan for being in the top 6

K. John on 5/30/2013 @ 12:43pm EDT Said:

Another positions group where Penn State is significantly better than any team in the league if not the country. Alan Robinson is the best receiver in the league and there is plenty of depth. Penn State also has the top two tight ends in the league in Jesse James and Kyle Carter. Lehman is a more than capable back up who would start on ten Big Ten squads. Then there is the Adam Brenneman, the top player at his position coming out of high school and Wilkerson who would probably start for most and could be the best of the bunch. At least Dienhart’s idiocy is predictable. He still knows half as much about Big Ten football as your’s truly.

Josh on 5/30/2013 @ 12:45pm EDT Said:

Michigan at #6 is reasonable. Really hard to rate wide receivers in this rushing-heavy league.

Jamie on 5/30/2013 @ 1:10pm EDT Said:

Penn State Has the Best tight end group in the nation and the big tens best wide receiver, so obviously 5th place is about right.

TexasRef on 5/30/2013 @ 3:40pm EDT Said:

Robinson back with his Richter-Howard B1G Receiver of the Year award, All-B1G TE in Carter, probably best TE in league this year with James, best TE unit according to you, other top WRs coming back, and RS Freshman Lewis in mix who may be best athlete of all, yet you rank PSU 5th? Laughable!!! Nebraska may have their best WR ever, but top two barely caught as many passes as Robinson. If you wanted to do a passing ranking then do it, don’t do a position ranking and ranked based on who is throwing the ball. With O’Brien calling the shots you will look back at all the offensive rankings and realize you were way off.

    Doug Moore on 5/31/2013 @ 6:36pm EDT Said:

    Tom..maybe you got what you wanted..strong response!? Good for you because your logic is woeful! Please take the time to respond to facts stated by you & all and show us what we dont get from your “sports mind”. If its because the LIONS will have a new QB you err because youre not ranking QB/RECVR COMBOS. If your going on your sage guts as one of Americas leading “Sports Boys”..good for you! Or maybe my guess..you dont like PSU..the logic of your writing consistantly bares this out (& we havent even touched on your disgraceful & ignorant piece on the Paterno family) me thinks! Show some guts and set us straight!

Mark on 5/30/2013 @ 6:21pm EDT Said:

@Penn St. fans – Kenny Bell is better then Alan Robinson. That is all.

Dillon on 5/30/2013 @ 9:23pm EDT Said:

I’d disagree with the Abbrederis analysis. He definitely scares defenses. If Wisky finds a descent QB Abbrederis will have a great year.

As far as best WR in the B1G, I think it’s a toss up. Robinson, Kenny Bell, & Abbrederis are all top notch. A lot depends on the QB though. Even a great WR can look incredibly average if his QB stinks and or the O-Line is bad.

MarkR on 5/31/2013 @ 8:44am EDT Said:

@Penn St. fans – Kenny Bell is better then Alan Robinson. That is all.

Kenny Bell – 50 rec, 863 yds, 8 TD’s
“Allen” Robinson – 77 rec, 1018 yrd,, 11 TD’s.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.

And this is with PSU having MUCH better TE’s to throw to as well.

Jeremy on 5/31/2013 @ 11:19am EDT Said:

Mark you do realize that Robinson’s yds per reception is 13.2yds and Bell’s is 17.3 yds.
Also look at each teams offensive performance for 2012;

Nebraska- Scoring 487 pts, Passing 2904 yds, Rushing 3547 yds, Total offense 6451 yds.
PSU- Scoring 359 pts, Passing 3283 yds, Rushing 1727 yds, Total offense 5010 yds.

In on offense that lead the League last year Kenny Bell still managed to have a better yds per reception total than Alan Robinson did even though he was not the best (only) offensive option.

Robinson is special player no doubt but face reality he is the best receiver on a team with average receivers. Your number two WR James caught 15 passes for 276 yds and 30 pts, that is a significant drop off in production.

Nebraska had four other WRs gain more than 230 yds with a lowest yds per reception of 17.1 yds. Only PSU’s Jesse James had a comparable yds per reception at 18.4 yds, all other PSU WRs were below 14.1 yds.

So in short yes, Dienhart got this spot on. Given a choice I would take Bell over any other B1G WR based on his ability to get yards and score in an offense that is multidimensional.

MarkR on 5/31/2013 @ 1:30pm EDT Said:

Jeremy, you are way off on PSU’s stats last year.

First, Jesse James is a Tight End, and was the third leading TE on PSU.
PSU’s second leading receiver last year was Kyle Carter, another Tight End with just under 500 yds. Their second leading receiver was Moseby Felder with I think 420 yds.

What does the fact that Robinson is the best weapon on his team have anything to do with this argument? Of course Nebraska has more weapons; they don’t have the obvious depth problems PSU has. You don’t think Robinson was getting doubleteamed most of last year? The argument that you’re trying to make that says because he is in a better offense, Bell is the better player is actually more of an argument for Robinson. I’ll take the guy that has proven he can carry an offense. You’re getting too caught up on stats like YPC and all of that stuff.

Sure, Bell has more YPC, but teams weren’t keying in on him like teams were keying on Robinson. When you can run the ball as well as Nebraska can, it sets up the pass. PSU’s top rusher had exactly 1000 yds last year, and no one else did much of anything. Without Robinson the PSU offense struggles big time. Without Bell Nebraska’s offense doesn’t fall off anywhere near as much. There is a reason why Robinson is the top rated B10 NFL WR prospect for 2015.

Bell is definitely top 2 in the B10, but Robinson is the better receiver if you watch tape of both.

Jon on 6/1/2013 @ 8:09am EDT Said:

Tom – time to find a new career. This is becoming pathetic.

huskerfanbb on 6/1/2013 @ 12:09pm EDT Said:

MarkR and KJohn–put the crack pipes down and slowly back away.

Penn State is not #1 in the B1G in every category like you seem to think. They didn’t finish up that way last year, and won’t this year. Their average ranking seems to be about 5 or 6–and that is about where they will finish in the B1G overall. Probably a distant second to Ohio State in that division, and behind 2-3 teams from the other side.

Jeremy on 6/2/2013 @ 1:44am EDT Said:

Mark R,

I got the PSU stats from their own site. If the info is wrong then PSU was the one reporting it wrong. I did watch tape on both by the way and I will stick with my assessment of Bell over Robinson. Not only that but how do explain why 5 Nebraska WRs have higher ypc than all but one PSU WR? Looks pretty solid reasoning for Husker receivers being a cut above.

Doug Moore on 6/2/2013 @ 7:22pm EDT Said:

Who said statistics are for loosers & analysts? Whether you gain 17 or 13 both move the “sticks”! What can be important is who does it more frequently & consistantly. Whats most important is whos gonna do it this coming season. History is nice but growth is most important along with good health.

Two points..this post wasnt about Robinson v Bell or the LIONS v Nebraska. It was about ranking B1G teams receiving units. When you reference last years stats & factor in returning talent & guesstimate future success theres no logical way PSU is #5. Whether theyre #1..time will tell!

Keep telling me Im #5 or 6..it only makes me hungrier! Afterall, in the end, other than Ws & Ls stats are for…ask Indiana!