Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, June 11, 2015

Yesterday, we took a look at the Big Ten East receivers and tight ends. Now, we?ll check out the Big Ten West, where the jury remains out on several corps.

[ MORE: Big Ten East OL | Big Ten West OL | Big Ten East WR/TE ]

How will Nebraska replace Kenny Bell? Does Minnesota have another Maxx Williams? Is Mike Dudek healthy at Illinois? When will Christian Jones play at Northwestern?

1. Nebraska. Who will make big plays with Kenny Bell gone? Let?s go with De?Mornay Pierson-El, a gift Bo Pelini left Mike Riley. Pierson-El is a speed demon who can go all the way at any time. Jordan Westerkamp is a steady option who made 44 catches last year. He turns third downs into first downs. Brandon Reilly, a former walk-on, also can get the job done. Alonzo Moore, Sam Burtch, Taariq Allen and Jamal Turner offer veteran depth. Cethan Carter is a proven tight end; Sam Cotton also is back.

2. Wisconsin. Wideout coach Ted Gilmore comes to Madison with a glossy resume. Now, he must develop some pass-catchers who can make a difference to balance what always is a strong rushing attack. Alex Erickson is the unquestioned No. 1 target, a smooth route runner with good hands. He named 55 passes in a breakout 2014. Players like Robert Wheelwright, Reggie Love, George Rushing and Jazz Peavy need to do their part. Is there a game-breaker in the group? Paul Chryst likes to use tight ends. So, look for Troy Fumagalli to be utilized. Austin Traylor also is capable.

3. Minnesota. There has been a longing need for playmakers on the perimeter since Jerry Kill arrived in 2011. Freshmen Jeff Jones (a converted running back), Eric Carter, Isaiah Gentry and Melvin Holland Jr. could provide a needed boost for an offense that too often plods along. Wideout coach Brian Anderson needs to cultivate this promising young talent. KJ Maye and Drew Wolitarsky are the vets who must lead the way. It hurts that Donovahn Jones (dismissed) and Isaac Fruechte (graduated) are gone. And tight end Maxx Williams bolted early for the NFL with two years of eligibility left after winning the Big Ten Tight End of the Year award. No way he is replaced. Lincoln Plsek is next man up.

4. Illinois. This unit suffered a big blow when freshman star Mike Dudek suffered a torn ACL in the spring, and injury that will keep him out until midseason. He had 76 catches for 1,038 yards and led all FBS freshmen in receiving yards per game (79.8 ypg). Malik Turner was another productive freshman in 2014 who looks to break out even more. Geronimo Allison is back after making 41 grabs following his transfer from a JC. Justin Hardee and Marchie Murdock are other veteran options. WR coach Mike Bellamy has his work cut out for him. Some tight ends need to emerge. Keep an eye on Andrew Davis.

5. Iowa. The Hawkeyes wideout coach Bobby Kennedy needs more difference makers on the edge. The loss of Kevonte Martin-Manley doesn?t help. Tevaun Smith is the go-to guy looking for a big senior send-off. Matt VandeBerg is the No. 2 option with vets Jacob Hillyer and Andrew Stone adding depth. Are there any difference-makers for an offense that too often struggles to stretch the field? The tight end situation is good with Henry Krieger-Coble, Jake Duzey and George Kittle in tow for a program that loves to use the position.

6. Northwestern. Lots of work to do-and a lack of depth hurts-for an offense that needs more big plays. Keep an eye on Christian Jones, who led the team in receiving in 2012 and 2013. His 2014 ended with a knee injury in fall camp; then, he had surgery on the same knee in the spring and may not be ready for the start of the season. Miles Shuler and Solomon Vault-a former running back–could be field-stretchers. Stephen Buckley is another former back who can work in the slot. Cameron Dickerson and Mike McHugh are savvy veterans. Superbacks Dan Vitale and Garrett Dickerson are valuable weapons who can move the chains.

7. Purdue. This group begins and ends with Danny Anthrop, a Wes Welker/Julian Edelman-type who is the only proven playmaker of a largely pedestrian bunch. The bad news: The zippy Anthrop is coming off a knee injury that cost him the last three games of 2015. Is he OK? The staff needs DeAngelo Yancey to regain his freshman form after a hugely disappointing 2014. It?s hoped JC arrivals Anthony Mahoungou and Domonique Young help. If each is a bust, it will be a monster blow to the offense. Gregory Phillips, Bilal Marshall, Cameron Posey and Dan Monteroso are veterans whose clocks are ticking loudly. Small-but-speedy Trae Hart has potential. The situation at tight end is dire.


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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.

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