This is part of a summer-long preview put together by the Armchair Big Ten department. We vote weekly on the best players at each position and will provide the ranking every Monday.
As a conference that has produced some top-tier wide receivers, the Big Ten brings back an intriguing group for 2017. Quarterback play often impacts the ability of a wideout to make a name for himself, but we’re talking pure talent. The stats may be skewed, or not as impressive, but the ability is there. Here are the best wide receivers the Big Ten has to offer come September.
2016/17 Stats: 34 Receptions—506 Yards—1 Touchdown
If you couldn’t tell from the introduction, Hamilton is a prime example of talent over statistics. He didn’t have a great season last year—his best performance was an eight-catch, 118 yard showing against Wisconsin. He’s 6’1″ with good speed, hands and strength downfield. As we’ve seen in flashes over three years, Hamilton has it all. This is his final chance to really show it.
Trace McSorley enters the season as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference and should find Hamilton with ease. The guy made 82 catches for 899 yards as a freshman, after all. That was with Christian Hackenberg. With McSorley polished and poised under center, Hamilton can be a viable option in Penn State’s three-headed monster at wide receiver with Saeed Blacknall and DeAndre Thompkins.
2016/17 Stats: 48 Receptions—712 Yards—6 Touchdowns
Turner headlines the diverse group of names that will follow on this list. Hamilton is someone you should know, along with his teammates, but there are some talented receivers closer to the bottom of the Big Ten, and Turner is certainly one. Will Turner play in primetime for the Big Ten Championship in December? Barring a Lovie Smith-induced miracle, no. Is he one of the most gifted wideouts in the conference? Absolutely.
Turner’s stats aren’t eye-popping, but here’s one that isn’t listed above: 14.8 yards per catch. He’s a first down or more waiting to happen, whether on a jump ball with his 6’3″ frame or because he can beat the majority of defensive backs downfield. That Turner was voted second tells you about how little name matters here. He’s for real, and he will show it even more this season.
2016/17 Stats: 20 Receptions—210 Yards—16 Carries—138 Yards
When Grant’s season was cruelly cut short by injury after four games, the college football world lost one of its most electrifying players. Sure, he plays at one of the least electrifying places, but that doesn’t matter. Grant is legitimate and he’s got one more chance to show it. As a part of Chris Ash’s revolution in Piscataway, perhaps Grant’s swan song will continue to push the Scarlet Knights in the right direction.
A great return man as well as someone who can take a jet sweep to the house, Grant’s greatest asset is speed. He’s not a big guy, but he makes up for it with an elusiveness and extra gear that is hard to match up with. His route-running and hands are relatively unproven (though if he didn’t get injured, we’d know more from last season). Given his overall athletic ability, he has the potential to grab 50 catches or more. If Rutgers can get him the ball, even when defenses know it’s coming, Grant’s going to do something big.
2016/17 Stats: 54 Receptions—995 Yards—6 Touchdowns
After a freshman season yielded just six catches, Westbrook burst onto the scene last year in impressive fashion. Like Grant and Turner, he’s got a penchant for the big play. He’s got a very similar frame to Turner but is very athletic, both in terms of speed and jumping to high point the ball. He resembles Michael Floyd at Notre Dame in many ways, but with far less fanfare.
That’s probably because, instead of the five-star quarterbacks in South Bend (who we can trash another time), Westbrook and Simmie Cobbs have some pretty average arms at Indiana. This season it looks like Richard Lagow will be the guy and while he’s not the best quarterback in the conference, he’s got a pretty big arm which bodes well for Westbrook. Because of the matchup nightmare he and Cobbs pose on the outside, it’s hard to see him getting too much extra attention, meaning he could do even bigger things in 2017.
2016/17 Stats: 41 Receptions—637 Yards—6 Touchdowns
The last wide receiver to wear No. 1 and terrorize defenses in College Park was pretty darn good—Stefon Diggs, ever heard of him? Moore may not be quite as dynamic as the Minnesota Vikings star, but he showed great potential as a sophomore last season. Like some of the guys listed before him, and Diggs for that matter, he hasn’t had the best quarterbacks throwing to him, but that doesn’t mean he should be discredited.
Moore isn’t too physically imposing but at 6’1″ he has the size to compete for jump balls. He’s generally used on the outside in Walt Bell’s offense but is quick and shifty enough to come across the middle from the slot if needed. His versatility coupled with some outrageous hands makes him a true threat. Like so many others, all he needs is someone who can put the ball in his general facility. Then he does the rest.
- DeAndre Thompkins, Penn State
- Jazz Peavy, Wisconsin
- Saeed Blacknall, Penn State
- Drake Harris, Michigan
- Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska
NEXT WEEK: TIGHT ENDS