On Thursday, I took a look at which players in the Big Ten were most likely to reach 1,000 yards rushing in 2015. Today, it’s time to turn to the receivers and project which ones will break the elusive 1,000-yard barrier this fall.
It’s usually a much shorter list for receivers in this league than for running backs. Only three players eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2014, and just one of them -- Rutgers’ Leonte Carroo, who amassed 1,086 receiving yards on just 55 receptions -- is back and fully healthy for the start of this season. Since 2010, the Big Ten has never had more than four players record 1,000 yards receiving in the same season, and the average number of receivers to accomplish it in that five-year span is under three per season.
So it’s likely that not many guys will join Carroo if he is able to get to 1,000 yards again. But here are the most likely candidates:
1. DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State: Though Hamilton slowed down quite a bit toward the end of last season, he still managed a Big Ten-best 82 catches that produced 899 yards as a freshman. With more experience and presumably a better year for Christian Hackenberg, he could bump those numbers up to quadruple digits. Keep an eye also on teammates Geno Lewis and Chris Godwin.
2. Michael Thomas, Ohio State: Thomas had abreakout campaign as a redshirt sophomore and is the Buckeyes’ leading returning wideout after posting 799 yards last year, albeit in 15 games. With Devin Smith and Evan Spencer gone, he could become an even bigger focus of the passing attack.
3. Geronimo Allison, Illinois: Mikey Dudek is the league’s other returning 1,000-yard receiver after an unbelievable true freshman season. But he tore his ACL in spring practice and won’t be back before at least October. Can Allison pick up the slack? He showed signs of promise in 2014 while racking up 598 receiving yards and 41 catches in 12 games. He’ll need more consistency, but the talent and opportunity are both there in the Illini’s high-volume passing game.
4. Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State: Tony Lippett was the other 1,000-yard receiver in the Big Ten last year, but both he and Keith Mumphery are now trying to make it in the NFL. That creates a big void for the Spartans, and perhaps Burbridge can fill it as the new No. 1 receiver. He’ll need to take a major step forward after registering just 29 catches for 358 yards in ’14, but he is skilled and has Connor Cook throwing him the ball.
5. Danny Anthrop, Purdue: Anthrop hasn’t had much luck on the health front but has been productive when he’s played. He finished with 616 yards on 38 catches in just nine games last season. Better fortune avoiding injuries could see him challenging the 1,000-yard plateau.
6. De’Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: This is probably a long shot, both because the Huskers have officially never had a 1,000-yard receiver and because Pierson-El had only 23 catches for 321 yards last season. But the dynamic sophomore showed his playmaking ability on punt returns, and if new coach Mike Riley can figure out ways to utilize the speedy slot man effectively, Pierson-El could become a breakthrough offensive player. Jordan Westerkamp (747 yards last year) also figures to benefit from an expected emphasis on the passing game under Riley.