Post spring edition: Ranking the Big Ten’s pass catchers

·11 min read

We started off our Big Ten positional rankings by ranking the projected starting quarterbacks for the upcoming season, and then we went on to the running backs.

Now we find ourselves at the pass-catching unit. Most college teams have an abundance of receivers that they use, and even a few tight ends that receive multiple catches per game — like the Wolverines utilize.

The best way to do this is to take the top three pass catchers for each team, or projected top three, and rank the teams that way. So for this exercise, a tight end — if projected to be a top-three contributor — will be grouped in with the wide receivers.

The Big Ten lost quite a few really, really good pass catchers this past season, but as you’ll soon see, the Big Ten will have some incredible ones once again.

Here is my ranking of the best pass catchers for the 2022-2023 football season.

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Post spring edition: Ranking the Big Ten's running backs

Indiana: DJ Matthews, AJ Barner and Emery Simmons

MIAMI GARDENS, FL – JANUARY 02: Brian George #16 of the Texas A&M Aggies breaks up a pass intended for Emery Simmons #0 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second quarter of the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium on January 2, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

The Hoosiers — who was tied for last in the Big Ten last year with nine receiving touchdowns — lacked scoring ability last season, and with the losses of Ty Fryfogle and Peyton Hendershot, Indiana will more than likely struggle on offense once again behind a new signal-caller.

The Hoosiers will be led by Emery Simmons, a transfer from North Carolina, who caught for 243 yards and one touchdown last season. Look for DJ Matthews and tight end AJ Barner to be contributors as well — they caught 165 yards and 162 yards respectively last season.

Wisconsin: Chimere Dike, Markus Allen, and Clay Cundiff

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – DECEMBER 30: Wide receiver Chimere Dike #13 of the Wisconsin Badgers attempts to break a tackle from defensive back Nick Andersen #45 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the first half of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium on December 30, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Talk about an unproven bunch here for the Badgers. This is to be expected after Wisconsin lost Jake Ferguson, Danny Davis, and Kendric Pryor to graduation.

Chimere Dike is the leading returning receiver who only caught 19 passes last season for 272 yards and one score. Redshirt freshman Markus Allen, who caught three passes last year, and projected starting tight end, Clay Cundiff, round out the pass catchers for Wisconsin. The Badgers will need this group to step up so they aren’t 13th in the Big Ten averaging 160.2 receiving yards-per-game again this season.

Rutgers: Aron Cruickshank, Sean Ryan, and Isaiah Washington

PISCATAWAY, NJ – NOVEMBER 21: Aron Cruickshank #2 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights hauls in a touchdown reception against Hunter Reynolds #27 of the Michigan Wolverines during the fourth quarter at SHI Stadium on November 21, 2020 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Michigan defeated Rutgers 48-42 in triple overtime. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

The Scarlet Knights only lost one major contributor from last year’s receiving corps: Bo Melton. Rutgers was tied with Wisconsin last year at the bottom of the Big Ten in terms of receiving touchdowns with nine.

The Scarlet Knights return Aron Cruickshank who recorded 244 receiving yards last year along with Isaiah Washington who caught 19 passes for 179 yards. The key for Rutgers this year will be Sean Ryan who is coming over from West Virginia. Ryan had 399 yards and three touchdowns with the Mountaineers.

Nebraska: Trey Palmer, Oliver Martin, and Omar Manning

LINCOLN, NE – NOVEMBER 6: Wide receiver Omar Manning #5 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers escapes the tackle of safety Lathan Ransom #12 of the Ohio State Buckeyes to score in the first half at Memorial Stadium on November 6, 2021 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)

Texas transfer Casey Thompson doesn’t have a ton to work with in terms of weapons, but the cupboards aren’t completely bare.

The Cornhuskers return Oliver Martin and Omar Manning from last year’s team who caught for 170 and 380 yards respectively. Nebraska will have a new face this season after it added LSU transfer, Trey Palmer. Palmer had 344 yards and three scores with the Tigers last season.

Northwestern: Malik Washington, Bryce Kirtz, and Charlie Mangieri

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 11: Malik Washington #6 of the Northwestern Wildcats celebrates as he crosses the end zone to score a touchdown against the Indiana State Sycamores at Ryan Field on September 11, 2021 in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Wildcats ranked towards the bottom of the Big Ten last year with 177 receiving yards-per-game, and Northwestern will need some help from this trio this upcoming season.

Northwestern returns Malik Washington, who should lead the team, after he caught 44 passes last year for 578 yards, and two scores. Bryce Kirtz, who had 203 yards last season, and tight end Charlie Mangieri, who had 68 yards last year, will try and help quarterback Ryan Hilinski out this season.

Illinois: Isaiah Willians, Casey Washington, and Luke Ford

STATE COLLEGE, PA – OCTOBER 23: Casey Washington #14 of the Illinois Fighting Illini catches a two point conversion in the ninth overtime to win the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium on October 23, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Illinois ranked dead last in the Big Ten last year with 156 receiving yards-per-game, but the Fighting Illini do return some talent.

Isaiah Williams will be the unquestioned number one for this team, he ranked 21st last year in the Big Ten with 525 receiving yards. Casey Washington and tight end Luke Ford, who had 294 yards and 114 respectively, will be able to help out new quarterback Tommy DeVito this upcoming season.

Minnesota: Chris Autumn-Bell, Mike Brown-Stephens, and Brevyn Spann-Ford

IOWA CITY, IOWA- NOVEMBER 13: Wide receiver Chris Autumn-Bell #7 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers celebrates a touchdown during the second half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium on November 13, 2021 in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

The Gophers ranked 13th in the Big Ten last year in receiving yards for a team. But Minnesota returns some experience that should help Tanner Morgan out significantly next season.

Chris Autumn-Bell returns yet again who is coming off of a 506 yards season along with six scores. Mike Brown-Stephens also returns who caught for 392 yards last year, and tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford should remain a safety blanket for Morgan who caught for 296 yards and a score last year.

Iowa: Sam LaPorta, Keagan Johnson, and Nico Ragaini

Dec 4, 2021; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Sam LaPorta (84) against the Michigan Wolverines in the Big Ten Conference championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa remains a run-first team, but with former running back Tyler Goodson now onto the NFL, the Hawkeyes may need to get more out of its passing game this upcoming season. Good thing Iowa returns all three of its top pass catchers again.

Tight end Sam LaPorta will be a top-notch target again this season after leading the team with 670 yards and three touchdowns last year. Keagan Johnson and Nico Ragaini return as well who had 352 and 331 yards respectively last season. Spencer Petras definitely has some talent to throw to this year.

Purdue: Milton Wright, Payne Durham, and Broc Thompson

IOWA CITY, IOWA- OCTOBER 16: Wide receiver Milton Wright #0 of the Purdue Boilermakers plants a flag in the end zone following the match-up against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium on October 9, 2021 in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

Purdue may have lost David Bell to the NFL draft, but the second-ranked Big Ten receiving team in 2021 still has ample targets for Aidan O’Connell to thrive again in 2022.

Milton Wright returns as a dynamic threat after he caught for 732 yards and seven scores last season — Wright was 10th high in the Big Ten in receiving yards. Purdue also returns Broc Thompson at wide receiver and its sure-handed tight end Payne Durham who had 457 and 467 yards respectively last season.

Maryland: Rakim Jarrett, Dontay Demus Jr, and Corey Dyches

COLUMBUS, OHIO – OCTOBER 09: Rakim Jarrett #5 of the Maryland Terrapins runs the ball past Bryson Shaw #17 of the Ohio State Buckeyes for a touchdown in the third quarter during a game at Ohio Stadium on October 09, 2021 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

The only thing the Terps lost from last season is their tight end, Chigoziem Okonkwo. But Maryland returns two extremely talented wide receivers for Tagovailoa.

Let’s start with former five-star Rakim Jarrett. Jarrett returns as the 8th ranked Big Ten receiver from last year after catching 62 passes for 829 yards and five touchdowns. On the other side, Dontay Demus Jr. will be lining up after catching for 507 yards and three scores. I’m also throwing in new starting tight end Corey Dyches, who should have an immediate role, who caught for 208 yards and four scores in 2021.

Michigan State: Jayden Reed, Tre Mosley, and Montorie Foster

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – DECEMBER 30: Jayden Reed #1 of the Michigan State Spartans stiff arms Phil Campbell III #24 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 30, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Adam Hagy/Getty Images)

The Spartans lost its No. 2 wide receiver Jalen Nailor to the NFL, but Michigan State gets back its top option in Jayden Reed.

Reed was statistically the fifth-best wideout last year after his 1,026-yard season and 10 touchdowns. Michigan State also gets back its No. 3 option from last season in Tre Mosley who had 530 yards in 2021. The big question mark for the Spartans will be who takes over as the third option. I have Montorie Foster slated for this role, Foster recorded 164 receiving yards last season.

Michigan: Cornelius Johnson, Andrel Anthony, and Ronnie Bell

Photo: Isaiah Hole

Michigan has so much talent at the wide receiver position, and even at tight end. But for this exercise, I can only choose three options to rank. So I’m going with who I think will be the most dynamic, and all three are wide receivers.

The Wolverines will return Cornelius Johnson who was the 13th-ranked Big Ten pass catcher after recording 627 yards and three scores. Sophomore Andrel Anthony will look to continue to emerge after his strong second half last year where he ended the season with 248 yards and three scores. Lastly, Ronnie Bell will be back for Michigan — the usual safety blanket and sure-handed wideout. Bell had a season-ending injury last year after the first game, but Bell will be ready to take off once again in 2022.

Penn State: Parker Washington, Mitchell Tinsley, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith

Jan 1, 2022; Tampa, FL, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Parker Washington (3) makes a one-handed catch during the first half against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the 2022 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Penn State lost Jahan Dotson to the Washington Commanders, but boy did the Nittany Lions improve with a certain transfer from Western Kentucky.

Parker Washington will look to be the 1A option next year after having a good season recording 820 yards and four scores in 2021. The 1B option is going to be incoming transfer Mitchell Tinsley who’s going to be dangerous for opposing teams. In 2021 with WKU, Tinsley had 87 catches, 1,402 yards, and 14 scores.

The No. 3 option isn’t too shabby either. KeAndre Lambert-Smith will be back after having a 521-yard and three-score season in 2021.

Ohio State: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr, and Julian Fleming

Apr 16, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes Scarlett wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) with the touchdown during the Annual Scarlett and Gray Spring game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

I was going back and forth between Penn State and Ohio State here, but with the five-star talent on this roster, it has to be Ohio State.

The high-flying Buckeyes are looking to continue their momentum after finishing first in the Big Ten in 2021 with 380 receiving yards-per-game, and 46 receiving touchdowns.

Ohio State did lose Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, but it returns the top-ranked wide receiver from 2021 in Jaxon Smith-Njigba after he caught 95 passes, 1,606 yards, and nine touchdowns. The Buckeyes will get plenty of help with Marvin Harrison Jr. and former five-star Julian Fleming rounding out the pass catchers.

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