Different format this year because we ran out of offseason.
Previously: Quarterbacks and Running Backs
Seth: SEEVERS AND TENDS!
Owait this isn't a Penn State blog.
Anyway, this kinda looks like a down year for wideouts in the conference, though there’s a crop of rising sophomores—as Michigan fans may be aware—that could change that in a hurry.
Seth: It always looks like a down year because the breakout guys don't leave any trace of being good before they do so.
BiSB: If this was a real draft—SHUT UP, I SAID IF—you probably wouldn't see a receiver off the board in the first, what, five rounds?
Ace: I think this conversation has to start with Nebraska’s Stanley Morgan, who’s thrived despite some awful QB play. I’d take Morgan and maybe Juwan Johnson relatively high and otherwise there’s not much proven anything out there.
Alex: One recent development to consider: Ohio State’s receivers may actually be well-coached this season.
Brian: No comment.
Ace: They’re just gonna promote the GA who’s actually been coaching them the last year.
BiSB: In the land of #Zone6, the Random GA is king. And Parris Campbell is pretty dang good.
Ace: But, yeah, Parris Campbell may be able to catch footballs thrown more than five yards downfield, and that’d be scary. Jinx.
Brian: I don't think one fall camp is going to turn that situation around.
Ace: He was still pretty scary without that ability, unfortunately.
BiSB: I can see them throwing downfield more with Haskins.
Seth: Someone would take Stanley Morgan and then there'd be a long drought. Morgan is legit and has produced through some dark quarterbacking years. But I'd be sweating Quintez Cephus. We discussed the windows that Hornibrook throws at, and Cephus's target numbers are insane: 79% catch rate, had a 71% success rate, 13 YPT.
[After THE JUMP: Let's all imagine Michigan's catchies in a competent passing offense.]
Brian: Anyway, not to reinforce Seth's bizarre assertions about Wisconsin's receiving corps but Quintez Cephus is a burly-ass man who…
Ace: Cephus is really good and is an ideal fit for Mr. Tight Windows.
Brian: Why are you always making everything sexy?
Ace: It’s my nature, sorry. Blame the nips.
BiSB: And I hate backing Seth up on this, but Wisconsin's trio did all average move than 10 yards per target.
Brian: Mr. Tight Windows Hornibrook is really something
BiSB: They also all had catch rates of over 65%, which given those windows is INSANE.
The Mathlete: The question is can Cephus's production scale with additional targets?
Ace: Given the success of the other receivers, I think so.
Brian: But that's about the QB not the WRs. We all saw Hornibrook's accuracy and the zero separation UW receivers got.
BiSB: Cephus's catch rate was 78.9%. There's no way that keeps up, right?
Brian: Well, no but our Bayesian estimate for that catch rate should still be rather good.
Seth: I have a slightly altered take on Wisconsin's passing game. Hornibrook doesn't often dance around in the pocket so a lot of his receivers' catches come mid-route against a defensive back whose timer hasn't gone off yet. Slot receiver A.J. Taylor's highlight reel is a good example of this:
Cephus was already getting a lot of targets before his injury. That catch rate is too high to make that the expectation for anybody but it's still an indicator he's really good. Danny Davis III had the kind of freshman season that portends a big career. Came on late and his highlight reel is filled with excellent adjustments to the same kind of "wait that's not the part of the route that…" throws:
Ace: Bigger question for those receivers may be how the passing offense fares without Troy Fumagalli getting a ton of attention at TE. This is where we should probably talk rising sophomores, now that Seth mentioned Davis. He’s up there, as is Michigan’s duo of Black and DPJ, and I thought Cody White was really impressive for MSU last year.
Brian: what about Indiana freshman Whop Philyor?
[slack chat furiously googles]
Ace: He caught a pass against Michigan, I remember Whop!
BiSB: Chris Berman doesn't call Indiana games, does he?
Ace: He’s… kinda just a guy for now, though. Albeit one with an incredible name.
The Mathlete: I had him as the most productive true freshman receiver in the conference last year.
Ace: Small sample, though, right?
Brian: How else are we supposed to YES MATHLETE FTW!
33 catches isn't that small.
Seth: He's just a slotty slot receiver and there are better ones. Also he was
BiSB: However, you have to factor in the DeBord Regression
Ace: Whoops, this is my fault for looking at conference-only stats.
Brian: Yeah, last year was probably the Wile E Coyote doesn't notice he's run off a cliff year.
BiSB: (FWIW, The DeBord Regression was the worst of the Bourne sequels)
Brian: RIP #chaosteam
Ace: That said, I think the sophomore slot bug we should be discussing is Nebraska’s J.D. Spielman. Late switch to football, Michigan poked around, and he led the conference in yards per game with Tanner Lee throwing him passes.
BiSB: Spielman and Morgan could be quite dangerous together. I know we bagged on Tanner Lee a lot, but the passes that DIDN'T hit defenders in the face were pretty decent.
Ace: Had 423 yards on 26 catches in four games vs. ranked teams last year, so he wasn’t beating up on scrubs, either.
The Mathlete: Spielman was really hurt by Tanner Lee last year, he was the only productive player who had a negative Win Percent Added last year, likely due to Lee's targets to him turning into 6 the other way.
BiSB: But there's no difference from a receiver standpoint between a pick-6 and a simple overthrow, right?
Alex: As easy as it is to shit on Tanner Lee, do we know if whoever replaces him will actually be an upgrade?
Ace: Not really, though I’m willing to give Scott Frost the benefit of the doubt that he can put something decent together.
Ace: Going from Mike Riley to Frost is… an upgrade.
Seth: Tanner Lee got drafted! He might have been a decent quarterback who was trying to do what he could with a worse pass blocking situation than Michigan's. That porous O-Line is still there minus its best player, and their options might not be much of an improvement on Tanner Lee. It's a redshirt freshman everyone thinks will eventually be passed by the true freshman who didn't play last year. That offense could be very Michigan 2008.
Alex: Either way Morgan and Spielman is probably the best duo until Tarik and DPJ reach their final forms.
Brian: I know they did little last year I think both guys have a case.
Alex: I do think Tarik Black should be receiving much more hype—had he not gotten hurt he would have posted great stats for a freshman, if only by virtue of how many targets he would have gotten.
Ace: The upside is greater there than anywhere else.
Alex: DPJ is more well-known, I think.
Brian: In Black's case he had 11 catches in 3 games in that context.
BiSB: And Florida's defense was pretty good.
Brian: 50-catch freshman season despite the train wreck that was Michigan's passing game would be grounds for serious hype.
Ace: And who knows what numbers DPJ would’ve put up if they had a QB who could hit a deep ball.
Brian: And in Poor Damn DPJ's case his athleticism absolutely translated but every time he was wide open someone winged it five yards beyond him.
Alex: I think Black could leapfrog the known quantities from around the league more quickly than DPJ, though that is a feelingsball feeling and not a solid take.
BiSB: It's hard to project any Michigan receiver to get targeted that many times, though
Alex: Good point Bryan. So much depends on who’s getting these guys the ball. Like you could put 2004 Braylon Edwards on Minnesota and would it really change that much?
The Mathlete: Would you trade Black and DPJ for any two other teammates in the conference?
BiSB: Between Black, DPJ, McKeon, Gentry, and whoever else, the ball will probably get spread around a lot.
Alex: For the rest of their careers, absolutely not. For this season, maybe.
BiSB: If it's a keeper league, I'm taking DPJ and Black over anyone.
Brian: Do I have to take two WR back or can I get a tackle?
Ace: Dangit Brian.
Seth: Wheatley might be both?
The Mathlete: Black's single game rating against Florida was higher than any Big Ten receiver averaged against Power 5 opponents all season
Brian: We mentioned one MSU WR so far, but how do we feel about Athlon First Team All Conference Receiver Felton Davis?
BiSB: He can get open, at least.
Ace: I think he’s good but I don’t think he’ll end up first-team. I thought Cody White was passing him up as their best receiver by the end of the year. Davis probably is what he is by now while White was only a freshman. Those guys will have the benefit of relatively steady QB play, though.
Brian: imo he is Just A Large Guy. Good post-up WR due to his size but separation is at a premium. Would have a 2000 yard season playing for Wisconsin.
Seth: Yeah he'd be better as a #2. But he's a fine #2.
BiSB: Speaking of steady QB play, I would like to at least mention Tyler Johnson, who will run impressive and utterly futile routes all year.
Seth: Thank you! I didn't want to bring up a MINNESOTA wide receiver, since they literally don't have a scholarship quarterback but Johnson could get 600 of Minnesota's 700 passing yards.
Ace: The tough part with this is the teams with the most upside also have a lot of uncertainty. OSU has a new QB with a lot of downfield passing potential; they also have a pile of really talented receivers; we have no idea who’s gonna emerge from that pile. I could see an Austin Mack breakout, just to choose a name, but it’s tough to specifically predict. Also, we’ve gone this long without mentioning Nick Westbrook, who was very much in this conversation heading into last year before Indiana got him hurt for the year on kickoff coverage, of all things. He’s the dynamic downfield threat MSU wants Davis to be.
Brian: Oh yeah Westbrook would be a slam dunk except for the Debord factor.
BiSB: Being three years removed from #ChaosTeam and in year two of DeBord has me... yeah.
Ace: He might still Stanley Morgan his way up there. QB play will be very important for him.
Seth: Westbrook was 5 yards short of 1,000 with Lagow and Zander Diamont.
Ace: Yeah, he should make it. Someone who doesn’t have to worry about that and I’ve only mentioned him in passing: PSU’s Juwan Johnson.
Alex: Westbrook is getting hurt on the first kickoff of the season again because Indiana football.
Ace: He got a ton of hype last year, mostly delivered on it, and is the jump-ball target that PSU relies upon. And our unanimous first-team QB is throwing him the ball.
BiSB: But with Barkley, Gesicki, and Moorhead gone, he's going to get a lot more attention
Ace: That argument could easily flip the other way.
BiSB: From both teams.
Ace: He’ll get more targets and PSU has recruited well.
Seth: Will Penn State love the bomb as much without Dr. Strangemoorhead?
Ace: That’s the big hangup. I suspect we get a year where his general principles stick.
BiSB: BOMBERINOS! 'SPLODIES!
Brian: Also if there's a big downgrade at RB and safeties can stay back more you could see PSU have to rely less on Rex Grossman ball
Ace: There’ll be a downgrade but PSU has plenty of bullets in the backfield even beyond Miles Sanders.
|1st Tm||Stanley Morgan, NE||Morgan||Morgan||Morgan||Morgan|
|Quintez Cephus, UW||Cephus||Cephus||Davis||Cephus|
|2nd Tm||Juwan Johnson, PSU||J.Johnson||J.Johnson||J.Johnson||Westbrook|
|Tarik Black, UM||Black||Black||Cephus||T.Johnson|
|3rd Tm||Tyler Johnson, MN||D. Peoples-Jones, UM||T.Johnson||Black||J.Johnson|
|Nick Westbrook, IU||Westbrook||Davis||Westbrook||Black|
|4th Tm||Felton Davis, MSU||Cody White, MSU||DPJ||DPJ||Davis|
|Austin Mack, OSU||Danny Davis, UW||Binjamin Victor, OSU||T.Johnson||DPJ|
|1st Tm||Parris Campbell, OSU||Campbell||Campbell||Campbell||Spielman|
|2nd Tm||JD Spielman, NE||Spielman||DeAndre Thompkins, PSU||Spielman||Campbell|
|3rd Tm||Jackson Anthrop, PU||Philyor||K.J. Hill, OSU||Hill||Philyor|
|4th Tm||WHOP PHILYOR, IU||Anthrop||Spielman||uh...I'm gonna tell White he has to play in the slot||Some little bastard from Maryland|
Alex: The Felton Davis disrespekt here is kind of ridiculous though.
Ace: @bryan Taivon Jacobs got his sixth year.
BiSB: It shall be so. Davis averaged 8.0 yards per target.
Seth: In fairness all Maryland receivers are Taivon Jacobs.
Ace: Thompkins is a guy we overlooked to the point of not mentioning him. I, uh, may have forgotten he still had eligibility.
Seth: He's going to get more usage now that they aren't throwing to Barkley. I was on a phone call for some of the discussion so to explain my picks: Victor was barely targeted until they got into the red zone—anything his direction is a good idea but they didn't really need to throw jump balls when their running game could get 6 YPC. Did we leave out K.J. Hill too?
Brian: Hill seems like JAG to me and I think he gets passed.
Ace: A fair amount of overlap between his skill set and Campbell’s. I think Victor and Mack get more targets.
BiSB: McLaurin, too. Just a lot of very talented dudes.
Ace: My guess is more OSU players make it than we predict, but it’s pulling names out of a hat right now.
Seth: McLaurin is going to be that designated "go deep" guy they haven't thrown to since Devin Smith. K.J. Hill is Roy Roundtree. Honorable Mention to Bo Melton, who didn't do diddly last year but broke out in the spring game and inherits the Janarion Grant role.
Seth: 1. McKeon, 2. Gentry, 3. Eubanks, 4. Wheatley, 5. A 6'6" son of a fishing boat captain that Harbaugh discovered pulling swordfish out of Massachusetts Bay with his bare hands. Also some dude from Iowa because Iowa.
Ace: Noah Fant, who is real dang good.
BiSB: Yeah, we have to start this conversation with Fant
Ace: Given the amount Michigan is gonna split their targets, he’s my first-teamer. He may also just be the best TE in the conference, period.
BiSB: Fant led the Big Ten in receiving touchdowns last year. Not for tight ends. For anyone.
Ace: Also the one guy in Iowa’s offense whose production isn’t hurt by OFFENSE GERG.
BiSB: He had more receiving touchdowns (11) than Michigan had AS A GOTDANG TEAM.
BiSB: He also averaged 16.5 yards per catch.
Seth: I'll stop pretending I didn't know about Fant, because I too watched that Ohio State game and Iowa's offense is all about running the wrong running back or passing to the TE.
Ace: While he didn’t put up enormous numbers last year, I really liked what I saw from Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins. He can really run for a big guy and Brohm knows how to spring him open. Also, Illinois somehow had a super-productive TE last year?
Ace: Louis Dorsey averaged 18 YPC! As a freshman!
Seth: Illinois had a "chuck it at someone" offense last year and Dorsey did better than Malik Turner at that. But Dorsey was also a 6-6/225 freshman who couldn't block. The NFL will take any and all jumbo types but I wouldn't trade Gentry or Eubanks or Emond "Ol' Tuna Catcher" McTavish for Dorsey.
Ace: I’m just shocked anyone was semi-productive in that offense. He cracked 8 YPT.
BiSB: We actually get to mention a Rutgers player in this category, too. This is apparently the Miss Congeniality/Team Spirit Award position group this year.
slackbot: I think you mean Rutger
Seth: Oooh oooh we get to bring up the fact that Rutgers re-hired John McNulty as offensive coordinator because he was the OC under Greg Schiano!
slackbot: I think you mean Rutger
BiSB: Jerome Washington led Rutgers in receiving last year. With 282 yards.
slackbot: I think you mean Rutger
Ace: Oh god, OSU/Rutgers is gonna be even more of a bloodbath than usual.
slackbot: I think you mean Rutger
BiSB: He led the team by more than 100 yards.
Brian: NFL people are talking up Matt Sokol along with Fant, FWIW. But sort of in the "mid round" range. Fant has a good shot at the first.
Ace: I assume for his blocking? It was tough to get a read on MSU’s blocking last year with their OL.
BiSB: He’s a decent receiver. Good enough to do some damage on play action.
Brian: USA Today is the only one to go into some detail and yes.
Matt Sokol, Michigan State, 6-6, 255 pounds, Sr.
Another NFL-caliber blocker, Sokol is the complete package at tight end with the ability to catch and block. Sokol ended last season with 21 receptions, but we can expect that number to rise in 2018. Scouts love Sokol’s hands and size, he also has enough athleticism to make a difference after the catch. MSU fans thought they were going to miss Josiah Price last season, but Sokol has proven to be a stud.
Seth: Sokol didn't get much of an opportunity to catch passes last year because they needed him to stay in an help block all the time. He's kind of a starved left tackle.
Ace: I thought that was Cole Chewins.
Ace: I think this is where we mention that Iowa has a good #2 TE, too?
Seth: Ergh took the words out of my mouth.
Ace: TJ Hockenson, very Iowa name.
Seth: Also 71 yards and 2 TDs versus Ohio State.
Ace: I remember those fondly. Is there anyone crazy talented on said Buckeyes who’s gonna get wildly underutilized this year?
Seth: I think they have a former Michigan target.
Ace: Ugh, multiple, in fact. Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert. And there are guys ahead of them, most likely. Namely Jake Hausmann and Rashod Berry.
Seth: Farrell passed Rashod Berry last year. I wouldn't be surprised if Ruckert did too. Berry's one of those crazy athletic defensive players who looked at that DE depth chart and said "So what else you got?"
Ace: That’s not quite right. Berry passed everyone except Baugh last year. Ruckert may end up the backup.
Brian: I'm sure that whoever OSU plays at TE will be a competent blocker who gets 15 targets.
Ace: And eventually plays in the NFL, but yeah.
Seth: Berry was second on the depth chart early in the season but his playing time waned as the year went on. But let's talk about the ACTUAL best tight ends in the conference (except Fant). McKeon was Michigan's best target last year and a decent blocker. As a redshirt freshman. Zach Gentry doesn't have a ceiling.
Ace: Plus they’re in a Harbaugh offense. And have recruiting profiles that, if you dig in a bit, indicate they’re very talented. If McKeon played his high school ball in Ohio, I have little doubt he’d have been a four-star. Dude had the best SPARQ score among TEs in his class. Which was on display every time he turned the corner after catching a drag.
Meanwhile, Gentry is a unicorn.
Seth: Penn State has a ridiculously proportioned HSP (Cam Brown) they recruited specifically to deal with Gentry-like players. But unless you recruit yourself a Gentry type there's no good way to guard him. Your defensive backs are too small. Your linebackers are too slow. The NFL right now can't solve this either.
Ace: He’s a matchup nightmare, and should be even more so this year. I think we were all surprised that his blocking was passable last season.
|1st Tm||Noah Fant, IA||Fant||Fant||Fant||Fant|
|2nd Tm||Zach Gentry, UM||Gentry||Gentry||Gentry||McKeon|
|3rd Tm||Matt Sokol, MSU||McKeon||McKeon||Hopkins||Brycen Hopkins, PU|
|4th Tm||Sean McKeon, UM||Hopkins||Hopkins||Rutger guy, idk||Gentry|
Seth: I guess. HMs: Nebraska's Jack Stoll was productive in very limited snaps last year and Scott Frost will be much better at finding ways to use him. Penn State has a redshirt sophomore who didn't play last year but was getting Dwumfour-level hype this spring. Wisconsin has a battle between Fumagalli's meh backups and the grandson of Barry Alvarez.