Somewhat surprisingly, only one receiver in the conference gained 1,000 yards through the air in 2016: Northwestern’s Austin Carr. He had 1,247 yards last season and was followed by Indiana’s Nick Westbrook, who had 995 yards, and Penn State’s Chris Godwin with 982.
With quite a few returning quarterbacks and receivers in the conference, that number could go up this season. At the same time, there are some big question marks on conference offenses.
So how many receivers will hit the 1,000-yard mark within the Big Ten this season? Let’s take a look at the possibilities.
Nick Westbrook or Simmie Cobbs, Indiana: It isn’t likely that both will gain 1,000 yards, but both have the potential. Cobbs had 1,035 receiving yards in 2015 but suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Ball State in the second game of the 2016 season. Westbrook stepped up in Cobb’s absence. Quarterback Richard Lagow is returning and the chemistry built between Lagow and Westbrook should help re-create those numbers. There are some questions as to what the production will look like without former head coach Kevin Wilson as Mike DeBord takes over as offensive coordinator.
DeAndre Thompkins, Penn State: Chris Godwin came up 18 yards short of 1,000 last season, so it isn’t out of the question to think a Penn State receiver will hit the mark this season. Although Godwin is off to the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterback Trace McSorley returns, and he threw for 3,614 yards last season. Thompkins (440 yards in 2016) and Juwan Johnson (70 yards on two catches as a freshman) are two receivers with breakthrough potential. The issue for Thompkins is that Johnson, DaeSean Hamilton (506 yards in 2016) and tight end Mike Gesicki (679) are going to get their shots, too. Add in the carries that workhorse Saquon Barkley will likely have and the production could be spread out.
Flynn Nagel, Northwestern: The Wildcats were the only Big Ten team to have a receiver with 1,000 yards last season in Carr. He has graduated, leaving an opportunity for Nagel (477 yards as a sophomore in 2016). Quarterback Clayton Thorson is returning, which should help Nagel’s cause. Similar to other teams, though, the Wildcats will have other offensive weapons, including running back Justin Jackson. Carr gained 1,247 yards on 90 catches last season. Nagel had 40 receptions last season, averaging 11.18 yards per catch. If he maintains that average with 90 receptions, that would put him over 1,000. He has a shot to be targeted more and haul in enough passes to get there.
Someone at Purdue: This is a flier that’s simply based on the fact new coach Jeff Brohm had so much offensive production as head coach at Western Kentucky. Brohm had Taywan Taylor gain 1,730 yards receiving, which ranked third overall for FBS receivers, and teammate Nicholas Norris had 1,318 yards. Those are some impressive numbers. Purdue has issues at receiver, though, as they must replace their top three players in receiving yards from last season. The staff brought in a few junior college prospects and transfers in Isaac Zico, Terry Wright and Corey Holmes, but it’s unclear who will step up. Quarterback David Blough is back and he threw for 3,352 yards last season, so math tells us that someone should be in the 1,000-yard mix.