Close your eyes and picture this. The sun is shining, there’s a warm breeze, and you’re holding your favorite beer (or a classy mixed drink, or a soda if neither of those are your thing). Its opening weekend of Big Ten football play and you’re out at your team’s first tailgate of the season. Ok, now open them. It felt too good to be true, didn’t it?
While I can’t give you a time machine to fast forward to that day, I can give you the third installment of our Big Ten positional preview. We’ve already talked about the top returning quarterbacks and their backfield buddies, so today we get to see who’s catching the passes downfield. Just a reminder, any players facing eligibility (transfers) and injury issues will be left off of the golden list.
This one was a tad harder to make than usual, as again the Big Ten is pretty much fueled by the run. As apparent by former Maryland Terp’ D.J. Moore being the only wideout to break the 1,000-yard mark in the conference. None-the-less, there were still plenty of options to rank, some of these projections are going to be based on potential. So, here go!
41. Felton Davis III, Senior, Michigan State
Can't be surprised.
To be honest, this top spot was a toss-up between Felton Davis III and the next receiver on this list (be patient). Davis’s ability to make highlight-worthy grabs, along with the return of top Big Ten quarterback Brian Lewerke, gives him the nod.
For those of you who don’t know, you might remember the senior wideout from when he dusted the Penn State Nittany Lions secondary in an upset victory last season. Davis hauled in 55 receptions in 2017, which garnered him 776 yards on his way to reaching the promised land nine times.
The Virginia native struggles sometimes with consistency, as he was held without a grab in two games last season and just one in two others. However, when he’s on, there may not be a more dependable red zone threat at receiver in the Big.
Look for Davis to crack 1,000 yards as Lewerke continues to mature in the MSU offense.
32. Stanley Morgan Jr., Senior, Nebraska
Seven receptions for a career-high 185 receiving yards
Second highest in school history for a single game, only behind JD Spielman from earlier this year.
Look, don’t think of this as a second-place finish for Stanley Morgan Jr., but more of a 1A and 1B feel. There is a strong argument that Morgan is better than Davis, but with Tanner Lee surprisingly moving on to the NFL, we don’t know who’s going to get him the ball in 2018.
The number one target for the Cornhuskers used his stickies to grab 61 receptions for 986 yards and a whopping 10 touchdowns last season. What really impresses me about Morgan is his ability after the catch, as he took a few crossing routes to the house in 2017.
Morgan loves to extend one of his long wings to slap opponents with a gruesome stiff arm. With Scott Frost now at the helm, whoever is under center come opening weekend will make sure the standout has the ball.
If so, Morgan can not only be one of the best in the Big Ten but in college football.
23. Juwan Johnson, Redshirt Junior, Penn State
#PennState WR Juwan Johnson. Future NFL Starter.
He's better than Chris Godwin. Special talent.
With Mike Gesicki, DaeSean Hamilton, and some guy named Saquon Barkley headed to the NFL, someone is going to have to step it up in the receiving game for the Nittany Lions. Enter Juwan Johnson, who with Trace McSorley, can become one of the dominant receivers in the conference this upcoming season.
Standing at 6-foot-4, Johnson can replicate the red zone production that McSorley is losing with the trio above. Having caught 54 passes for 701 yards, Johnson was already on the radar as a top 10 receiver in the conference.
The redshirt junior only managed just one touchdown in 2017, which could be as a result of having so many mouths to feed in that offense. Regardless, Johnson has strong hands and can do some of the dirty work in the middle of the field for the Nittany Lions.
Expect his touchdown totals to rise by a wide margin this season.
1Sleeper: Bo Melton, Sophomore, Rutgers
Let’s show some love over to those guys along the banks of the Raritan. Bo Melton was a highly touted four-star receiver that stayed home and committed to Rutgers over a slew of other big-time FBS offers.
Melton was supposed to come in and provide an offensive spark for head coach Chris Ash and co. However, when the dust settled, the true freshman finished with just four receptions for 83 yards.
It’s not entirely his fault, as abysmal quarterback play hampered most of the Scarlet Knight offense. Since then Rutgers has reopened the quarterback competition under a new offensive coordinator John McNulty, which could lead to a huge breakout season for Melton.
It’s already starting to show, as Melton connected with potential true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski for three touchdowns during the Scarlet Knights spring game.