Written by Evan McShane (@veryreasonable)
We continue our ranking of the units that the Indiana Hoosiers will face in 2019 by turning to the offense and wide receivers. IU will face some of the best pass catchers in the nation this season.
Usually more known for a running game, the Wolverines might benefit most from airing it out this season as they have a highly talented wide receiver group. Head coach Jim Harbaugh is hoping quarterback Shea Patterson looks more comfortable in year two. Last season, Michigan’s top two receivers were Nico Collins (38 receptions, 632 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (47 receptions, 612 yards, 8 touchdowns). The reason Michigan is at the top of the list is because both those wideouts return.
Sophomore Tarik Black looks to step into a bigger role after demonstrating explosiveness last season. Health is the main question mark here. Black has struggled with injuries as have Collins and Peoples-Jones. If this group stays healthy, they’ll likely be the most formidable WR unit in the Big Ten. Hoosier cornerbacks will have their work cut out for them when Michigan comes to town in late November.
Rondale Moore is the reason Purdue ranks second on this list. Moore jumped on the scene in West Lafayette and immediately proved to be a dynamic player. He shattered the Big Ten lead in receptions with 114, led the league in yards with 1,258, and tied for the league-lead in touchdowns with 12. The It’s safe to say the Boilermakers have a Heisman candidate on their hands.
Beyond Moore, there are some question marks with this group. Junior Jackson Anthrop is a reliable target. Jared Sparks and Amad Anderson Jr. will see an opportunity to earn bigger roles. Aside from Rondale Moore, Purdue is most excited about their young talent. Milton Wright, Mershawn Rice, and David Bell were highly touted recruits and all three could make an instant impact on the Boilers offense.
3. Penn State
The Nittany Lions lost their two starting wide receives from last season, Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins. Filling the void will be KJ Hamler, a standout wide receiver who opened eyes last year as a redshirt freshman. Hamler is a big-play threat every time he catches the ball in open space. Last season, he caught 42 passes for 754 yards and four touchdowns. Hamler will look to increase his production even more in 2019.
Penn State’s WR group is going to have a lot to prove as they lack experience from top to bottom, but the potential is evident. Justin Shorter was the top wide receiver recruit in the 2018 class and the Nittany Lions will need him to take a leap. Sophomore wide receiver Jahan Dotson will have plenty of opportunity. Penn state also has two grad transfers coming to town who may be able to contribute right away.
4. Ohio State
Perhaps no team in the country lost more production at wide receiver this offseason than the Buckeyes, including the lightning-fast Parris Campbell who would go on to be a second-round pick at this year’s NFL Draft. They also lost WR Terry McLaurin to the NFL, who was selected in the third round. Nevertheless, the Buckeyes will do what they do best: replace talent with more talent. Ohio State’s receiving corps will still be one of the better units Indiana will face in 2019.
Wideout KJ Hill will step into the limelight and be the primary deep threat for quarterback Justin Fields, a high-profile transfer and likely starter. Last season Hill caught 70 passes for 885 yards and 6 touchdowns. He will look to eclipse 1,000-yard and 10-touchdown marks this season. Alongside Hill, Austin Mack will start after being sidelined with injury for much of last season. Rounding out Ohio State’s depth is a slew of inexperienced yet talented pass-catchers: Jaelen Gill, Binjimen Victor, and Garrett Wilson.
5. Michigan State
Last year the Spartans wide receiver group was ravaged by injury. Felton Davis III ruptured his Achilles, Darrell Stewart injured his ankle, and Cody White broke his hand. With Davis graduated, Stewart and White look to have breakout seasons. In his first two years at Michigan State, White has totaled over 1,000 receiving yards. Now he’ll look to reach 1,000 yards in a single season. Stewart, who had a big spring game, will likely compete with White for the team lead in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Behind this dynamic duo, the Spartans will have to wait and see who emerges as a major contributor.
The Cornhuskers will have to replace their leading receiver from last year, Stanley Morgan Jr., who had a 1,000-yard season to go with 70 catches and seven touchdowns. Stepping in to fill the void is talented WR JD Spielman. Last year, Spielman caught 66 passes for 818 yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns. With young quarterback Adrian Martinez looking like he could be the real deal, Spielman has a chance to breakout in 2019.
Nebraska will be aggressive throwing the ball downfield and they have the quarterback to do it. It’s unclear who will answer the call behind Spielman, but Kade Warner, Mike Williams, Jared Woodyard, Wyatt Mazour, and Jaevon McQuitty will all have ample opportunity to emerge as an offensive weapon.
The Wildcats have a lot to replace at wide receiver in 2019. Leading pass-catcher from last year, Flynn Nagel (68 receptions, 780 yards, 2 touchdowns) graduated, and Cameron Green and Charlie Fessler are no longer with the program. Ben Skowronek will likely step into a starting role after recording over 500 receiving yards last year. Riley Lees, Ramaud Chiokhiao-Bowman, and Kyric McGowan round out he rest of the group. Clemson transfer and Indiana-born quarterback Hunter Johnson will have to get everyone involved in his first year at Northwestern.
8. Ball State
Ball State was rattled by injuries the past two seasons, but in 2019 they should field a team with good depth. The Cardinals will bring back almost their entire wide receiving corps. Returning at the top wideout spot is Riley Miller, who hauled in 878 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. Yo’Heinz Tyler, who is vying for best first name in the conference, should challenge Miller for #1 WR. Junior Justin Hall and sophomore Khalil Newton round out the rest of the group.
Four new wide receivers made their debuts for Maryland last season and each of them showed promise. As a run-heavy team, the Terrapins won’t have any wideouts producing eye-popping numbers, but they have a number of threats at the position. Jeshaun Jones and Dontay Demus return as the top two receivers from last year. Darryl Jones, Brian Cobbs, and DJ Turner round out the rest of the group. Due to their style of play, Indiana’s cornerbacks won’t face their toughest challenge in Maryland, but the Terrapins have a solid group worthy of respect.
Rutgers returns just about everybody in 2019. While freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski struggled as a true freshman, Rutgers hopes he can look more comfortable in year two. Last year, the wide receivers struggled to produce, scoring their only touchdown in the loss against Indiana. Shameen Jones, Eddie Lewis, Raheem Blackshear, and Bo Melton will likely be the top four WRs on the team. It remains to be seen who will emerge as the top threat.
UConn did not have a powerful passing offense last season and entering 2019, the competition at both wide receiver and quarterback is wide open. The Huskies have no where to go but up after going 1-11 last year, but they are still expected to struggle.
12. Eastern Illinois
Eastern Illinois will be without several of their leading wide receivers from last season when they come to Bloomington. DeWayne Cooks Jr., Robbie Lofton, and Teriq Phillips will look to step in and become the leader, but for now, it’s not clear who will be the primary threat.