Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)
Welcome back to our weekly Top Five Series, where we identify and rank the top players at each position on the Hoosiers 2015 schedule. This week will be putting the most talented wide receivers under a microscope. We found that selecting our top five pass catchers was as equally as difficult as picking out the top five running backs, but for a decidedly different reason. There were so many good choices at wide receiver it was hard to pare it down to just five. Whereas at running back, we had trouble coming up with a consensus top five as there are so many questions marks surrounding the position in the Big Ten this year. Here are what we believe to be the top wide receivers who will be attempting to take advantage of the Hoosiers inexperienced secondary.
1. Leonte Carroo, Rutgers
In a week 11 match up against the Hoosiers last fall, Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo put on a show, dazzling the home crowd by making five grabs for 125 yards and two second half touchdowns. For the entirety of the season he recorded a team high 55 catches for 10 touchdowns and 1,086 yards, which ranked second in the Big Ten. Additionally his 19.7 yards per reception was best in the nation (51 catches minimum). His efforts led to him being named All-Big Ten by the league coaches (honorable mention), the media (first team), ESPN.com (first team), Phil Steele (first team) and BTN.com (first team).
Many believed the 6’1” 205-pound athlete might forgo his final season in college, however, he decided it would be in his best interest to return for his senior year and work on raising his draft stock. However, this decision is not quite risk free. Beyond the risk of suffering an injury, he could see his numbers decline, as Rutgers will have to break in a new signal caller as the team says farewell to four-year starter, Gary Nova. Prior to playing together at Rutgers, Carroo was catching passes from Nova at Don Bosco Prep.
The senior wide receiver has everything scouts are looking for at the next level including size, speed, and hands. The Hoosiers will face a multitude of talented wide receivers this fall and Carroo looks to be the best of the lot, as long as whomever they select to play quarterback gets the ball to him in a position to make plays. With the matchup between the two teams set to take place in Bloomington, the Hoosiers will certainly need to limit Carroo’s effectiveness to pull out the win and improve their hopes of becoming bowl eligible.
2. Michael Thomas, Ohio State
The first of two Buckeyes on our list, Michael Thomas is more of a pure receiving threat than our entrant at number five. The Los Angeles, Ca. native led the National Champions in receptions with 54, and his 799 receiving yards and nine touchdowns were both second best on the team. Surprisingly though is that he did not have a single game in 2014 where he had 100 or more receiving yards. This is not a knock on Thomas, as it says more about the Buckeyes depth than anything.
In fact, when it comes right down to it, it seems as if Thomas might be a little underrated at times. The media is always throwing around the names of the Buckeyes three quarterbacks, running back Ezekiel Elliott, and defensive end Joey Bosa, but Thomas seems to be the forgotten man in the mix. However, he still landed on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, so he's not being totally be overlooked.
The 6'3", 205-pound receiver, possesses good hands, speed, awareness as well as demonstrating elusiveness. Whomever the Buckeyes decide to go with at quarterback, they have a great security blanket in Thomas, who will use his size to overpower smaller defensive backs to wrestle away 50/50 balls. Now entering his junior year at Ohio State, there's a possibility with another solid season that he could make the jump to the next level. However, before that happens, Thomas and the rest of the Buckeyes have one thing on their mind, "Repeat."
3. DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
Leading the conference with 82 grabs is no easy feat, but only reaching the endzone twice during the 2014 season is what caused DaeSean Hamilton to drop to number three on our list. Last fall he went over 100 yards receiving in four games, for a total of 899 yards on the season. During the team's contest against the Buckeyes he had a good day making 14 catches for 126 yards, but failed to make it to paydirt. The media selected the talented receiver to be on the All-Big Ten Second Team.
For Hamilton to improve as a pro prospect, he'll need to work on increasing his yard per reception by extending plays after making the catch and becoming more of a vertical threat. In fact, he mentioned both to ESPN as areas he was focused on, “I’m working on being more of a deep threat. I want to take the top off,” he said. “Maybe I won’t get the same amount of catches, but the yards after catch is a big thing for me. The catches and yards per catch didn’t really match up [last year].”
Like many members on our list, he also possesses the size, 6'1'', 211-pounds, many NFL scouts are looking for. He too has been placed on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, further emphasizing how much talent there is at the position in the Big Ten.
4. Jared Dangerfield, Western Kentucky
When Western Kentucky makes their way to Bloomington in week three, the Hoosiers will have to be wary of the Danger Zone. No, not the hit 1980’s song by Kenny Loggins made popular by Tom Cruise’s Top Gun, I’m talking about senior wide receiver Jared Dangerfield. The 6’2” 205-pound JUCO transfer thrived during his first season with the Hilltoppers, making a single season record 69 grabs for 825 yards and 11 touchdowns.
What makes his 2014 performance even more impressive is how he stepped up in the team’s two biggest games of the season. In the Hilltoppers regular season finale against Marshall, he had 8 receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns, thwarting the Thundering Herd's quest of finishing the regular season undefeated. In the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl he made 5 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 49-48 victory over Central Michigan.
What’s scary for opposing defenses is that Biletnikoff Award Watch List nominee's numbers will surely rise this fall. Not only will he be entering his second season in the uptempo, air raid offense, but his quarterback, Brandon Doughty returns for his sixth season. Dangerfield will provide the Hoosiers’ secondary with its first real test of the 2015 season. His size and ability to be used in a multitude of ways, including on bubble screens, crossing patterns, and on more vertical routes, will give Indiana’s coaching staff plenty to think about and game plan for.
5. Jalin Marshall, Ohio State
A name Hoosier fans are all too familiar with, Jalin Marshall scored four second half touchdowns during Indiana's upset bid against Ohio State in Columbus last fall. The Hoosiers jumped ahead 20-14 before he decided to takeover the game, returning a punt 54 yards for a score in the third quarter followed by touchdown receptions of 6, 15, and 54 yards, all in the fourth quarterback to put Indiana's dreams of pulling of the upset to sleep.
While his season stats were far from record setting, 38 catches for 499 yards and 6 touchdowns, the dynamic playmaker showed glimpses of how great he could become. The 5'11", 205 lbs. athlete is a threat to defenses both on the ground and through the air and has the potential to become one of the best all-around players in the Big Ten, as long as he limits his mistakes and makes the most of his touches. Because the Buckeyes have an embarrassment of riches on offense, touches could at times be hard to come by. Nonetheless, don't be surprised to see Marshall's name on multiple late season award watch lists.
There's no doubt that the Hoosiers are facing a plethora of talented pass catchers this fall, making it all that more important for the young, inexperienced secondary to get up to speed quickly. That concludes our look at Wide Receivers, comeback next week as we take a look at the top offensive lines set to take on the Hoosiers this fall.