1. Allen Robinson, Penn State Nittany Lions
The most obvious change in the Penn State offense after the implementation of Bill O’Brien’s offense was the vast improvement of Matt McGloin. Perhaps overshadowed was that the same system that made the New England Patriots the most dynamic passing attack in the NFL under O’Brien also produced the Big Ten’s only 1000-yard receiver in Robinson.
At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Robinson is the consummate possession receiver. He has proven, reliable hands, deceptive speed and explosive athleticism. After a 77-reception campaign in O’Brien’s NFL-crafted system, Robinson is quickly emerging as a future first rounder.
2. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin Badgers
Abbrederis transformed from walk-on to a primary target. He had a very slight dip in production from 2011 to 2012, but a more concrete quarterback situation with Joel Stave emerging as a No. 1 in the spring should benefit Abbrederis — just as Abbrederis’ veteran savvy should benefit Stave.
3. Cody Latimer, Indiana Hoosiers
Kevin Wilson’s pass-heavy offensive philosophy is conducive to big numbers, but only if there are outstanding receivers to make it work. There are, and it will. Latimer is the star of a solid overall corps, combining size and athleticism. For a sample of his leaping ability, it’s only fitting at IU we turn to the basketball court:
4. Kenny Bell, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck is integrating more passing into the Husker offense, and with good reason. It would be a shame to waste this receiving corps, starting with third-year contributor Bell. He averaged better than 17 yards per reception en route to 863 last season, and hauled in eight touchdowns. He’s speedy — so much so, that in 2011 he set a seven-year Husker record for the longest Nebraska rush from scrimmage.
Bell is also one of the better college football follows on Twitter, @AFRO_THUNDER80.
5. Jeremy Gallon, Michigan Wolverines
Fifth-year senior Gallon is good enough to earn consideration for the coveted No. 1.
Gallon caught 49 passes for 829 yards with four touchdowns last season. The small speedster carved a nice niche in Al Borges’ offense, despite being recruited to flourish in the gaps of Rich Rodriguez’s spread.
6. Philly Brown, Ohio State Buckeyes
At 669 yards, Brown was Ohio State’s most productive receiver a season ago. He’s a proven top target for Braxton Miller, which could make him much more valuable than the No. 6 he has here.
Brown’s drawn comparisons to prior Buckeye play maker Ted Ginn, Jr., as well as noted Urban Meyer pupil Percy Harvin. Both were outstanding slot receivers and all-around athletes who could be used in a variety of ways. Indeed, Brown was an effective ball carrier when unleashed on the ground. He scored a touchdown off of one of his 10 rushes.
7. Devin Smith, Ohio State
Smith made one of the most remarkable touchdown catches of 2012. For those who need a refresher:
But that isn’t the only reason he lands at No. 6 on this list. Smith was the consummate big player receiver, averaging better than 20 yards per, and scoring touchdowns on one-fifth of his catches (6-of-30).
8. Shane Wynn, Indiana
Though just 5-foot-7, Wynn carried a sizable load of the Hoosier offense in 2012. His 68 catches were the most among IU receivers and earned Wynn All-Big Ten recognition.
The Hoosier quarterback — whichever of the three it may be — using Wynn on swing routes to nickel-and-dime defenses compacts defenses until unleashing the big play.
9. Ryan Lankford, Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois had serious offensive problems in Tim Beckman’s first season. Lankford’s production was not exactly head-turning as a result — he finished 2012 with 469 yards — but his five touchdowns were far-and-away the Illini’s most. Beckman’s hire of Bill Cubit to run the Illinois offense should result in a considerable uptick in Lankford’s production.
Cubit’s Western Michigan teams were proficient with the pass, and in 2011 had the nation’s leading receiver, Jordan White. Lankford won’t meet White’s 1911 yards, but he should be closer to the 1276 teammate A.J. Jenkins registered in 2011 than the paltry 469 that led Illinois a season ago.
10. Jamal Turner, Nebraska
Add Turner alongside Kenny Bell and Nebraska has one of the fastest receiving duos anywhere. Turner combines explosive speed with some fancy footwork. The key for turner now is putting the combination together. He has yet to really break out, though a productive spring and talented cohorts give him a launching pad for 2013.
11. Gary Bush, Purdue Boilermakers
Bush was a big play threat for the Boilers in 2012, scoring touchdowns on more than one-sixth of his receptions. With three years of experience under his belt, Bush is ready to break out as the clear No. 1 target on the Purdue receiving corps, filling the void Antavian Edison leaves.
12. Tony Jones, Northwestern Wildcats
Jones wasn’t the most active pass-catcher in the Big Ten by any means, bringing in 29 passes all of 2012. But the speedy veteran is primed for a breakout year. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall’s version of the spread offense has successfully used two quarterbacks, and Jones has exhibited a rhythm with both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian.
13. Bennie Fowler, Michigan State Spartans
Many of Michigan State’s offensive woes in 2012 could be attributed to the loss of the program’s all-time leading receiver, B.J. Cunningham. Fowler did what he could to replicate the 12 touchdowns and 1306 yards Cunningham accounted for a season prior.
Fowler was the only Spartan receiver with more than two touchdowns (he scored four) and was the overall receiving leader at 524 yards.
14. Cameron Wilson and Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa Hawkeyes
Alright, so Iowa’s passing offense was not setting the world on fire last season. But a combination of youthful exuberance and veteran expertise should kick-start the Hawkeye offense.
Redshirt freshman Wilson was outstanding in the spring game, giving the Hawkeyes a potential building block for reestablishing a vertical offense, and Martin-Manley was the top target in the Iowa receiving corps a season ago. The Hawkeyes finally having healthy running backs could also go a long way to helping the passing attack.