In the second installment of our “Big Ten Breakdown” series, we will examine the five best players in the conference at each position. The series continues Tuesday with a look at the top pass catchers in the Big Ten.
Receiver isn’t the strongest position in the conference. Only three Big Ten wideouts racked up more than 1,000 receiving yards and only Rutgers’ Leonte Carroo had a double-digit touchdown total. Three of the conference’s top five receivers from the 2015 season have departed. But there were plenty of other talented receivers across the conference, and several are sure to become stars this season.
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Here are the top five receivers in the Big Ten entering 2016:
5. Jehu Chesson, senior, Michigan
Michigan’s Jehu Chesson busted out during the final four games of the 2015 season. After catching only 23 passes during Michigan’s first nine games, the graduate senior exploded on the scene with 10 catches, 207 yards and four touchdowns against Indiana. He caught 17 passes for 298 yards and six touchdowns during the incredible four-game stretch.
Alongside Amara Darboh, Michigan could have a strong receiving tandem this season. It’s uncertain whether Chesson will enter the season as the No. 1 target, but he should be in store for a great season.
4. Matt VandeBerg, senior, Iowa
Iowa’s Matt VandeBerg tied for fifth in the Big Ten with 65 receptions last season, but his other receiving statistics weren’t as impressive. VandeBerg finished 14th in the league with 703 yards and caught only four touchdown passes.
He was by far the leading receiver on Iowa’s roster last season and that shouldn’t change in 2016. VandeBerg will be quarterback C.J. Beathard’s top option and Iowa’s offense could utilize the passing game a bit more this season. VandeBerg could flirt with a 1,000-yard season to cap his career.
3. Simmie Cobbs Jr., junior, Indiana
If this was a list of the best names in the Big Ten, Simmie Cobbs Jr., would definitely be near the top. His receiving ability is pretty darn good, too.
Cobbs finished eighth in the Big Ten with 60 receptions and was third in the conference with 1,035 receiving yards. He had a harder time finding the end zone, scoring only four touchdowns last season for Indiana’s explosive offense.
Cobbs has serious NFL potential and already possesses prototypical size at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. His production could take a dip without quarterback Nate Sudfeld throwing him the ball, but Cobbs is an immensely talented prospect who could make a name for himself this season.
2. Jordan Westerkamp, senior, Nebraska
Jordan Westerkamp is the top receiver on a Nebraska offense that could be extremely potent this season. He caught 65 passes for 918 yards and seven touchdowns last season, finishing inside the top five in the Big Ten in each category.
With quarterback Tommy Armstrong back at the helm, Westerkamp is poised to have his best season yet. He’s been an ascending player ever since his freshman year in Lincoln and he could easily lead the Big Ten in receiving this season.
The only thing stopping Westerkamp is the depth around him. Nebraska had six players catch at least 24 passes last season and all of those receivers are back on campus. The Cornhuskers could spread the ball around a bit more this year, but Westerkamp is still the clear-cut top option in town.
1. Chris Godwin, junior, Penn State
Godwin quickly became former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s favorite target. He ascended up the depth chart near the end of the 2014 season and was the team’s top option in 2015. He reeled in 69 passes, finished second in the Big Ten with 1,101 yards and had five touchdown receptions.
Godwin shouldn’t miss a beat even without Hackenberg under center. Penn State is transitioning to an up-tempo spread offense under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, which means Godwin’s production could increase thanks to play volume alone.
Godwin is just the third Penn State wideout to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau. He should be in store for a repeat performance. Penn State’s new offense might be the best thing that happened to Godwin and he has a chance to lead the Big Ten in most major receiving categories this season.