The start of the college football season is just a few short weeks away and it promises to be an entertaining race in the Big Ten. Now, if you are an Ohio State fan, you are hoping it is not too interesting, especially after coming up short last season. But the other 13 teams have scholarships and uniforms too and there is no denying that there is plenty of talent spread out around this conference.
It got us to thinking about the top players at specific positions going into the season. Ohio State fans are always well-aware of who their favorite team has but what about the rest of the teams in the league?
The Big Ten has quite the run of wide receivers over the past several years and Ohio State has had more than its own fair share at the position when you look at NFL rosters. Gone from Ohio State are guys like Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson but when you expand your search to league-wide, guys like David Bell, Jalen Nailor and Jahan Dotson are all gone.
Have no fear, just as the Buckeyes have a deep room, several other programs within the conference have their next wave of players ready to go as well. Now, that may be bad news for opposing defenses, but facts are facts, there are plenty of players ready to eat at wide receiver, who’s next?
5. Marvin Harrison Jr. – Ohio State
There were so many choices that could have gone here including Dontay Demus (Maryland), Parker Washington (Penn State) and Ronnie Bell (Michigan) just to name a few but the impression that Harrison Jr. left on us at the Rose Bowl was the tiebreaker (and honestly, we are writing for Ohio State diehards, we know our audience).
The Harrison Jr. pick is going to make us look smart at the end of the season even if he has a limited run of action. Sure, he only had 11 catches last season and had to wait until his final game (Rose Bowl vs. Utah) to find the end zone but just the way that he and CJ Stroud were able to play pitch-and-catch against the Utes defense was a thing of beauty.
He is not going to have to wait for his turn any longer and as teams focus on Smith-Njigba, Harrison is going to get all that he can eat out there.
4. Rakim Jarrett – Maryland
This pick could have just as easily been his teammate Dontay Demus, but it is hard to not be a big fan of Jarrett’s game, a player that Ohio State was heavily after in recruiting before landing Julian Fleming.
Last season Jarrett had 62 catches for 829 yards and five scores for the Terps and you must figure with a more experienced Taulia Tagovailoa throwing the ball, those numbers should go up a considerable amount.
People are rightfully going to focus on what the Ohio State passing offense is going to do in 2022 but don’t sleep on Maryland’s ability to throw the ball around as well and the 6-foot, 190-pounder for the Terps would be a No. 1 receiver at most schools across the nation.
3. Jayden Reed – Michigan State
Reed put up big numbers last season even with having to share the catches with Nailor. He broke the 1,000-yard mark and had 10 scores on 59 catches. Payton Thorne is another quarterback who will get better with age but is there enough around Reed to keep teams from bracketing Reed and forcing teams to move the ball other ways?
Something that the Spartans will need more of is Reed finding the end zone as he was kept from scoring in six of 13 games last season including against Ohio State in very limited action.
One thing to note on Reed is what he does with the ball after he catches it, he is tremendous when he becomes a runner and puts a lot of pressure on defenses to get him down on the ground quickly.
2. Mitchell Tinsley – Penn State
I am either going to look really smart or really bad here picking a transfer player. Tinsley lit things up in the pass-happy offense of Western Kentucky last season and he is going to see a real step-up in competition as he enters the Big Ten. But talent is talent, right?
Is Sean Clifford or Drew Allar the type of quarterback that Bailey Zappe was at WKU? Time will tell. But we have seen Tinsley put up huge numbers, to the tune of 87 catches for 1,402 yards and 14 scores last season.
WKU played a pair of Big Ten teams last year and while Tinsley did not find the end zone, he still had a combined 11 catches for 195 yards against Big Ten foes (Indiana and Michigan State).
There will be people who will feel that we picked the wrong Penn State receiver with Parker Washington not making the list and time may prove that to be a right belief, but for now it is too hard not to get excited about the numbers that Tinsley put up last year.
1. Jaxon Smith-Njigba – Ohio State
There are some tough selections and then there are some easy selections. This would be considered and easy selection. The numbers are easy to see with 95 catches for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns last season as one of Ohio State’s receiving triplets.
The question was asked going into the Rose Bowl how JSN would look without Olave and Wilson out there and the answer was “good, really good” as he shattered bowl records with a 300-yard-plus receiving day and three scores in Ohio State’s 48-45 win over the Utes.
A year older and going into this season knowing that he is going to be a marked man, we are expecting even bigger things out of Smith-Njigba. Teams knew to target him last year, to no avail and it will be the same this year as well.