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Power Ranking Top Big Ten WRs Pre-2014 Spring Practice

Andrew CoppensContributor IFebruary 27, 2014

Power Ranking Top Big Ten WRs Pre-2014 Spring Practice

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Big Ten may have reached its peak at wide receiver last season, but 2014 will be all about transition at the position. With names like Allen Robinson, Jared Abbrederis, Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes, Jeremy Gallon and more all gone, the conference has an identity crisis entering 2014. 

    Seven of the top 10 in receptions per game from last season are now departed, that's how much turnover this league will go through on the edges on the offense. 

    However, not everyone is gone, and the conference still has some great talent. Having a deep crop of quarterbacks to throw the ball around Big Ten fields also will help ease the transition. 

    So, as we head into spring and get introduced to some newer names, who are the top five wide receivers in the Big Ten? 

    Our picks are here in the slideshow. 

     

    *All stats courtesy CFBStats.com. 

Honorable Mention

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    Matt Marton/Associated Press

    Martize Barr, Illinois

    In his first season as an Illini, Barr recorded 26 receptions for 246 yards and had one touchdown. Coming to the Illini from Iowa Western C.C., he played a role in what was ultimately a deep wide receiver group in 2013. He will be the most experienced player returning in the receiver corps this fall, so look for him to be a name that people are talking about coming out of the spring. 

     

    Stefon Diggs, Maryland

    There may not be a more dynamic playmaker at wide receiver in the Big Ten than Diggs, who hasn't even played a down of football in a conference game yet. He was on pace to be a monster in his sophomore season, but he suffered a severe broken leg against Wake Forest and missed the final six games of the season because of it.

    The numbers he put up—34 receptions, 587 yards and three touchdownswere all on the way to breaking his freshman totals. Entering spring, we just don't know what Diggs will look like after that nasty broken leg, and that's the only thing keeping him off this list. 

     

    Tony Lippett, Michigan State

    The progress of quarterback Connor Cook was helped by Lippett, who finally found a reliable set of hands midway through last year. He finished 2013 with a respectable 44 receptions for 613 yards and two touchdowns, but most were left wondering what could have been had things clicked from the very start of the season. There's little reason he can't be a top-tier WR this season if his progression continues. 

     

    Macgarrett Kings Jr., Michigan State

    Totaling 42 receptions for 509 yards and three touchdowns, the sophomore became one of Cook's more reliable targets as the season went on. He came up huge in the final two contests, grabbing nine receptions for 119 yards in the Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl combined. The soon-to-be junior has a massive upside coming into 2014. 

     

    Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska

    Speaking of memorable freshmen from last season, Westerkamp had one of the most unforgettable plays of the 2013 Big Ten season fall right into his hands. He caught the game-winning Hail Mary from Ron Kellogg III in the win over Northwestern.

    It wasn't his only feat, though, as he made a name for himself in a stacked wide receiver corps last season, grabbing 20 receptions for 283 yards and that touchdown. With some of the guys in front of him now gone, 2014 could be even more productive for the soon-to-be sophomore. 

     

    Tony Jones, Northwestern

    You may not know this name that well given Northwestern's 3-9 season and one-win Big Ten campaign, but you should. Jones leads all returning receivers with 55 receptions and was sixth in the conference with 4.6 receptions per game while adding 630 yards and four touchdowns. However, Jones just missed the cut due to the talent that was so close to him and his numbers last season.

     

    DeAngelo Yancey, Purdue

    Yancey and his quarterback Danny Etling are the two biggest reasons for some hope in West Lafayette this spring. In 2013, the redshirt freshman made a quick impression, showing a great relationship was developing with his quarterback. He led the team with 32 receptions for 546 yards but had just two touchdowns. The 2014 season could be huge for one of the best physical wide receivers in the Big Ten.  

5. Iowa WR Kevonte Martin-Manley

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    There isn't a more experienced wide receiver in the conference than Kevonte Martin-Manley, who racked up 40 receptions for 388 yards and five touchdowns last season alone. He enters 2014 with more than 120 career receptions. 

    He had some decent numbers last season, but he enters 2014 looking to have one final breakout season in Iowa City. Given a year in the system to work with quarterback Jake Rudock, this could be the season that he jumps to the forefront of receivers in the Big Ten. 

    He has the size (6'1", 205 pounds) and speed to be a killer combo against the rest of the Big Ten West. Additionally, he showed more of a presence in the red zone last season, and with tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz out of the picture, Martin-Manley could be in line for more red-zone targets. 

    What will be huge for him in 2014 is to display that he can show up on the biggest stages. In games against Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and LSU, the receiver combined for four catches and 14 yards. That just won't cut it. 

    However, he'll have another shot at it this season, and it could be his best yet with all the stability around the Hawkeyes offense this year. 

4. Indiana WR Shane Wynn

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    There hasn't been a more high-powered passing attack in the Big Ten since Kevin Wilson stepped foot on the Memorial Stadium field in Bloomington, Ind., but things will be different in 2014 for his passing attack. 

    Gone are some of the top receiving threats that Indiana had over the past few years. No longer will Kofi Hughes or Cody Latimer be in the Big Ten spotlight; however, that's great news for one of the more underrated wide receives on the roster. 

    Soon-to-be senior Shane Wynn won't have to share the spotlight with anyone anymore. He is poised for a huge season as the go-to receiver after amassing 46 receptions for 633 yards and a team-best 11 touchdowns last year.

    He may have been overshadowed at times by Hughes and Latimer, but he is a very good route-runner and has amazing hands. Now it's about becoming "the man" in the Hoosiers offense. 

    His TD reception total was only topped by the now departed Quincy Enunwa (12) last year. With more unknowns behind him in 2014, Wynn will need to be a leader by example and vocally in 2014.

    Watch for him to blossom without the bigger guys in front of him. Don't be surprised to see him tearing up the receiving charts this year. 

3. Ohio State WR Devin Smith

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Ohio State's pass game didn't get as much attention in 2013 as it should have, but it's hard when the team had a running back-quarterback combo going for more than 1,000 yards each on the ground. That being said, don't sleep on the talent of Devin Smith. 

    He finished 2013 in the top 10 of receiving average with 15 yards per catch. He also pulled in 44 receptions for 660 yards and eight touchdowns. The 660 yards were No. 11 in the Big Ten last season as well. 

    If you're looking for a big play out of the passing game in 2014, Smith is the best option for that in the conference—especially with Robinson, Abbrederis and Gallon all gone. 

    He's also a sneaky-good route-runner who isn't afraid to mix it up despite his small stature (6'1", 198 pounds). He also comes in as one of the most experienced returning receivers in the Big Ten, with 88 career receptions for 1,572 yards and 18 touchdowns. 

    The question entering 2014 is if Smith can get some more help on the outside, as teams began figuring out that there wasn't enough of a threat outside of him on a consistent basis in 2013. If that happens, he could be the best player on the Buckeyes offense outside of Braxton Miller

2. Northwestern WR Christian Jones

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Northwestern has a problem that most programs would love to have—two wide receivers with nearly identically impressive production. What separates Christian from his partner-in-crime Tony Jones is the height factor. 

    Christian stands at 6'3" and 225 pounds, and he isn't afraid to use it either. In terms of body, this Jones may be the most physically ready for the NFL in 2015. 

    However, for this upcoming season, a switch to a more pass-orientated spread offense should help him blossom even more. Don't be surprised if he becomes a household one (if it isn't already for most). Last season, he collected 54 receptions (second among returning players in the B1G) for 668 yards (No. 10 in B1G last year) and four touchdowns. 

    With Tony Jones providing more of the edge speed, Christian is the Wildcats' best deep threat and a huge target in the red zone. His numbers last season were impressive, but that was with an injury-depleted team around him—imagine what a healthy Wildcats offense could help him produce in 2014. 

    As long as Trevor Siemian wins the starting job, and he should, expect the bigger of the Joneses to have a massive senior season. 

1. Nebraska WR Kenny Bell

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    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    Just how good were the wide receivers in the Big Ten in 2013? Well, Kenny Bell and his 52 receptions were just barely enough to earn him honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors. 

    In addition to his 52 receptions, he racked up 552 yards and four touchdowns. He did that while sharing the spotlight with Quincy Enunwa, but that won't happen in 2014, which means Bell has a chance to put up some crazy numbers. 

    Of course, some of that will hinge on what goes down in the quarterback battle between Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Johnny Stanton. At least Bell gives whomever will be the QB an elite target to throw to at a minimum. 

    He may possess the best hands of any receiver on this list, and we all know he isn't afraid to get hit or dish out punishment either

    With Enunwa out of the way, Bell could be poised to become the receiver that everyone will be talking about in the Big Ten this season. Having a proven option behind him in Jordan Westerkamp also helps his transition to the No. 1 receiver spot. 

    Look for Bell to put up some impressive numbers, as long as the Huskers aren't playing musical quarterbacks all season. Either way, he is unquestionably the Big Ten's most experienced and productive wide receiver as we head into the spring. 

     

    Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens

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