Big Ten Football: The Best Receivers and Tight Ends of the Decade 2001-2010
As far as receivers and tight ends go, the decade started off with a bang for the Big Ten.
Between 2001-2004, the conference had seven receivers or tight ends named to at least one All-American team. Moreover, four of those players were consensus or unanimous All-Americans.
During that four-year stretch the Big Ten had two Fred Biletnikoff Award winners for the country's best receiver and one Mackey Award winner for the country's top tight end.
However, since then, pass catchers have apparently not been a strong suit for the conference. There hasn't been one Big Ten receiver on any All-American teams.
Furthermore, while there have been three All-American tight ends during that time—Minnesota's Matt Spaeth and Wisconsin's Travis Beckum and Lance Kendricks—only Spaeth and Beckum could be said to have had exceptional careers. Kendricks was only slightly more than a one-and-done situation.
Perhaps that is the fate of the conference that invented three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust.
Nevertheless, some dangerous receivers have played on the gridirons of the Midwest over the past decade.
As has been the case in the previous installments of this series, the decade in question goes by the official definition of what a decade is. In effect, unless you are the type of person that starts counting at "zero," it is 1-10.
Furthermore, inherent talent is not a relevant criterion. The players on this list, for better or worse, were judged solely based on what they did on the field at the receiver/tight end position over the entire span of their collegiate careers.
Honorable Mention (In No Particular Order)
Marquise Walker: Michigan Wolverines wide receiver, 1998-2001
Brandon Lloyd: Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver, 1999-2001
Dallas Clark: Iowa Hawkeyes tight end, 1998-2002
James Hardy: Indiana Hoosiers wide receiver, 2004-2007
Garrett Graham: Wisconsin Badgers tight end, 2005-2009
Dorien Bryant: Purdue Boilermakers WR, 2004-2007
Bryant was a moderately recruited receiver prospect out of Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Virginia.
Before prepping at Fork Union, he played high school in Swedesboro, New Jersey.
Bryant played in his true freshman year, starting two games and catching 38 passes for 584 yards and three touchdowns.
As a sophomore, he had 80 receptions for 960 yards and four touchdowns. He was named second-team All-Big Ten by the media and honorable mention by the coaches.
In 2006, he had 87 catches for 1,068 yards and six touchdowns. He also returned kicks and had 19 rushes, thus giving him 1,708 all-purpose yards. He was named first-team All-Big Ten by the media and second team by the coaches.
In his senior year, Bryant had 87 catches, 932 yards and eight touchdowns and totaled 2,117 all-purpose yards. He was named second-team All-Big Ten by both the media and the coaches.
Being short (5'10"), small (180 lbs.) and lacking top-line speed, Bryant went undrafted.
He later signed a free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers but was released after failing his physical.
Eric Decker: Minnesota Golden Gophers WR, 2005-2009
Decker was a very lightly recruited receiver prospect out of Rocori Senior High School in Cold Spring, Minnesota.
After redshirting his first season on campus, Decker became a regular contributor as soon as he hit the field. As a freshman, he appeared in all 13 games, started three and caught 26 passes for 378 yards and three touchdowns.
He captured the starting position as a sophomore, at which time he made 68 receptions for 909 yards and nine touchdowns.
As a junior, he caught 84 passes for 1,074 yards and seven touchdowns. He had more than two times the number of catches as the Gophers' second-leading receiver. For his efforts, he was named first-team All-Big Ten.
Big things were expected of Decker as a senior, and he didn't disappoint, catching 50 passes for 758 yards and five touchdowns in eight games. However, a sprained foot ended his senior season prematurely. Despite the missed game, the coaches still named him a first-team All-Big Ten receiver.
Decker was drafted late in the third round by the Denver Broncos. He played sparingly on offense in his rookie season but did a good deal of work on special teams, both as a kick returner and on coverage squads.
Incidentally, Decker, who also played baseball for the Golden Gophers, was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2008 Major League Baseball draft and by the Minnesota Twins in 2009.
Travis Beckum: Wisconsin Badgers TE, 2005-2008
Beckum played high school in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. According to Scout, he was the top-ranked defensive end prospect in the country in 2005.
Beckum began his college career as a defensive end. He played in his true freshman year but saw limited playing time.
As a sophomore, he switched to tight end and immediately made an impact. In his first year as a pass catcher, he made 61 receptions for 903 yards and five touchdowns. The second-leading receiver on the team had 38 catches. The media named Beckum second-team All-Big Ten, while the coaches tabbed him an honorable mention.
In his junior year, he caught 75 passes for 982 yards and six touchdowns. He was named first-team All-Big Ten and was on numerous All-American squads.
Beckum played six games in his senior year, during which he caught 23 passes for 264 yards. However, a broken leg prematurely ended his final collegiate campaign.
The New York Giants chose Beckum in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft. In his two years with the team, he has mostly played as a backup and on special teams.
Mario Manningham: Michigan Wolverines WR, 2005-2007
Manningham was the seventh-ranked receiver in the class of 2005. Coming out of Warren G. Harding High School in Warren, Ohio, he chose to attend Michigan over his home state Buckeyes.
Manningham earned playing time as a true freshman, catching 27 passes for 433 yards and six touchdowns.
He became the full-time starter as a sophomore, though he missed three games after having knee surgery in the middle of the season. In 10 full games, Manningham had 38 receptions for 703 yards and nine touchdowns. The coaches named him first-team All-Big Ten, while the media named him second-team.
He exploded in his junior year, snaring 72 passes for 1,174 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was once again named first-team All-Big Ten.
"Super Mario" opted to forgo his senior season and declared himself eligible for the 2008 NFL draft.
Due to various questions regarding certain behavioral and academic issues, Manningham's draft value plummeted. While at least a first- or second-round talent, he wound up getting chosen late in the third round by the New York Giants.
After playing sparingly in his rookie season, Manningham has been a consistent performer for the Giants, both as a starter and a backup.
Santonio Holmes: Ohio State Buckeyes WR, 2002-2005
Holmes was a highly recruited receiver out of Belle Glade, Florida.
Holmes redshirted during the Bucks' 2002 national championship year.
In 2003, he had the third-most receptions and second-most yards on the team. He also tied for the team lead with seven touchdown grabs and led the team with 17.2 yards per catch.
In 2004, he led the team in all receiving categories (except yards per catch) with 55 catches for 769 yards and seven touchdowns. For this, he was named second-team All-Big Ten.
As a fourth-year junior, Holmes once again led the team in all statistical categories with 53 receptions for 977 yards, 11 touchdowns and 18.4 yards per catch. He was named first-team All-Big Ten.
Holmes opted to forgo his senior year and enter the NFL draft.
The Pittsburgh Steelers chose Holmes 25th overall. In his rookie season, he performed inconsistently, playing fairly well as a receiver but drawing criticism as a return man.
He earned the starting spot in 2007 and had a breakout year.
In 2008, he was benched for a game due to some legal troubles. However, he came back to win the Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl XLIII.
Holmes had a strong 2009, but more legal troubles prompted the Steelers to trade him to the New York Jets. In 2010, Holmes started 10 games for New York.
Matt Spaeth: Minnesota Golden Gophers TE, 2002-2006
Spaeth was a minimally recruited defensive line prospect out of Albertville, Minnesota. Minnesota was his only known FBS offer.
Spaeth redshirted his true freshman year.
He began his second year as a reserve tight end but wound up starting 10 games after the first-stringer was injured. He caught 12 passes for 98 yards and was named to various freshman All-American teams.
As a sophomore, he caught 24 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns and was named a Big Ten honorable mention.
As a junior, he made 26 receptions for 333 yards and another four touchdowns. This was good enough to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors.
While these numbers might not seem "gaudy," it must be remembered that he played on Glen Mason's Minnesota. The Gophers of that era typically ran the ball more than 60 percent of the time, and their passing game was more focused on possession than big plays.
Finally, as a senior, he caught 47 passes for 564 yards and four touchdowns. He was named first-team All-Big Ten and a consensus All-American, and he won the Mackey Award.
The Pittsburgh Steelers chose Spaeth in the third round of the 2007 NFL draft.
He has remained with the Steelers for four seasons, primarily playing on special teams and as the backup tight end behind Heath Miller.
Taylor Stubblefield: Purdue Boilermakers WR, 2000-2004
Stubblefield was a moderately recruited receiver out of A.C. Davis High School in Yakima, Washington.
Stubblefield redshirted his first year on campus.
In 2001, he appeared in all 12 games and started seven, catching 73 passes for 910 yards and two touchdowns. He was named to the Sporting News All-Freshman team.
His sophomore year was shortened by injuries, but he still caught 77 passes for 789 yards.
As a junior, Stubblefield led the Big Ten with 86 receptions for 835 yards and three touchdowns. He was named second-team All-Big Ten.
Saving his best for his senior year, he caught 89 passes for 1,095 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was named first-team All-Big Ten and a consensus All-American.
With 325 career receptions, Stubblefield left Purdue as the NCAA all-time career leader in catches.
Despite his prodigious college career, Stubblefield went undrafted. Unfortunately, the NFL wants a prototype player, and being somewhat short (5'10") and not especially fast (4.65 X 40), Stubblefield didn't fit the mold.
In effect, he signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Rams. The Rams subsequently cut him, after which he went on to play for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League.
After two years of professional play, Stubblefield hung up the cleats. He has since worked as a receivers coach at Central Washington University, Eastern Michigan University, Illinois State University and currently Central Michigan University.
Charles Rogers: Michigan State Spartans WR, 2000-2002
Hailing from Saginaw, Michigan, Rogers was the top-ranked wide receiver prospect in the 2000 class.
Rogers redshirted his true freshman year.
As a sophomore, he had 57 catches for 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 21.1 yards per catch and was named second-team All-Big Ten.
As a junior, Rogers had 68 catches for 1,351 yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged 19.9 yards per catch. He was named first-team All-Big Ten, he was a consensus All-American and he won both the Fred Biletnikoff Award and the Paul Warfield Trophy, both of which go to the "nation's top collegiate wide receiver."
Rogers opted to skip his senior season and declared himself eligible for the NFL draft.
The Detroit Lions picked Rogers second overall in the 2003 draft.
His rookie year began successfully before a broken collarbone took him out of action. The following year saw him break his collarbone once again, thereby finishing him for the second year in a row.
After that, he began to have mounting legal troubles, including multiple failed drug tests. He appeared in nine games in 2005 and was subsequently released in 2006.
Since then, he has been more active in the courts and the press than he has on the football field.
Lee Evans: Wisconsin Badgers WR, 2000-2003
Evans was a moderately recruited receiver out of Bedford High School in Cleveland, Ohio.
As a true freshman, Evans caught 30 passes for 528 yards and five touchdowns.
He had a breakout year as a sophomore, catching 75 passes for 1,545 yards and nine touchdowns. For those keeping count, that is an average of over 20 yards per catch. He was named first-team All-Big Ten, and he made multiple All-American teams.
He missed his junior year with an ACL tear.
As a senior, he caught 64 passes for 1,213 yards (18.95 yards per catch) and 13 touchdowns. He was once again named first-team All-Big Ten.
The Buffalo Bills took Evans 13th overall in the 2004 draft.
He moved into the starting lineup in his rookie season and has remained there for seven years. Over that time, he has made 377 receptions for 5,934 yards and 43 touchdowns.
While not a perennial All-Pro, he has proven himself to be one of the most durable and dependable receivers in the game.
Braylon Edwards: Michigan Wolverines WR, 2001-2004
Edwards was a highly recruited player from Bishop Gallagher High School out of Harper Woods, Michigan. In high school, he played a variety of positions, but he was destined to play receiver at the college level.
He was a legacy, as his father Stan played running back at Michigan.
Over the course of his career, Edwards was a three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection. He was a one-time unanimous All-American and a one-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Also, in 2004, he won the Fred Biletnikoff Award.
He set the Michigan single-season records for catches (97) and yards receiving (1,330), as well as UM career records for receptions (252), yards (3,541) and touchdowns (39). The 39 touchdowns is also a Big Ten record.
The Cleveland Browns took Edwards third overall in the 2005 NFL draft. Due to a contract dispute and an injury, Edwards began his rookie season as the Browns' third wide receiver. However, by midseason, he had become the starter.
He started every game for the Browns through 2008. In 2007, he was selected for his first Pro Bowl.
Four games into 2009, he was traded to the New York Jets, where he has started all but two games over the past two seasons.