B1G's most overlooked offensive players in 2016
Identifying the top offensive players in the B1G wasn’t hard this past season.
Though there was a plethora of talent, guys like Saquon Barkley, Austin Carr, Jake Butt and J.T. Barrett separated themselves from the rest of the pack by putting together big seasons and breakout games. That’s why they were consistently in the conversation as the best at their position in the conference in 2016.
But hidden behind the spotlight, the B1G had several other playmakers that didn’t receive the same recognition as their counterparts. They might not have been “behind the scenes,” but they certainly weren’t on the national spotlight this past year.
We’ve come up with the five most overlooked offensive players from 2016:
5. Nick Westbrook, WR – Indiana
With the Hoosiers losing two of their top receivers in Simmie Cobbs and J-Shun Harris, Westbrook’s role increased drastically. He answered that call, though, leading the team in receiving this past season, catching54 passes for 995 yards and six TDs.
He was one of the conference’s top deep threats, catching seven passes for 40-plus yards, leading the B1G in that category. 37 of his catches also went for 10 yards or more.
The sophomore had the second-most receiving yards in the B1G but was rarely mentioned in the same conversation as other receivers like Austin Carr, Chris Godwin and others. Even on his own team, Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige seemed to garner more attention that Westbrook.
After such an impressive year, Westbrook is going to be hard to ignore in 2017.
4. Mike Gesicki, TE – Penn State
For good reason, Jake Butt and Troy Fumagalli were the attention-getting tight ends in the B1G in 2016. And with Penn State’s offense having so many playmakers anyway, it was easy to forget about Gesicki being a major contributor.
Yet, it was Gesicki who led conference tight ends in receiving yardage in 2o16, gaining 679 yards and scoring five TDs on 48 catches in his junior campaign. He also was the second-leading receiver for the Nittany Lions, behind only Godwin.
He was more than just a bruising tight end, too. Gesicki made some pretty acrobatic plays throughout the season, including this catch in the B1G Championship to get Penn State on the board:
Needless to say, Gesicki’s decision to return for his senior season is a really good thing for Penn State’s offense next year.
3. Clayton Thorson, QB – Northwestern
Nobody really knew what to think of Thorson coming into the season following a less-than-impressive freshman year. The quarterback turned into one of the B1G’s top passers in 2016, though, and started to show why he earned that four-star rating in high school.
Thorson threw for 3,182 yards and 22 TDs while completing nearly 59 percent of his passes, all improvements from his 2015 totals. But because the Wildcats finished a modest 7-6, fellow quarterbacks like Wilton Speight, J.T. Barrett and Trace McSorley were considered the premier quarterbacks of three of the best teams in college football.
Northwestern notched three-straight wins in October thanks to the heroics of their sophomore gunslinger. In wins over Iowa, Michigan State and Indiana, Thorson completed 69-of-108 passes for 730 yards, nine TDs while only throwing one interception.
There should be plenty more hype surrounding Thorson as he enters his junior season.
2. Jazz Peavy, WR – Wisconsin
Peavy got a little more recognition after he made the “Jazz sweep” famous against Ohio State. Still, the junior was overshadowed by several players in the conference in 2016.
The receiver may have been one of the most versatile players in the conference this past year. In addition to leading the Badgers with 635 receiving yards and five TD catches, Peavy accounted for 318 and a TD on the ground. He was the only receiver to eclipse the 300-yard mark on the ground in the conference.
His Ohio State performance aside – 76 yards receiving, 70 yards rushing and a TD – Peavy was never overly-dominant in a game and didn’t have any huge outings. Instead, he served as that consistent contributor to run-heavy offense.
Nothing too flashy and numbers were never overwhelming, but Peavy was a really effective weapon for Wisconsin last season.
1. Rodney Smith, RB – Minnesota
It was easy to overlook the accomplishments of Smith with so many talented running backs in the B1G in 2016. With Saquon Barkley, Justin Jackson and Corey Clement stealing most of the highlights, it was hard for the Minnesota ball-carrier to work his way into many conversations.
But he was still one of the best offensive players in the B1G last season.
Smith rushed for 1,158 yards and 16 TDs in his sophomore year, ranking second and fourth in the conference in those categories respectively. He also added 188 receiving yards on the year.
He eclipsed the 100-yard mark six times this past season and had a dominant four-game stretch in the Gophers’ wins over Maryland, Rutgers, Illinois and Purdue. In each of those games he surpassed 100 yards, totaling 508 yards and scoring eight TDs in those victories.
Smith was a shifty back and had the ability to break tackles and spring free for big gains. He may not possess the same power game as some of the other ball-carriers in the conference, but the sophomore was still a really tough guy to stop.
Because of the talent returning to the position across the conference again for 2017, Smith will likely be overlooked again next season. But don’t be surprised if his numbers are even better next year.