Jaxon and the other 5: Breaking down the Big Ten's best deep threats
When breaking down 2022’s best deep threats in the Big Ten, the list begins with Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. And a few extra spaces are necessary before continuing that list. He’s head-and-shoulders above the competition.
Despite playing alongside a pair of top-11 NFL Draft picks in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, Smith-Njigba led all Big Ten receivers with 28 receptions of at least 20 yards last season. Only 2 other players broke 20.
Increase that number to 30, 40 or 50 yards, and he’s still the conference leader. Most of those closest to him on those lists, such as Jahan Dotson, Samori Toure or David Bell, will be in the NFL this season.
But Smith-Njigba’s otherwordly talent as a downfield threat does not make him the Big Ten’s lone burner. The list may begin with him, but it’s still an honest-to-goodness list. There’s enough talent at receiver in the conference to make curating such a list a difficult task.
But it’s a task that must be done.
Behind Smith-Njigba, these 5 receivers will be the biggest of B1G game-breakers in 2022.
Ronnie Bell, Michigan
Bell was gone after Michigan’s 2021 season-opener but not forgotten. He managed a 76-yard touchdown on his lone reception of the season, which was cut short when he injured his knee on a 31-yard punt return.
That abbreviated performance alone shows the tantalizing potential Bell will bring back to the Wolverines this season. Michigan has another potential game-breaker that defenses will need to respect in sophomore Andrel Anthony, so Bell may really get some opportunities to take the lid off of opposing defenses in 2022.
Cade McNamara 76-yard TD to Ronnie Bell for Michigan 🙌 pic.twitter.com/ZhwiqYPABd
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 4, 2021
Dontay Demus Jr., Maryland
Demus’ torn ACL on a kickoff return against Iowa was among the most pivotal moments in a Big Ten game last season.
Maryland Stadium was rocking for a Friday night game against the 5th-ranked Hawkeyes. An upset and a 5-0 start to the season for the Terps seemed in play. But Demus fumbled after tearing up his knee, and Iowa recovered to set up a short drive for a 17-7 lead.
From there, it was over. The air left the stadium when Demus was carted off because everyone knew his value to this team.
The Terps get that value back for a last hurrah in 2022. Before his injury, Demus had 28 catches for 507 yards. That included 4 catches for 61 yards in just 1 quarter against Iowa’s vaunted secondary. If Demus is healthy, not many will be able to stop him.
What a response from Maryland.
Taulia Tagovailoa launches a deep ball to Dontay Demus Jr. for a 66-yard touchdown.
The Terps take back the lead and are now up 10-7. pic.twitter.com/xgUJ6NjY67
— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) September 4, 2021
KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Penn State
Last season was the Jahan Dotson Show at Penn State, but Lambert-Smith showed himself to be an understudy capable of vaulting into the starring role in 2022.
Of Lambert-Smith’s 34 receptions, 7 went for at least 30 yards and 4 of them were longer than 40. He had 3 catches for 74 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas in the Outback Bowl, which was his first real test in an elevated role without Dotson.
Parker Washington will be Sean Clifford’s go-to guy to move the chains for the Nittany Lions, but Lambert-Smith will make the band play.
I don’t think you’ll see a more wide open receiver in the history of football than KeAndre Lambert-Smith. The Nittany Lions are now tied 7-7. pic.twitter.com/bhE4liUtzq
— Kyle J. Andrews (@KyleJAndrews_) January 1, 2022
Jayden Reed, Michigan State
Reed is 1 of the 2 B1G receivers to join Smith-Njigba with 20-plus receptions of more than 20 yards a year ago. The other, Purdue’s David Bell, is now a Cleveland Brown.
It doesn’t hurt that Reed can finish his own quarterback’s thoughts. He and Payton Thorne have been teammates since middle school, and it shows.
After Jalen Nailor departed early for the Draft, there is no question that Reed with be the Spartans’ top target this season. Reed doesn’t have prototypical NFL size, so expect the Spartans to put his speed on full display and give scouts something to mull over.
4TH DOWN JAYDEN REED MAKE A PLAY✅#CFB
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 30, 2021
Dylan Wright, Minnesota
The dark-horse candidate of our list, whose name happens to be alphabetically conducive to being a surprise entrant.
When Wright gets the ball in his hands, magic happens. He averaged 20.2 yards per catch last year, but had only 18 receptions as quarterback Tanner Morgan struggled with consistency.
But the story of Wright’s potential can be told by the bookends of Minnesota’s 2021 season.
In the first 3 games against Ohio State, Miami (Ohio) and Colorado, Wright had 9 catches for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the final 3 games against Indiana, Wisconsin and West Virginia, he had 4 catches for 119 yards. That’s an average of 29.8 yards per catch to close out the season.
With offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca back in the fold after a 2-year absence, maybe the Gophers will unlock the key to unleashing Wright. It’s clear he’s capable.
— Depressed Minnesota Sports Fan (@realmnsportsfan) September 19, 2021