Power Ranking the 10 Most Underrated Offensive Weapons in the Big Ten

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2014

Power Ranking the 10 Most Underrated Offensive Weapons in the Big Ten

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    Entering the first year of the College Football Playoff era—of a much-needed fresh new start—the Big Ten is top-heavy with offensive superstars.

    Two-time reigning Player of the Year Braxton Miller, who has started since his freshman season at Ohio State, highlights a field that also includes All-American candidates at running back such as Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah at Wisconsin and Nebraska, respectively.

    But the league, which has been the butt of much ridicule due to its perceived—and, let's be honest, genuine—offensive deficiencies, might be deeper than it at first glance appears.

    Beyond the overt All-Conference front-runners, there are offensive weapons being overlooked by simple virtue of playing in the #B1G.

    Here we give a few of those guys their due.

10. TE Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State

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    Jeff Heuerman is not a flashy player, which allows him to get lost in Urban Meyer's spread-it-out, kill-you-with-speed offense. Skill players such as Braxton Miller and Dontre Wilson are the ones most fans will pay attention to—and neither is undeserving of that focus.

    But as a big-bodied tight end who can block and make the occasional vertical catch up the seam, Heuerman should not go overlooked as an important cog in the machine. He finished last season with 26 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns, finishing the year strong with three 50-plus-yard performances in the Buckeyes' final four games.

    With Carlos Hyde and Corey Brown gone from last year's offense, Ohio State will be looking for new leaders to emerge alongside Miller.

    Now a senior, Heuerman could well be one of those guys.

9. WRs Tony/Christian Jones, Northwestern

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    The two Jones' in Northwestern's receiving corps, Christian and Tony, have been Nos. 1 and 2 on the team in yards the past two seasons and are in good shape to repeat the feat in 2014.

    The duo was on people's radar after the Wildcats' improbable 10-win season in 2012. Even though both continued to play at a high level in 2013, the team's failings at large made some in the Big Ten and national community forget how good both players can be.

    Now that Venric Mark has been granted a sixth-year of eligibility, defenses will not be able to focus entirely on stopping the Joneses. And with Trevor Siemian taking over full-time under center, there should be even more opportunity to make big plays downfield.

    This could be a nice bounce-back year for NU's passing offense.

8. WR Stefon Diggs, Maryland

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    Stefon Diggs is not rated poorly—most college football fans, especially recruitniks, understand what he is capable of—but after a broken leg cost him the majority of his sophomore season in 2013, the discussion surrounding him is not as glowing as perhaps it ought to be.

    According to the 247Sports composite, Diggs was the No. 2 receiver and No. 8 overall player in the recruiting class of 2012, and he's looked the part with 88 catches for 1,435 yards in 18 career games. Here it should also be pointed out that most of those numbers in 2012 came with a walk-on linebacker playing quarterback, so Diggs has been even better than the stats may suggest.

    When discussing his considerable upside, folks say Diggs can step right in and become one of the better wide receivers in the Big Ten. And therein lies the essence of his underratedness.

    He can step right in and be the best.

7. RB Tevin Coleman, Indiana

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    Like Stefon Diggs before him, Indiana running back Tevin Coleman cannot place higher on this list because he is not rated poorly by any stretch. Anyone who watches Big Ten football is aware of his ability.

    It's the national stage where Coleman is underrated. Because he plays for the Hoosiers, who have been largely irrelevant outside the Midwest since the end of the Antwaan Randle El era, he does not get discussed as one of the best, most explosive backfield players in the country.

    But he is.

    In just nine games before getting injured last season, Coleman had 150 touches for 1,151 yards, ending his year with five straight games of 75 rushing yards or better, including two straight 100-yard rushing games. Before getting hurt and seeing his season end against Illinois on Nov. 9, Coleman had 215 yards on 15 carries.

    And don't think Coleman was just padding his stats against the Illini of the conference, either. His long touchdown against Michigan State was the only 60-yard play the Spartans allowed all season.

6. TE Jake Butt, Michigan

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    As an all-around commodity, Jake Butt is not underrated.

    He is a darling of college football Twitter, a fan favorite because of his...er...amusing surname—especially considering the suggestive shape of the two eights he wears on his jersey.

    (Side note: Yes, we are all children.)

    Overlooked in all of the jokes, however, is the solid freshman season that Butt put together in 2012, finishing the year with 20 catches for 225 yards and two touchdowns. While defenses zero in on Devin Funchess, Butt does well to carve out his own important niche.

    Despite the torn ACL he suffered in February, Butt only stands to get better in his second season of active duty.

    According to Joshua Henscke of Maize N' Brew, head coach Brady Hoke called his second tight end a "tremendous leader," and his presence, both on and off the field, will be paramount in making Doug Nussmeier's offense work in Ann Arbor.

5. QB Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska

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    Quarterback Tommy Armstrong didn't blow anyone away with his performance in 2013, but he was thrown into a difficult situation—especially for a redshirt freshman—after Taylor Martinez's injury.

    There's also something to be said for ending the year on a high note, and even though Armstrong didn't put up huge numbers against Georgia in the Gator Bowl, he still led the underdog 'Huskers to a rare victory for the Big Ten against a team from the SEC.

    Now pitted against Johnny Stanton in a battle for the starting job, Armstrong has impressed in spring practice—enough so that B/R's Erin Sorensen thinks he might become the most improved player in the conference next season.

    If he does, don't rule out a spot on one of the All-Big Ten teams.

4. WR Leonte Carroo, Rutgers

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    Most of Leonte Carroo's numbers are good but don't jump off the page, as he finished his sophomore season with 28 catches for 478 yards. The nine touchdowns, however, do stick out like a sore thumb, especially considering the struggles Rutgers had at quarterback.

    Whether it's Gary Nova or someone else under center this year, the quarterback play should at best still be below-average for the Scarlet Knights. With Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt gone, Carroo walks into the role of No. 1 receiver and has a chance to post some huge numbers as a junior in 2014.

    Carroo was listed by Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports as one of 20 players opposing college coaches have been praising this offseason. He was called the "best player by far" on Rutgers' roster, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him make a Coleman-sized impact in his team's first year in the Big Ten.

3. WR Drew Wolitarsky, Minnesota

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    Drew Wolitarsky rewrote the record book at Canyon High School in California, setting all-time state highs with 281 career receptions and 5,148 career yards—marks which previously belonged to Steve Smith of USC and New York Giants fame. However, questions about the level of competition Wolitarsky faced made him less sought after by Pac-12 schools than he probably ought to have been.

    After gradually improving all season, Wolitarksy broke out first with 56 yards at Michigan State and again during the bowl loss to Syracuse, when he caught his first career touchdown on a 55-yard bomb from Mitch Leidner that gave Minnesota the lead in the second half.

    What would have been the game-winning touchdown slipped through Wolitarsky's hands on a Hail Mary on the final play of the game, but a catch there would have been supererogatory—commendable had he made it, but not condemnable for not having been made.

    It was still a performance the Gophers are excited to build on.

2. RB Jordan Canzeri, Iowa

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    After contributing in a limited role for the first half of last season, Jordan Canzeri was turned loose in the final five games and took full advantage of the opportunity.

    During that stretch, the shifty 5'9'' scat back had 53 touches for 422 yards, which was good for an average of 7.96 yards per touch. Coming against a formidable part of the schedule—vs. Wisconsin, at Purdue, vs. Michigan, at Nebraska, vs. LSU—doing so was no small feat and has generated high hopes for Canzeri heading into 2014.

    Jake Rudock emerged as an above-average quarterback in 2013, and with big losses coming on defense, Iowa's offense will be counted on to continue improving this offseason.

    Canzeri gives this team a dimension it otherwise lacks, making him a keystone figure in its success.

1. RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin

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    It's easy to disregard the success of Wisconsin running backs, to cast the players aside as fungible pieces of an always-dominant ground attack that is more about scheme and the offensive line than the man who does the actual rushing.

    That is a foolish mistake.

    Like the greats before him, Corey Clement is electric with the ball in his hands—capable of seeing holes the second they materialize and fast enough to hit them and turn them into big plays once he does. There's a reason he averaged 8.16 yards on his 67 carries last season, rushing for 547 yards and seven touchdowns, despite playing behind two All-American candidates in James White and Melvin Gordon.

    But don't think Clement is just a speedster. Despite the big-play ability, he has a chiseled, muscular frame and enjoys laying down hits.

    "I just hate being let out of contact," Clement said, according to Tom Mulhern of Madison.com. "That’s what makes me even hungrier, to run somebody over. I don’t want to come off as soft to somebody else. I don’t want anybody disrespecting me."

    With White gone in 2014, Gordon should inherit the workload of a No. 1 back, while Clement should inherit the workload Gordon leaves behind. That little drop-off is expected says everything you need to know about the type of player Clement is and might one day become.

    He could be the next great Wisconsin ball-carrier.