We've come to the conclusion of spring practice in the Big Ten, and this signals a time of year when the fine folks in the Midwest begin to think the weather may actually warm up at SOME point. And some interesting events have transpired. Indiana named a starting quarterback before practice, Iowa has only seen single digit run-ins with the law, and Michigan is pinning much of its hope on a talented freshman quarterback.
So now it is time to weed through all of our notes of "rising" and "emerging" players and take a glance at how each Big Ten squad saw its spring develop.
Movers and Shakers
*QB Tate Forcier, Michigan
QB MarQueis Gray, Minnesota
QB Keith Nichol/Kirk Cousins, Michigan State
QB Curt Phillips, Wisconsin
RB Vincent Smith, Michigan
RB Kevin Whaley, Minnesota
RB Ashton Leggett, Michigan State
RB Caulton Ray, Michigan State
RB Jeravin Matthews, Northwestern
**WR Kellen Lewis, Indiana
*WR DeVier Posey, Ohio State
WR Jarred Fayson, Illinois
WR Troy Stoudermire, Minnesota
* TE Brian Linthicum, Michigan State
* denotes draft worthy player in BCS-only leagues
** denotes draft worthy player in All-120 leagues
Former Gator Jarred Fayson can now suit up on Saturdays in Champaign, and he made a good deal of noise this spring, however he's not the only one providing hope for a more explosive Illini offense in 2009. Battering rams Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford have made an impact while Daniel Dufrene nurses his sore hamstring. We're thinking Dufrene should get well soon.
What does all of this mean? One, that the Juice will have more weapons at his disposal, and that super-freak Arrelious Benn may see some more single coverage. Benn and Juice still remain the only fantasy options for the Illini at this point, but the others could "emerge".
Ben Chappell's move to starting quarterback without a real competition screams of a coach who will do everything to avoid a controversy, almost like throwing out all the cookies to avoid a late-night snack. This move makes Indiana much more traditional in offensive scheme, and as a result running backs Bryan Payton and/or Demetrius McCray may hold a little more value. Now what does this mean for Kellen Lewis, new full-time wide receiver in Bloomington?
If Kellen Lewis were just going to play wide receiver he'd hold little value. Because he can run like the wind blows and wing the pigskin, Lewis now becomes one of the more intriguing wideouts in the conference, and a sleeper candidate nationally.
The bad news? The recent arrest of three players for public intoxication means that the Iowa football program appears hell-bent on keeping the local district court occupied. More bad news? Tight end Tony Moeaki continues to battle injuries.
Ricky Stanzi is the clear-cut number one guy at quarterback, and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos appears fully ready to emerge as a number one target. Both are only options in Big Ten-only leagues.
Jewel Hampton missed most of spring practice and sat out the spring game nursing a hamstring. So, much like last year with Shonn Greene, you'll have to take a leap of faith with Hampton on draft day. No, we still don't believe Paki O'Meara is a legit threat.
Tate Forcier took first-team snaps, and Tate Forcier took some second-team snaps as well. Thanks to the transfer of Steven Threet and the injury to Nick Sheridan the Wolverines have all of their Easter eggs in Forcier's basket...at least until speed demon track star Denard Robinson completes that pesky high school. We are concerned over Forcier's size and subsequent ability to take a pounding as well as his lack of experience, but there is no doubt he will see the field this fall. This alone makes him worthy of our top freshman quarterback ranking.
Rich Rodriguez "would be disappointed if Brandon does not have a great senior year" and Brandon Minor is off to a good start by just staying healthy this spring. True freshman running back Vincent Smith is challenging Carlos Brown for carries behind Minor.
Power backs Ashton Leggett and Caulton Ray moved up the running back depth chart, but no one truly emerged. Glenn Winston was also sentenced to 180 days in the clink for causing a real ruckus during an off-campus sock hop and punch party. This running back job will not be settled until August, when talented backs Edwin Baker and Larry Caper move into Case Hall.
MSU seems to be in good shape at QB with Keith Nichol and Kirk Cousins, both were outstanding in the spring game. But this does fantasy owners little good as there's a good chance we will see split snaps through the month of September. Each can play, and it may only be a hostile trip to South Bend that's capable of determining who should lead the green and white into the Big Ten battle royales. Our money is on the playmaking ability of Nichol. Regardless of the QB look for a different MSU offense this fall.
We are still high on sleeper Keshawn Martin and apparently so are his teammates. Martin was the first receiver taken during a players' draft for the spring game. It could be tight end by committee in East Lansing, but if the spring game is any indication, Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum are both draftable commodities.
Spring 2009 is a season of change in Minneapolis. A brand spanking new on-campus stadium is causing headlines as are new coordinators, with another another NFL guy, Jedd Fisch, running the offense. This new pro-style coordinator coupled with Adam Weber's limited spring (shoulder surgery) has us thinking that we may see a return to the Glen Mason run-dominated attack from a couple of years ago.
Duane Bennett returned from his season-ending knee injury, but he was held out of contact drills. He's worth a shot on draft day, but he is not as safe of a pick as we had hoped exiting spring ball. And while we're on the topic of fantasy question marks there are likely many Minnesota football fans who would like stud wide receiver Eric Decker to slow down on the diamond. Who does he think he is...Dave Winfield? A nice signing bonus offer in June and Minnesota may, I repeat may, be looking to replace their star wideout.
We should also see quarterback MarQueis Gray in situational play this fall. Wide receiver Troy Stoudermire racked up 274 all-purpose yards in the spring game. Keep an eye on him as well.
Fresh off the nice showing in San Antonio, Northwestern spent their spring looking to replace C.J. Bacher and Tyrell Sutton, a back who finally exhausted his eligibility. Thankfully for those that tailgate outside of Ryan Field, Mike Kafka and Stephen Simmons appear ready to lead the way. Both would be considered sleepers at this point. Though Simmons will see competition at running back.
Wide receiver-turned-running back Jeravin Matthews turned heads with his performance this spring, and he could be a factor in 2009. And if you can convince your good-for-nothing, lazy commissioner that Matthews is primarily a wide receiver he may be a real late-round steal in Big Ten-only leagues.
The Buckeyes installed the pistol offense this spring, a formation that sounds much cooler than the spread. Terrelle Pryor will operate between the center and running back (think Colin Kaepernick) and it allows a little more versatility, but more importantly it puts more of the offensive onus on the team's best player.
The running back spot has become a bit more muddled. It won't be as simple as Beanie Wells giving Dan Herron the ball and wishing him godspeed. Brandon Saine will have a say in this running back battle; remember, Saine is a terrific athlete with speed to burn, and Jim Tressel saw fit to offer him a scholarship to Ohio State too.
Are we worried about Ohio State's offensive line losses? Just a little bit. Sure three big uglies, including Alex Boone, have moved on, but this is Ohio State, where they pick offensive lineman like a five-year-old picks his nose...with a purpose. Besides Mr. Pryor can erase a lot of early-season miscommunication on the offensive line with his freakish talent.
DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher exit spring as the starting wide receivers. We still love Posey's ability to stretch the field and based on spring reports, he is ready to break out. However we still worry about how much the Buckeyes will throw the football.
The question mark heading into spring was at wide receiver, and despite the optimism quarterback Daryll Clark has in the young group, it still is an area of uncertainty for fantasy owners. Chaz Powell was limited by a sprained ankle, making it hard to gauge if he will be the "next Derrick Williams". Graham Zug, Derek Moye and Brett Brackett exit spring as the starters. Like last year, spin the roulette wheel and hope for the best if you have your heart set on a Penn State WR.
The good news is linebacker Sean Lee was back, even if he wasn't allowed to hit anybody. The bad news is fellow linebacker Navorro Bowman could face more disciplinary action after admitting to smoking the ganja while on probation. Otherwise, not too much to report, except that incoming recruit Kevin Newsome will be an immediate factor in some fashion. Or at the very least a decent keeper selection.
Thanks to an academic indiscretion, Justin Siller has been asked to leave Purdue, leaving Joey Elliott the starter in West Lafayette. Jaycen Taylor is still the favorite to emerge as starting tailback, though he was held out of spring contact drills and it sounds like he still has a ways to go on his rehab. If he is unable to go, Dan Dierking will likely be the guy. But keep an eye on incoming freshman Al-Terek McBurse. TE Kyle Adams returns, and Boiler tight ends have always been a factor. This teams appears to be in transition mode, so tread lightly.
Charles Clay was limited with an ankle injury, and this plagued him last spring as well. Should owners be worried? Yes, unless you also own fantasy stock in Zach Brown. By all accounts Brown had a good spring and is a legit threat to vulture carries.
Quarterback Curt Phillips is making a push to overtake incumbent Dustin Sherer. The only shock is that he didn't challenge for the job last year. Or at least get a few looks. If you are drafting Wisconsin quarterbacks, take Phillips. Trust us on this one.
Craving more Big Ten news? Tune into our show on the Fantasy Sports Channel on Thursday at 9pm EDT as we talk with ESPN's Adam Rittenberg.