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Position preview: Philyor leads talented group of receivers in 2020

Hoosiers return over half of their receiving production from 2019

Indiana v Purdue
Whop Philyor (1) of the Indiana Hoosiers runs the ball during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on November 30, 2019 in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

In 2019, IU’s wide receiving corps was arguably among the best and deepest in the Big Ten.

Despite the turbulence that the Hoosiers saw at the quarterback position, they were able to be one of the more productive offenses in the nation, ranking 22nd nationally and sixth in the Big Ten in offensive SP+. Counting stats typically lack context and are therefore not as useful, but if they’re more your style, IU gained the third-most offensive yards per game in the conference but was the third-worst rushing offense in terms of yards per game. Nobody passed for more yards than the Hoosiers last season and only Purdue threw for more per game.

Now, in a perfect world, there won’t be injuries at quarterback this season and the Hoosiers will be able to run the ball at a slightly more efficient rate, but if those things don’t go IU’s way,x the receiving corps should be able to help keep the offense moving once again.

Only two receivers who caught a pass last year, Nick Westbrook and Donavan Hale, have left the program after graduating. Those two were certainly important contributors, combining for a bit more than 32 percent of the group’s production in terms of yards, and eight of the group’s 17 touchdowns. But IU also won’t be crippled by those losses because of the established depth that they had last season, as well as the addition of some newcomers.

Let’s take a look:

Whop Philyor, Senior

Philyor may be the baddest man in Bloomington, plain and simple. There are few players on this roster more fun to watch than him when he really gets it going.

He won’t receive the kind of hype that people will probably give guys like Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman or Purdue’s duo of Rondale Moore and David Bell, but he’s absolutely in the same stratosphere as them in terms of production.

In 2019, Philyor leapt to stardom for the Hoosiers, putting up over 1,000 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He ended the season averaging 83.5 yards per game, good for fourth-most in the Big Ten. He also tied for the conference’s single-game high in receptions with 14 against Michigan State and Nebraska.

He isn’t a physical specimen in the way some of the other players in this group are, listed at just 5-foot-11 and 180 lbs., so he’ll likely spend the majority of his time terrorizing the conference’s nickel backs from the slot when the Hoosiers are in three-receiver sets. That, however, gives him an incredibly important role as the bevy of crossing routes and quick-hitters he’ll run will seemingly be one of the building blocks of the offense.

Ty Fryfolge, Senior

After being an occasional contributor in 2018, Fryfogle became a full-fledged weapon last season. He finished third on the team and second among wide receivers with 45 receptions and 604 yards while making 12 starts in 13 games. He also scored a trio of touchdowns, matching his 2018 total.

If there’s anybody who will benefit from the departures of Westbrook and Hale, it’s Fryfogle. The 6-2, 214-pound senior will almost certainly be one of IU’s starting split receivers and is easily the most experienced of the more big-bodied options in IU’s receivers room. At least early in the season, that could make him a primary target for Michael Penix Jr. and allow him to see a higher volume of redzone targets as the graduated seniors won’t be around to challenge him for those.

Miles Marshall, RS Sophomore

Marshall is the Hoosiers’ third-most productive returning receiver after appearing in all 13 games last season, making one start. He ended the year with 16 receptions for 196 yards and a touchdown; not bad for a freshman playing sixth-fiddle or so in the passing game.

If he isn’t starting at the split spot opposite of Fryfogle, he’ll at least be a significant contributor. At 6-4, 208 pounds Marshall is the second-biggest member of the IU receiving corps and should provide a solid down-the-field option and redzone target for Penix.

David Ellis, Sophomore

Ellis is listed as a running back and kick returner on the roster, making the transition from wide receiver during spring practice, but I refuse to believe he won’t also be used as a receiver in 2020 at least a little bit. Maybe he’ll make an impact as a third-down/pass-catching back. He popped as a true freshman, showing the potential to be one of the Hoosiers’ more dynamic offensive weapons and potentially the heir apparent to Philyor as IU’s go-to guy.

He caught 16 passes for 173 yards (10.8 ypc) and ran the ball nine times for 53 yards (5.9 ypc) in 2019. His best performance came on the road at Penn State where he caught the ball seven times for 85 yards.

Hopefully, his volume will go up in 2020 and his number of big plays will as well.

Grab-bag of potential new contributors

Those four returners aside, there are plenty of options on the roster who could step up and fill in as WR4 or WR5.

Jacolby Hewitt was unable to get on the field last season due to an ACL injury he suffered during the preseason and he redshirted the year before, but he was a three-star receiver coming out of high school and has a little bit of size at 6-1, 202 pounds. So he could get a chance this season.

We didn’t get a chance to see Jordan Jakes last year either as he redshirted as a freshman, but he’s got something that no other option in IU’s receiving corps can match — a 6-5, 214-pound frame. Jakes was a three-star recruit who chose IU over offers from Michigan, Michigan State and North Carolina among others. He also competed in track and field as a high-schooler in hurdles events, the high jump and the 400-meter dash.

Jakes’ classmate Da’Shaun Brown also redshirted last season. He is a former three-star recruit who was once ranked as the No. 1 athlete recruit in Wisconsin by Rivals — he played quarterback and defensive back in high school. Last season, Brown was a two-time offensive scout team player of the week for the Hoosiers and his 6-2, 189-pounds frame could allow him to play both as a split and a slot if he can work his way onto the field in 2020.

There’s also a trio of freshmen who could be impactful players for the Hoosiers in the passing game this Fall — Rashawn Williams, Javon Swinton and David Baker.

Williams was the highest-rated recruit in IU’s most recent class, earning a four-star rating from 247 Sports as well as being ranked as the No. 9 recruit in Michigan. He’s listed at 6-2, 200 pounds, and while you can only glean so much from a highlight tape, it certainly seems that Williams has the potential to impact the game in a number of ways. He’s got a physicality to him that can be useful on the outside as he’s willing to go up and get the ball. He’s also got some speed to him, as his strides appear effortless and he blows right by defenders. Mix in some decent footwork and you’ve got a guy who could potentially push for a spot in the starting lineup this season. Even if he can’t crack the lineup as a true freshman, he still has gobs of potential.

Baker was another of IU’s top recruits in the Class of 2020. He was a three-star recruit out of Indianapolis Scecina and ranked as the eighth-best prospect in the state last season. He also held offers from Michigan, Purdue and Iowa. At 6-3, 200 pounds, he’s another big, fast body who has the ability to make things happen after the catch.

Swinton was one of IU’s lower-rated recruits in its 2020 class, but he’s quickly made a splash in Bloomington. The former three-star recruit is carving out a role for himself during the preseason, as our Mike Miller wrote about a few days ago, but to put it simply — Swinton has a knack for making plays, has plenty of ball skill and is able to make catches both difficult and simple with consistency. He’s been impressive enough during Fall camp that the coaching staff is trying to find ways to get him on the field, and Tom Allen has said flatly that Swinton will play this Fall.

That makes 10 guys who could potentially catch passes this season for the Hoosiers, giving them a wealth of talent at the position. With Grant Heard leading the way as their position coach, they should continue to be one of the more prolific groups in the building for IU this season.