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2020 Indiana Football Position Preview: Wide receivers and tight ends

The 2019-2020 Indiana receiving corps had to adjust mid-season to a quarterback change due to the injury of Michael Penix Jr., but that did not slow down the group’s productivity. When watching Indiana’s offense last season, it didn’t stick out as a high-flying unit, although the numbers prove otherwise. 

Indiana finishes their warmup before Northwestern with a punt to Whop Philyor. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

Indiana led the Big Ten in passing yards a year ago due to a solid group that was able to adapt on the fly. The Hoosiers return four of their top five leading receivers, which creates a level of excitement surrounding Indiana’s offense that hasn’t been present in the program’s recent history.

Let’s break down a unit that could prove to be Indiana’s strongest group of players by the end of the season.

Leaders of the group

When analyzing Indiana’s receiving corps, three names immediately stick out. Wide receivers Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle teamed up with tight end Peyton Hendershot to be the team’s top three leading receivers a year ago, and all remain on the Indiana roster for the 2020 season.

Philyor was recently named to the 2020 Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch List, an award that annually recognizes the top receiver in the FBS. Philyor’s breakout 19-20 campaign helped land him on this preseason watch list, and rightfully so. He was named to the second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and third-team by the media.

The rising senior receiver led Indiana with 70 receptions for 1,002 yards last season, and tied for the team lead in touchdowns with five. Philyor’s agility and breakout speed will consistently provide Indiana with a threat whether he is positioned in the slot or on the outside. 

Another frequent name fans will see catch passes from Penix Jr. this year is Fryfogle, who enters his senior season in Bloomington. Fryfogle complements Philyor’s receiving style nicely because of his 6-foot-2 frame that serves as a big red zone target. 

Fryfogle finished third on Indiana in receiving yards last season with 604 yards on 45 catches, which led to three touchdowns. The speedy Philyor and large catch radius of Fryfogle should balance well to provide Penix Jr. with two different kinds of targets this season. 

Ty Fryfogle hauls one in against Penn State last year in State College. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

Leading the tight end group for Indiana is the ever-reliable Peyton Hendershot, who was named to the third-team All-Big Ten last season. Hendershot was second on the team in receptions a year ago with 52. His 622 yards also ranked second on the Hoosiers and always seemed to come at big moments.

Hendershot was second on the team with four touchdown receptions and did a great job of finding holes in the middle of the field to convert on key first downs. However, Hendershot has had a tumultuous offseason that nearly resulted in a suspension.

The redshirt junior tight end pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal trespass due to a February incident with his ex-girlfriend. Hendershot faced misdemeanor charges of domestic battery, criminal conversion and criminal mischief, but these charges were dismissed. 

As a result, he was sentenced to a year of probation, along receiving a mental health evaluation and completing a batterers treatment program. Head coach Tom Allen also said in a Zoom call on July 14 that Hendershot completed team-sanctioned discipline, and is now with the team in full capacity. 

Who could take the next step

Outside of Philyor, Fryfogle and Hendershot, there are some questions throughout the Indiana receiving corps. The Hoosiers lost Nick Westbrook and Donovan Hale to graduation, which leaves opportunities for younger receivers to step up. Westbrook and Hale ranked fourth and six in receiving yards last year for Indiana, respectively.

Eyeing a chance to claim a bigger role in Indiana’s passing attack is a group of receivers that have exciting potential. First on this list is a name that is more familiar to IU fans when the Hoosiers’ special teams unit takes the field: sophomore David Ellis, whose electrifying speed was mainly used in the kick return game a year ago.

Ellis finished the season with 28 kick returns for 579 yards, which ranked fifth in the Big Ten and 27th nationally. Indiana used Ellis sparingly in the passing game, resulting in 16 receptions for 173 yards. His speed was also utilized for nine rushes for 53 yards.

David Ellis makes a nice cut back against Georgia State during his freshman season. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

The quickness of Ellis provides offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan with a multitude of ways to use Ellis in Indiana’s offense. Hoosier fans should keep their eyes open for game-changing plays when Ellis has the ball in his hands.

Another receiver who could improve this season is redshirt sophomore Miles Marshall. Marshall provides a big target for Penix Jr., standing at 6-foot-4. As a freshman, Marshall didn’t see too much playing time, but took advantage of the time when he was on the field, hauling in 16 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown last year. Look for Marshall to be utilized in a similar way Nick Westbrook was used for the Hoosiers throughout his career at IU.

The highlight of Indiana’s 2020 recruiting class comes in the form of 6-foot-2 Rashawn Williams. Williams was the only four-star signee for the Hoosiers this year and could complete what looks like a strong receiving corps for Penix Jr. to spread the ball around. 

Williams recently finished an impressive high school career at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit where his team won the state championship in 2018 and was the state runner-up in his senior season. He arrives in Bloomington as the No. 40-ranked incoming freshman wide receiver in the country.

Other names to keep an eye on for the upcoming season are receivers Da’Shaun Brown and Jordan Jakes, as well as tight end Matt Bjorson. Brown is a converted wide receiver after having an impressive high school career as a quarterback, which led him to being ranked as the No. 30 athlete in the 2019 class. 

Brown and Jakes both redshirted during their freshman seasons, but could be integral pieces for the Indiana offense down the road. Jakes is a 6-foot-5 track star who was the No. 18 ranked player in Maryland in the 2019 class. While Bjorson will likely still lose playing time to Hendershot, he did catch an important touchdown in Indiana’s bowl-clinching victory at Nebraska a year ago. 

Indiana’s receiving corps provides fans with a lot to be excited about, as the Hoosiers return their top three leading receivers. An up-and-coming group of freshmen and sophomores are also chomping at the bit to keep Indiana at the top of the Big Ten passing yard ranks.

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