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Big Ten Football: Breaking Down the John Mackey Awards Candidates
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11 Jul 2017 05:14 PM EST

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Wisconsin’s Troy Fumagalli fights for extra yards against Nebraska. (Image Source: Eric Francis/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the John Mackey Award released their preseason watch list, which included seven players from the Big Ten. Here’s how they breakdown:

The Top Contenders:

Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin:

Despite inconsistent play from the quarterback position, including multiple in-season QB shuffles, Troy Fumagalli had a breakout season in 2016. He emerged in their Week 1 upset win over LSU as a key component to the Badgers throw game when he went for 100 yards against the SEC defense. He’s blessed with soft hands and very nimble feet, which allow him to make plays after the catch. A go-to guy, the athletic Fumagalli finished with a team-best 47 receptions, but will have to improve on his two touchdowns if he’s going to make a run at the Mackey Award. Improved quarterback play would do wonders for his chances.

Mike Gesicki, Penn State:

With 48 receptions for 679 yards and five touchdowns last season, Mike Gesicki was even more productive than Troy Fumagalli. At 6’6” with long arms, Gesicki provides his quarterback with one of the biggest catch radii in the Big Ten. More athletic than he first appears, Gesicki is a true downfield weapon who can stretch the field for the Nittany Lions, as well as make the acrobatic catch. He can also make defenders miss after the catch and will even be used on screen passes. His combination of size and fluidity makes him a touch cover. In Trace McSorley, Gesicki has a passer who will help him rack up numbers, however the plethora of skill talent on PSU’s offense might limit his production as McSorley distributes the wealth.

Preseason Watch Lists: Bednarik | Maxwell |

The Sleepers:

Marcus Baugh, Ohio State:

An impressive athlete, Marcus Baugh is talented but raw. He will make plays that make you take notice but will also disappear for long stretches (0-1 catches in seven games last season). Before he can become a contender, Baugh must become consistent.

Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Michigan:

With Devin Asiasi transferring, it appears Tyrone Wheatley Jr. will be the first man up as Michigan looks to replace the 2016 John Mackey Award winner Jake Butt. The sophomore has the name recognition, as well as a head coach in Jim Harbaugh who loves to use the tight end.

The Teammates:

Nate Wozniak/Brandon Lingen, Minnesota:

If the Mackey Award were starting a basketball team the 6’10” Nate Wozniak might be the first pick. He’s the returning starter but so far has put up modest numbers as a Gopher. The guy to watch is Brandon Lingen, if he can stay healthy. As a true sophomore in 2015, he caught 33 passes for 428 yards and three touchdowns, while averaging an impressive 13 yards per catch taking over for Maxx Williams. If he can reclaim the starting role, coupled with P.J. Fleck rejuvenating a stale offense, Lingen could emerge as a legitimate sleeper.

The Future:

Kyle Penniston, Wisconsin:

As a redshirt freshman backup to Troy Fumagalli, Kyle Penniston didn’t have many opportunities to flash his potential, but he made the most of them averaging 17 yards and scoring twice on his six receptions. The 247Sports four-star recruit will be a serious candidate next season.

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards. You can reach him via email: danmogollon@gmail.com.

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