With spring practice officially behind us, we’re taking a look at each Big Ten team and identifying a player who announced himself as a potential key performer this fall. These are guys who haven’t played big roles yet but showed enough during the 15 spring practices — not just some fluky, spring-game performance against backups — to factor heavily into their team’s plans.
The next stop on the Big Ten tour is a new one, and Rutgers might have found a dangerous weapon to deploy at wide receiver ahead of its first season in the league.
Spring breakout player: WR Janarion Grant
The Scarlet Knights already have seen what Grant can do when he gets his hands on the football, but last season about the only way that happened was when it was kicked to the speedster. Now Rutgers needs him to do the same thing when the ball is thrown his way.
Grant made an impact as a freshman on special teams, turning the Rutgers into a legitimate threat in that phase by returning both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown last season. But he wasn’t much of a factor at wide receiver with just 3 receptions for 21 yards, numbers that hardly match up with the game-changing ability Grant was flashing elsewhere.
A productive spring and the chance to catch a lot more passes on the practice field appear to be closing the gap between what Grant can provide on special teams and what he can bring to the offense, with the potential slot receiver impressing the coaching staff enough through 15 workouts to be honored as the most improved player on that side of the ball, setting himself up to be an invaluable target in the fall.
The Scarlet Knights must replace both Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt at wideout, and the sophomore would seem to be as strong of a candidate as any to replace their production based on the development he showed during the spring and the flashes of excitement he provided last fall as a returner. Assuming Grant is able to be a consistent, reliable target with his hands, the 5-foot-11, 170-pounder is capable of making things happen for the Scarlet Knights with his legs.
“It means a lot to win the most improved offensive player award,” Grant said after the spring game. “I feel good just catching the ball more, being able to get my hands on the ball and be physical with it.”
The football was already going to be in his hands when opponents kicked it to Rutgers. Now that Grant is making strides catching passes, it figures to be there much more often.
Continue reading this article at ESPN: Spring breakout player: Rutgers