10 most exciting B1G defensive players returning in 2019
The deadline to declare for the NFL Draft has come and gone, allowing us to forecast which B1G players have decided to pursue a professional career and who will be returning to campus. Now that we know who’s coming back, we can take a look at some of the most talented B1G players in 2019.
A few days ago, we looked at the most exciting offensive players returning to the conference. Now, we’ll shift our attention to the other side of the football and look at some of the best defensive players who are returning to the B1G.
Here’s a look at the 10 most exciting B1G defensive players in 2019:
Chase Young, DL, Ohio State
With Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones both out of the picture, Young quickly becomes the star of Ohio State’s defensive line. He’s also setting a pretty high bar for himself, wanting to break the program’s single-season sack record in 2019. Young has tallied over 20 tackles for loss and double-digit sacks through his first two years in Columbus, but as the Buckeyes’ top defensive lineman next fall, the sky is the limit for his production.
A.J. Epenesa, DL, Iowa
The B1G’s leading sack-getter in 2018 (10.5), Epenesa has been a nightmare for offensive linemen and quarterbacks alike. He’s got incredibly active hands, forcing four fumbles a season ago. Epenesa isn’t just one of the most talented and athletic defensive linemen in the conference, he’s also one of the most opportunistic. The defensive lineman has played a critical role for Iowa each of his first two years and will continue to do so next fall.
Josiah Scott, DB, Michigan State
An injury kept Scott off the field for most of the 2018 season, but when he returned to the field in November it was like he’d been playing all year. The sophomore recorded two interceptions, seven pass break-ups and 13 tackles in just five games. Scott will easily be one of the top secondary defenders in the B1G and an early candidate to lead the league in interceptions. He’s already earned the reputation as one of the top shut-down defenders in the conference.
Paddy Fisher, LB, Northwestern
Fisher is one of the more fun linebackers in the B1G to watch, simply because of how well he flies across the field. In two seasons, he’s racked up 230 tackles for the Wildcats, recording 113 as a freshman and 117 last year. He’s also totaled 14 tackles for loss, forced nine fumbles and registered two interceptions in his early career. Fisher doesn’t really doesn’t receive the credit he deserves, but he’s the type of player who can do just about anything on the defensive side of the football.
Antoine Winfield Jr., DB, Minnesota
We didn’t get to see much of Winfield this past season, as an injury cut his 2018 campaign short. But he’s an exciting defensive back who’s capable of making big plays defensively and on special teams. He doesn’t have the eye-popping stats like several players on this list, but he’s recorded a pick-six, a game-winning interception and a punt return for a touchdown in his first three years in Minnesota. Winfield will have a great opportunity to emerge as one of the better defensive backs in the league.
Josh Metellus, DB, Michigan
There are plenty of talented defensive players returning to Michigan next fall, and Metellus is among the best. Metellus led the Wolverines with three interceptions last season, including a pick-six. He also broke up six passes and tallied 48 tackles. With several defensive stars departing next season, Metellus will be one of the leaders of Michigan’s defense.
Markus Bailey, LB, Purdue
Purdue’s defense wasn’t the greatest last season, but Bailey was a diamond in the rough for the Boilermakers. He totaled 115 stops and recorded a game-sealing pick-six against Ohio State in the upset win. For the second straight year, Bailey will be the leader of the Purdue defense and will be expected to make big plays. It was certainly good news for the Boilers when he decided to return to West Lafayette.
Kenny Willekes, DL, Michigan State
Arguably the best player on the best defense in the country is returning to the field. Willekes was named the B1G’s Defensive Lineman of the Year after posting a conference-best 20.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and 78 total stops. He’s a run-stuffer and quarterback stopper. Obviously Willekes’ production depends upon his recovery from the broken leg he suffered in the Redbox Bowl, but if he’s anywhere close to where he was in 2018, he’ll easily be in the running as the B1G Defensive Lineman of the Year again next fall.
Khaleke Hudson, LB, Michigan
Everyone saw Hudson’s emotion on the sideline while Michigan was getting a tail-whipping from Florida in the Peach Bowl. He brings that same attitude to the field every single Saturday, making him one of the more fun linebackers in the B1G. Hudson’s 2018 campaign wasn’t quite as productive as 2018 — when he registered 18 tackles for loss, which included getting eight stops in the backfield against Minnesota — but with Devin Bush headed to the NFL, he’ll be the top linebacker in Ann Arbor.
Yetur Gross-Matos, DL, Penn State
Gross-Matos had a breakout sophomore campaign and quickly became a star defensive lineman in the B1G. Yes, Penn State’s defense had issues last fall, but that doesn’t take away the stellar season Gross-Matos enjoyed, racking up 20 tackles for loss and eight sacks. It’ll be interesting to see if Gross-Matos can maintain that level of production now that he’s on the radar.
Joe Bachie, LB, Michigan State; Shaun Wade, DB, Ohio State; Blake Gallagher, LB, Northwestern; Ben Stille, DL, Nebraska; Geno Stone, DB, Iowa; Faion Hicks, DB, Wisconsin