Ten B1G redshirt freshmen who could break out in 2016
Four months ago, these guys were buried on the depth chart. Most of them dealt with that for the first time in their lives.
But in 2016, that could change quickly. Here are 10 B1G redshirt freshmen who could make a major impact in their first seasons of action:
OL Gabe Megginson, Illinois — A former four-star recruit, Megginson is the favorite to grab the last spot on Illinois’ revamped offensive line. He has the size and skill set to be a potential three or four-year starter in Champaign. Illinois could use one of those after Ted Karras’ departure to the NFL. The 6-5, 300-pound redshirt freshman could easily carve out a role at guard and not look back.
DE Anthony Nelson, Iowa — Whether he starts or not, Nelson is expected to be part of the plan to replace Drew Ott and Nate Meier. Matt Nelson (no relation) and Parker Hesse could be the favorites to start at end, but the redshirt freshman will likely get regular work. He still needs to put some more weight on his 6-7 frame, but he has the potential to become an impact situational pass-rusher in 2016.
TE Tyrone Wheatley Jr., Michigan — It’s hard for a guy to look big on a football field. Wheatley accomplishes that feat with ease. The 6-6, 280-pound tight end is built like an offensive lineman, but he has the athleticism to play tight end. Jay Harbaugh already guaranteed that he wouldn’t switch to the line. Jake Butt will likely be a preseason All-American, but given the way Michigan’s offense features multiple tight end sets, Wheatley is going to get an opportunity to contribute significantly this year. And oh yeah, he can catch, too.
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DT Raequan Williams, Michigan State — Sure, Michigan State has the best defensive tackle in the country in Malik McDowell. But the Spartans lost their other three starting defensive linemen, and Craig Evans and Montez Sweat left the team. That means the talented former four-star recruit will be a part of the rotation. Like McDowell, Williams moves exceptionally well for a tackle and behind oft-injured Damon Knox, he might get a starting opportunity sooner rather than later.
CB Eric Lee, Nebraska — The former top recruit in Colorado was coached by NFL All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins in high school. That’s some high quality ground-floor mentorship. Lee came to Lincoln as a four-star recruit and impressed against Nebraska’s talented receivers during his redshirt season. He can guard bigger wideouts, he has good instincts and he can make open field tackles. He’ll be behind Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones on the depth chart, but Lee does too many things well to ride the pine too long.
DT Khalil Davis, Nebraska — When it was announced that Kevin Williams and Greg McMullen both wouldn’t be playing for the Huskers anymore, Davis’ ears had to perk up. Once behind the likes of those two, as well as early NFL departures Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, the redshirt freshman is atop the depth chart at defensive tackle. Davis has a prime opportunity to grow into that role this offseason and become the run-stuffing specialist the Huskers need after losing so much talent up front.
RB Mike Weber, Ohio State — As a runner, I already said that Weber already has an Ezekiel Elliott-like look about him. He welcomes contact, he accelerates in a hurry and he has home-run ability. Having said that, there’s still no guarantee Weber starts in 2016. If he can stay healthy, Bri’onte Dunn figures to be in the mix, as could Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson. But I still think Weber gets the most carries and becomes a key piece of Ohio State’s new-look offense.
WR Torrance Gibson, Ohio State — Speaking of new pieces of Ohio State’s offense, Gibson is an interesting option for the Buckeyes. The converted quarterback starred in the spring game without Noah Brown, Corey Smith and Curtis Samuel. While Urban Meyer was complimentary of the “freakish” 6-4 wideout, he also said that he has a long ways to go at his new position. Don’t be surprised if Gibson’s size and athleticism helps him score a few touchdowns this fall before he truly figures it out.
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DT Kevin Givens, Penn State — Losing forces like Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel is a tough pill to swallow. Having a replacement like Givens could help. Even though his experience is seemingly everywhere but defensive tackle, Givens was the defensive star of the spring game. He had 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks and looked every bit like a playmaking defensive tackle. His teammates said he’s already the strongest guy on the team. Raw or not, he might be too talented to keep off the field.
QB Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin — Hornibrook earned himself some believers with his deep throws in the spring game. He looked comfortable in the pocket and gave Wisconsin an element it hasn’t had in the last couple years. Obviously, that was a small sample size. He still made some questionable decisions, which is the the risk of starting a redshirt freshman. Hornibrook and senior Bart Houston will battle throughout fall camp for the job. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Houston won the gig. But I’ll make the semi-bold prediction that Hornibrook wins it and gives the Badgers a new look on offense in 2016.