Michigan’s disappointing 8-5 season in 2017 has been much discussed. One thing is certain: Nobody can blame the defense.
The Wolverines led the nation in passing defense last season and were third in total D. And the worst part for Big Ten offensive coordinators? Michigan returns eight starters on defense including the entire secondary — the same secondary which allowed just 150.1 passing yards a game to lead the FBS.
Small wonder that the Maize and Blue lands three out of the five players on our list of the B1G’s best defensive talents. But the top spot belongs to an Ohio State defensive lineman who rates No. 1 on a few mock NFL Draft lists for 2019. Yes, mock drafts this early are ridiculous (remember when USC’s Matt Barkley was a lock to go No. 1 overall?) but for what it’s worth, folks here and here and here say that a Buckeye is the guy.
This continues Saturday Tradition’s series previewing the best players by position in the Big Ten. See previous stories covering the B1G’s top quarterbacks, top running backs and top receivers heading into 2018.
1. Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Will Nick go down in history as Joey’s younger brother or will Joey mostly be known as Nick’s older brother? So far, though Nick has only played two seasons, they have an argument for being the best set of brothers in Buckeyes football history. Nick Bosa, at 6 feet 4 and 263 pounds, enters his junior season as a favorite to be first-team All-American and, assuming he skips his senior season, perhaps the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft. Bosa’s motor is non-stop and his technique is excellent. Just like another Bosa.
2. Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan
The wrecking ball which should be Michigan’s 2018 defense starts here. Gary’s disruptive presence on the line opens up space for everybody else on the stout Wolverines unit to do their thing. The No. 1 recruit from the Class of 2016, at 6-5, 281, has delivered on his promise and we’re ranking him this high based on the fact that he is capable of even more. He is also thought of as a possible top-5 draft prospect should he skip his senior season.
3. Devin Bush, LB, Michigan
The junior had 95 tackles last season including 10 for loss, and is another player thought to be a true NFL prospect. From his inside spot, Bush anchors a strong linebacking group in Ann Arbor which also includes Khaleke Hudson. Michigan stopped opponents at or behind the line of scrimmage 28.9 percent of the time in 2017, the most in the FBS. Bush’s speed and instincts were a big reason for that.
4. T.J. Edwards, LB, Wisconsin
A few services named Edwards an All-American last year and the 5-11, 222-pound junior is again the anchor of a Badgers defense which was second in the nation in 2017. But the Badgers don’t return as much talent as Michigan (only three starters are back) so Edwards will have to be stout again for Wisconsin to keep its status as the favorites to win the Big Ten West Division. Assuming he shakes off a recent minor injury, Edwards will, along with safety D’Cota Dixon, lead Wisconsin’s bid to top the B1G in defense again.
5. Chase Winovich, DE, Michigan
Five defensive players in the Big Ten were listed among Sporting News’ Top 40 college football stars of 2018. It just so happens, those are the five guys on this list. Winovich might get overlooked at times considering the star power around him, especially with Gary stationed at the other defensive end spot. But Winovich, a senior, uses his 6-3, 253-pound frame to great effect and should be super motivated after struggling with his decision to stay for his senior season or leave for the NFL draft.