Every B1G team's biggest recruiting overachiever
Signing Day is Wednesday. It’s no secret that college football is an arms race for talent, and despite what some may lead you to believe, stars do matter when it comes to recruiting.
Year after year Ohio State lands the most blue-chip prospects in the Big Ten and turns it into on-field success. But just because a player isn’t a 4- or 5-star recruit doesn’t mean they can’t outperform expectation. In fact, 13 of the 23 players named to the coaches’ All-Big Ten First Team in 2020 on offense and defense were 3-star recruits.
Every team in 2020 received major contribution from lesser-heralded players, but who was each team’s biggest overachiever? To establish some rules, none of the players on the ensuing list could have been a 4- or 5-star recruit during their high school careers, and JUCO transfers were considered.
Some had many more options than others, but these were the best recruiting finds for each team:
Illinois: Kendrick Green
National Rank: 411; 3-star
Green received First Team All-Big Ten honors after making significant improvement in his pass protection skills to go with his elite run-blocking talents. The guard started 33 games during his 4-year career after spending his freshman season on defense. Green declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Indiana: Ty Fryfogle
National Rank: 1,712; 3-star
The Big Ten Receiver of the Year finished the season with 37 catches for 721 yards and 7 touchdowns. With his games against Michigan State and Ohio State, Fryfogle became the first player in Big Ten history to record back-to-back 200-yard receiving games. Fryfogle will use a 5th year of eligibility and return to Bloomington in 2021.
Iowa: Tyler Linderbaum
National Rank: 409 (as a DT); 3-star
Arguably the best center in college football, Linderbaum was recruited to Iowa in 2018 as a defensive lineman before flipping sides in 2019. Iowa had one of the better offensive lines in the conference this past season, as the Hawkeyes rushed for 4.6 yards per carry and only allowed 11 sacks in 8 games. Linderbaum was named to the All-Big Ten First Team and is returning for 2021 despite his high draft grade.
Tyler Linderbaum is returning to Iowa for another season.
Linderbaum was the highest-graded (91.5) and top-ranked center in the 2021 Draft class pic.twitter.com/skAGYAmK8F
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) December 31, 2020
Maryland: Jake Funk
National Rank: 1,421; 3-star
The Big Ten’s leading rusher in terms of yards per carry (8.6) saved his best season for last after 2 straight season-ending ACL injuries in 2018 and ’19. Funk rushed for 516 yards in 5 games for the Terps’ COVID-shortened season and found the end zone 3 times on the ground and once through the air. Funk received Third Team AllBig Ten honors and declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Michigan: Kwity Paye
National Rank: 486; 3-star
Paye only played in 4 games this season, but the athletic specimen was a force. According to PFF, Paye won the 3rd-highest percentage of pass-rush reps in the nation. Paye finished the year with 16 tackles and 2 sacks and is widely-regarded as a first-round talent in the 2021 NFL Draft after spending 4 years in Ann Arbor.
Michigan State: Shakur Brown
National Rank: 1,149; 3-star
Brown was one of the most-feared corners in the B1G in 2020, finishing with the 2nd-most interceptions in the league (5), including an early-season stretch in which he picked off 4 passes in 2 games. Brown also recorded 25 total tackles and 4 defended passes en route to First Team All-Big Ten honors. He declared early for the NFL Draft following 3 years in East Lansing.
Minnesota: Mohamed Ibrahim
National Rank: 1,125; 3-star
The Gophers’ bell-cow back finished the past season as the Big Ten’s lone rusher to eclipse 1,000 yards (1,076). His 153.7 yards per game trailed only Buffalo’s Jaret Patterson. Ibrahim scored 15 TDs last season, pushing his 3-year career total to 31. Ibrahim was named to the All-Big Ten First Team and surprised a lot of people in announcing that he will return for a 4th season.
Nebraska: JoJo Domann
National Rank: 588; 3-star
The versatile outside linebacker led the Cornhuskers with 58 tackles in 2020 and tied for the team lead with 6.5 tackles for loss and 5 pass breakups. PFF gave Domann the 6th-best slot coverage grade in the country and best in the Big Ten. Domann is the emotional leader of the defense and will be back for a sixth season in 2021.
Northwestern: Paddy Fisher
National Rank: 1,047; 3-star
Fisher is the epitome of Big Ten defense, leading the Northwestern defense for 4 seasons. The linebacker finished as the team’s leading tackler in 2017 and ’20 and finished 2nd in 2018 and ’19. Fisher received All-Big Ten honors in each season he played, including this past season in which he was named to the First Team and was the Linebacker of the Year. Fisher finished his career with 401 total tackles, 24.5 for loss and 2 sacks.
Ohio State: Chris Olave
National Rank: 399; 3-star
Olave could very well be the best receiver in the Big Ten, and his work isn’t finished as he announced he’ll be back in Columbus for the 2021 season. The First Team All-Big Ten wideout finished the season 2nd in the league in receiving yards (729) and tied for 3rd in receiving touchdowns (7), despite missing a game for the Buckeyes. Olave had at least 100 yards receiving in 5 of 7 games in 2020 and scored multiple touchdowns 3 times.
Penn State: Shaka Toney
National Rank: 838; 3-star
One of two Penn State defensive ends named to the All-Big Ten First Team, Toney finished 2020 with a team-high 5 sacks in 9 games to go with 31 tackles, 7.5 for loss and a forced fumble. Over 4 years, Toney has 111 total tackles, 20.0 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss. He was a participant at the Reese’s Senior Bowl and will likely hear his name called on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.
Purdue: Derrick Barnes
National Rank: 2,697; 2-star
One of the better power rushers off the edge in the B1G, Barnes led Purdue with 54 tackles and was also 1 of only 2 Boilermakers to record an interception this past season. Over the course of 4 years in West Lafayette, the linebacker recorded 224 tackles, 25 for loss, 10.5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, a forced fumble and an interception. Barnes was also one of the standout performers at Reese’s Senior Bowl practices.
Rutgers: Olakunle Fatukasi
National Rank: 878; 3-star
Fatukasi has a breakout season, leading leading the Big Ten in tackles with 101, 15 more than the next closest player. The 3rd-year linebacker registered double-digit tackles in 6 of his first 7 games this season, including 17 tackles against Michigan and Penn State. Fatukasi was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team and will be back in 2021.
Wisconsin: Jake Ferguson
National Rank: 354; 3-star
The tight end received Second Team All-Big Ten honors after finishing the season as Wisconsin’s leader in reception (30), receiving yards (305) and receiving touchdowns (4). In 3 years with the Badgers, Ferguson has caught 99 passes for 1,168 yards and 10 scores. Ferguson will return for a 4th season in 2021.