Ranking the Top 25 B1G players heading into 2023
Whittling the Big Ten down to its 25 best players is no simple task.
There were 55 B1G players selected in the 2023 NFL Draft, including 20 in the first 2 rounds. And that’s with many of the best players coming back this year.
Consider that my way of saying there are a solid 40 players worthy of top 25 consideration. Alas, not all of them could make it. This isn’t like the Big Ten’s preseason basketball team, which somehow finds space for 11 players to take up 5 spots. Tough decisions were made.
Given that this is a preseason list, quite a few snubs are likely to outperform names you actually see here. Maybe even because they were disrespected in this space.
Here is a group we have nothing but respect for: Saturday Tradition’s Top 25 B1G players in 2023.
25. TreVeyon Henderson, RB, Ohio State
If Henderson is at 100% health this season, he is being dramatically undervalued on this list. Because a healthy Henderson belongs in the top 5. And it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if that’s what happens.
But we have to hedge our bets because of his injury-plagued sophomore season. Because when he’s healthy, this happens:
TreVeyon Henderson is the fastest man alive
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 13, 2021
24. Taulia Tagovailoa, QB, Maryland
Taulia is back for 1 last season at Maryland to make a name of his own.
He has back-to-back 3,000-yard seasons, making him the first Terrapin quarterback to ever accomplish that feat. Now he could become the first to throw 30 touchdown passes in a season. Tagovailoa is also seeking to lead Maryland to a Top 25 finish for the first time since joining the Big Ten.
Maryland QB Taulia Tagovailoa can further put his stamp on Terp and Big Ten football this fall.
He's already the career-record holder at Maryland for passing yards (7,879) among other records, and the Big Ten career record holder in completion % (67.4%)pic.twitter.com/9puDplElxH
— College Football Network (@CFN365) April 22, 2023
23. Tyler Nubin, S, Minnesota
The best safety in the B1G. (Apologies to Ohio State’s Lathan Ransom, who just missed the cut.)
Some defensive backs rack up stats because the ball finds its way near them — not always a good sign. Nubin racks up big stats because he always manages to find himself near the ball no matter how impractical the path. He has 154 tackles, 8 interceptions, 7 pass breakups and 2 forced fumbles in his Gophers career.
Lowest completion rate allowed among Safeties last season:
🐿 Tyler Nubin – 35% pic.twitter.com/s5AbUV8Irg
— PFF College (@PFF_College) March 19, 2023
22. Cal Haladay, LB, Michigan State
No gloves. No tape. No elbow sleeves. Haladay looks like he stepped out of a team photo with Bubba Smith and onto Michigan State’s modern defense. OK, given the long hair, maybe a team photo with Kirk Gibson. Point being, this guy plays old-school football.
Haladay led the B1G with 10 tackles per game last year, besting even Iowa 1-man wrecking crew Jack Campbell in that department. Haladay was named B1G defensive player of the week in Weeks 10 and 11 last year. Expect more to follow this season.
— Big Ten Football (@B1Gfootball) November 7, 2022
21. Abdul Carter, OLB, Penn State
Carter’s freshman season was sensational — 56 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 4 pass deflections and 2 forced fumbles. He’s on the fast track to becoming one of the best linebackers to ever play at LBU. And you can just about guarantee his spot on this list will be much, much higher going into 2024.
— Dear Old State (@_DearOldState) August 4, 2023
20. Mike Hall Jr., DT, Ohio State
Hall was dominant in spurts last season. He burst onto the scene with 2 TFL in the season opener against Notre Dame, and also recorded 2.5 sacks in Week 5 against Michigan State. Hall’s 4.5 sacks tied for the team lead even though he was decidedly less than 100% for much of the season.
Like TreVeyon Henderson, Hall dealt with nagging injuries much of the year. If he’s healthy, he is one of the Big Ten’s most disruptive interior linemen.
Mike Hall Jr. highlight pack pic.twitter.com/0QuzYArihU
— Colton Denning (@Dubsco) September 4, 2022
19. Adisa Isaac, DE, Penn State
Isaac was thisclose to being the B1G’s top edge rusher last season. He finished with only 4 sacks but led the Nittany Lions with 8 quarterback hurries. Isaac’s 11 TFL led the Nittany Lions and tied for 6th in the conference. Coming off a 2022 Achilles injury, it was all impressive stuff.
Adisa Isaac can get to the QB in a HURRY, and bring the BOOM when doing sopic.twitter.com/KVxtX1SIKo
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) July 31, 2023
18. JJ McCarthy, QB, Michigan
Our Top 25 has a strong bias toward what we have actually seen rather than what we might see. “Could be” a top 10 player doesn’t mean he automatically is.
So even though Jim Harbaugh is getting Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen vibes from his quarterback, the general public has yet to see that version of McCarthy unleashed.
But we might this year. This should easily be Harbaugh’s most balanced offense at Michigan — and it’s because McCarthy is up to the task.
Jim Harbaugh is confident JJ McCarthy can handle the comparisons he made to Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes.
“There's a 'locked and loaded' sense about him, especially when there's more heat on him,” he said. pic.twitter.com/yhkq2G8J17
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) August 3, 2023
17. Nicholas Singleton, RB, Penn State
Carter wasn’t the only freshman chopping it up at Penn State last season.
Despite ranking second on his own team in carries to fellow freshman Kaytron Allen, Singleton finished 5th in the B1G with 1,061 rushing yards and 2nd with 6.8 yards per carry. Singleton was also Penn State’s top kickoff returner, averaging nearly 25 yards per return.
He can score from anywhere on the field.
Nicholas Singleton, you are ridiculous. 💥
— Penn State On BTN (@PennStateOnBTN) November 13, 2022
16. Keith Randolph Jr., DL, Illinois
Randolph was one of the anchors for the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense last season, ranking second in the B1G with 13 TFL. He also finished with 5 QB hurries and 4.5 sacks even though stuffing the run is his biggest strength.
The most well-rounded defensive tackle prospect in the 2024 class has to be Illinois DT Keith Randolph pic.twitter.com/mVo3EkugAS
— Joe DeLeone (@joedeleone) July 17, 2023
15. Kalen King, CB, Penn State
Teams who wanted to avoid Joey Porter Jr. last season tried testing King instead. They learned some hard lessons.
King led the B1G with 18 PBU, topping No. 5 overall draft pick Devon Witherspoon. King finished with a flourish, picking off 3 passes in Penn State’s final 5 games. He’s expected to be the first Nittany Lion defensive back ever drafted in the first round.
Kalen King with the diving INT for Penn State at the Rose Bowl‼️
📺: ESPN pic.twitter.com/uiOywV4UE0
— ESPN (@espn) January 2, 2023
14. Jacoby Windmon, OLB, Michigan State
Windmon’s role in the Michigan Stadium tunnel fracas brought an early end to what should have been an exemplary season.
The UNLV transfer led the nation with 6 forced fumbles despite missing the final 4 games due to suspension. He also had 10.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks despite the time off. Which is to say we might have him ranked much too low.
However, pass rushing coach Brandon Jordan left Michigan State for the Seattle Seahawks. He was instrumental in bringing Windmon to East Lansing, and it will be interesting to see how his protege fares without him.
Jacoby Windmon (@JW1NDMON) already has 6️⃣ forced fumbles.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 16, 2022
13. Maema Njongmeta, ILB, Wisconsin
2022 was a down year by Wisconsin’s standards, but the Badgers are still growing linebackers. Njongmeta finished 2nd among all B1G inside linebackers with 11.5 TFL last year. He finished 5th in the conference with 95 tackles.
Luke Fickell is switching the Badgers to a 3-3-5 base defense, and Njongmeta will play a big role in whether it succeeds.
— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) June 21, 2023
12. Chop Robinson, DE, Penn State
Greg Schiano and Mel Tucker have both adopted “Keep chopping” as program mottos, but only James Franklin has a player who can turn the metaphor into reality.
Robinson was a regular presence in opposing backfields last season, finishing with 10 TFL and 5.5 sacks despite missing a game with injury in his first season after transferring from Maryland. Robinson’s pass-rush win rate of 12.1% — the type of stat draftniks love to track — was the best in the FBS last season.
Beware The Chop 🪓
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) May 9, 2023
11. JT Tuimoloau, DE, Ohio State
If Tuimoloau’s performance against Penn State were to happen a handful of times per season, he’d be the No. 1 player on this list. He’d also be in the Hall of Fame.
Tuimoloau had one of the best defensive games in Big Ten history against the Nittany Lions, recording 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown.
That performance represented half of his season sack total, but there is clearly potential to cement himself as an all-time great this season.
JT Tuimoloau's stat line vs. Penn State this past season was INSANE 😮
-PBU that resulted in INTpic.twitter.com/7zx0yCAo9d
— 247Sports (@247Sports) July 19, 2023
10. Kris Jenkins, DT, Michigan
If you thought Jim Harbaugh’s praise of JJ McCarthy is over the top, he has the following to say about Kris Jenkins: “He’s the mutant of all mutants.”
Jenkins’ presence in the middle allowed his teammates to create plenty of havoc around him, and he added 54 tackles and 3.5 TFL of his own to that mix. He added 15 pounds of bulk this offseason, and many foresee Jenkins as the first Wolverine getting drafted in what could be a record-setting NFL Draft for Michigan.
Michigan DT Kris Jenkins Jr. (6-3, 300 — as of spring). Covers a lot of ground inside and has been very quick, and a problem, off the ball for a bit.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) May 2, 2023
9. Cooper DeJean, CB, Iowa
A classic Phil Parker-trained Hawkeye ballhawk.
DeJean is a cornerback by trade, but he’s played every position in Iowa’s secondary. He led Iowa with 5 interceptions last year, 3 of which he returned for house calls. DeJean is also a potent return man, averaging 16.5 yards per punt return.
But he’s not just a speed guy. He’s also strong in run support. Frequently playing downhill, DeJean had 75 tackles last year and could be a starting safety at the next level.
COOPER DEJEAN CROSS COUNTRY PICK 6! pic.twitter.com/7ol7nLY35N
— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) September 24, 2022
8. Braelon Allen, RB, Wisconsin
If you’re thinking Wisconsin’s move to bring in quarterback Tanner Mordecai and adjust to an up-tempo attack is going to diminish Allen’s role in this offense, think again. There’s a chance this will be his best season yet because there’s actually a possibility of other players getting the ball now.
Allen faced an 8-man box 268(!) times last season and still managed to gain 1,242 yards with 11 touchdowns. He’s a dark horse Heisman candidate, which means his spot on this list might be laughable come December.
Braelon Allen with the longest touchdown run in #Badgers history.
Age: 18 pic.twitter.com/FmspL0QunC
— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) September 4, 2022
7. Tommy Eichenberg, LB, Ohio State
Eichenberg is the type of linebacker who gives you those classic Chris Spielman/Andy Katzenmoyer/AJ Hawk kind of vibes in Columbus.
Given his position, he’s the probable favorite for Big Ten defensive player of the year. Eichenberg finished 3rd in the B1G with 9.2 tackles per game, and his 77 solo stops were the most for an Ohio State defender since Ryan Shazier in 2013 — pretty good company.
Eichenberg’s 12 TFL were the most for a Big Ten inside linebacker last season. If the Bucks snap their 2-game losing streak to Michigan, you can bet on Eichenberg playing a significant role.
Starting LB Tommy Eichenberg
2022 First-Team All-Big Tenpic.twitter.com/lCgwvdz0zy
— Mr. Ohio (@MrOH1O) July 14, 2023
6. Emeka Egbuka, WR, Ohio State
Why is it that Ohio State is a Playoff contender despite breaking in a new starting quarterback this year?
Because the Buckeyes have the 2 best wide receivers in the Big Ten — and it’s quite possible both will be among the 3 finalists for the Biletnikoff Award.
Egbuka finished 3rd in the B1G in both receiving yards (1,151) and touchdown receptions (10) in 2022. Egbuka’s 5 receptions of 40 yards or more rated 2nd in the conference. The Buckeyes will have no trouble breaking out the deep ball this year.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 22, 2022
5. Zak Zinter, OG, Michigan
We haven’t forgotten the big fellas up front. The Big Ten’s best offensive linemen are truly that elite.
Zinter projected as a Round 2 or 3 NFL Draft pick, but elected to run it back as Michigan attempts to win the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s most outstanding offensive line for the 3rd straight season.
Michigan OG Zak Zinter being good at football pic.twitter.com/yPBi1pDaWE
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) August 1, 2023
4. Jer’Zhan Newton, DT, Illinois
Jer’Zhan “Johnny” Newton was a second team all-American last season and seems certain to elevate that status in 2023. Newton is arguably the best interior pass rusher in the country, finishing with 5.5 sacks and a whopping 11 QB hurries last year. He and linemate Keith Randolph tied for 2nd in the conference with 13 TFL apiece.
Newton is the face of an Illinois defense that should again be one of the nation’s best.
Huge play by Johnny Newton. Gets a push and gets his hands on the ball to create an incompletion. Creates 2 and 10 which eventually leads to a 3rd and long and then 4th down. pic.twitter.com/vNv7PL5DLD
— Illinois Football Focus (@IlliniFB) November 19, 2022
3. Olu Fashanu, OT, Penn State
Fashanu shouldn’t be on this list — he should already be in the NFL. He was an all-but-certain first-round prospect, but elected to come back to Happy Valley for 1 more year. And the Nittany Lions will certainly be grateful to have him protecting the blind side for prized new starting quarterback Drew Allar. Fashanu has yet to allow a sack as a starter.
Fashanu missed the last 5 games of last season due to injuries, which in part accounted for his desire to come back.
Penn State LT Olu Fashanu has one of the best pass blocking profiles we’ve seen since PFF started collecting college data in 2014.
Question is going to be run game development, but he’s only played 622 career snaps heading into 2023
— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) August 6, 2023
2. Blake Corum, RB, Michigan
Corum was the top vote-getter among running backs in last year’s Heisman race, finishing 7th. And had he not gotten hurt against Illinois in the penultimate game of the regular season, it seems quite unlikely that the Wolverines would have dropped their CFP semifinal against TCU. Michigan’s goal-line play-calling got too cute in situations where the answer had been “give it to Corum” all season.
Corum finished 3rd in the B1G with 121.9 yards per game and 2nd with 18 rushing touchdowns. You know Jim Harbaugh wants to get him to New York City if possible.
Terrific vision and feel from Michigan RB Blake Corum on this run. pic.twitter.com/16RNUogSNS
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) July 29, 2023
1. Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State
Ohio State’s become synonymous with having the best wide receivers in the country. And Marvin Harrison Jr. may be the best they’ve ever had.
His palette is unlimited — jump balls, 1-handed grabs, elite route-running, nimble footwork on the sidelines, blazing speed.
Harrison led the B1G with 16.4 yards per catch last year, which is somewhat amazing given the volume. He was 3rd in the league with 77 receptions. His 14 touchdown receptions led the B1G. And all of that was as a sophomore.
It was tough cutting 15-20 worthy names from inclusion on this list. But it wasn’t much of a challenge deciding who is No. 1.
Marvin Harrison Jr is the best Wide Receiver in College Footballpic.twitter.com/K9j3kHVv4y
— Mr. Ohio (@MrOH1O) August 3, 2023