For pretty much the entire 21st century, the NFL Draft has been the SEC’s eminent domain. The 2023 draft marked the 17th consecutive year that the conference produced the most draft picks.

However, the Big Ten is closing the decades-long gap.

The B1G and SEC each had 9 first-round selections this year. And though the SEC led the way with 62 overall draft picks, the B1G wasn’t far behind with 55 picks. A year ago, the SEC had 65 players drafted to the Big Ten’s 48. That gulf was even wider in 2021, when only 44 Big Ten players were drafted compared to 65 from the SEC.

Based on history alone, it’s likely the SEC will lead the way again in 2024. But at the top of the chain, there could be a changing of the guard. The earliest looks ahead at the 2024 NFL Draft show a very strong possibility that the B1G will have the most players drafted in the first round.

This is all highly speculative, of course.

Football seasons are like dog years — they age quickly. Plenty could change by next April. And it will.

But at the moment, upwards of 20 B1G players flash first-round potential, and half of them (or more) could earn that distinction.

Meanwhile, way-too-early mock drafts have anywhere from 5-9 SEC players projected for the first round. There haven’t been fewer than 7 SEC players drafted in the first round since 2008.

If the Big Ten does break the SEC’s first-round stranglehold next year, expect a combination of the following players to be involved.

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Wide receivers

Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State

It feels set in stone that Harrison will be the first receiver selected in the NFL Draft. The only question is how high he can go. Ja’Marr Chase is the most recent receiver taken in the Top 5, going No. 5 in 2021 — although based on how that’s working out for the Bengals, perhaps it is time for another team to take the plunge.

Emeka Egbuka, Ohio State

Egbuka might not be a generational talent like Harrison is, but he’s certainly among the best receivers in next year’s class. Like Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave in 2022, expect a pair of Ohio State wideouts to get drafted in the first round.

Offensive linemen

Olu Fashanu, Penn State

Fashanu was a potential 2023 first-rounder who elected to come back for another year at Penn State. For now, he appears as the first offensive lineman on the board of most 2024 way-too-early mocks.

Connor Colby, Iowa

The upcoming season is big for Colby, who played right tackle and left guard in 2022. If he projects to a guard at the next level, it’s more likely he’ll dip out of the first round. No interior offensive linemen were drafted in the first round this year, though 4 were taken in 2022 — including Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum.

Defensive ends

JT Tuimoloau, Ohio State

With his masterful performance against Penn State — 6 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown — Tuimoloau showed a level of potential that even a Bosa brother would be challenged to match.

A consistently great season could put him near the top of the board.

Jack Sawyer, Ohio State

Sawyer was used in a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end role last year to mixed results. This season defensive coordinator Jim Knowles plans on having Sawyer stick to keeping his hand in the dirt. If it takes, Sawyer could also play his way into Round 1.

Chop Robinson, Penn State

Robinson is another junior-to-be who has shown moments of dominance that need to be strung together. He finished 7th in the B1G in sacks and 15th in tackles for loss as a sophomore.

Defensive tackles

Michael Hall Jr., Ohio State

Hall will be draft-eligible following his redshirt sophomore season. With only a year of playing experience under his belt, there’s obviously quite a bit we’ve yet to see from Hall. But the fact he tied for Ohio State’s team lead with 7.5 TFL is among the reasons to believe he’ll break out this fall.

Jer‚ÄôZhan ‘Johnny’ Newton, Illinois

The Illini went 11 years between first-round draft picks. Newton is poised to make it back-to-back years that an Illinois defender is selected in the first round. The 2022 All-American likely would have been a first-rounder this year had he been draft-eligible.

Kris Jenkins, Michigan

Like Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. this year, Jenkins is the son of a decorated NFL veteran who figures to get picked somewhere along the Round 1 and Round 2 border next year. And with a great senior season, that could improve.

Cornerbacks

Denzel Burke, Ohio State

Burke is still a bit raw, but he’s a player Ohio State coaches raved about at a higher level than most during spring practices. It will not be a surprise if he plays his way into the first round even though he isn’t there yet.

Cooper DeJean, Iowa

The Hawkeyes had a first-level defender (DE Lukas Van Ness) and second-level defender (MLB Jack Campbell) drafted this year. DeJean could join their company as a first-rounder next year. He’s a versatile defensive back who could become a standout nickel at the next level.

Kalen King, Penn State

Joey Porter Jr. was expected to be the first Nittany Lion defensive back ever drafted in the first round, but maybe King will be the player who earns that distinction. Thanks to teams avoiding Porter, King saw plenty of action his direction and led the B1G with 18 pass breakups. Next season he’ll be the corner that opponents avoid.

Safety

Tyler Nubin, Minnesota

Nubin would have been a third- or fourth-round pick in this year’s draft but elected to come back for his senior season. He’ll definitely have a chance to play his way into Round 2 next year, and maybe even the tail end of the first round.

Running backs

TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State

Are running backs making a comeback? If Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs both succeed this season, it could come back into fashion. Henderson has a chance to be among the first running backs selected, whenever it may be.

Braelon Allen, Wisconsin

Is Allen somehow the best Badgers running back to ever come through Wisconsin’s pipeline? We’ll get a better idea this year. In a typical draft, Allen might be expected to go in the 40s like Jonathan Taylor did in 2020. But again, running back could again become a commodity after this season.

Quarterbacks

JJ McCarthy, Michigan

McCarthy is probably a Day 2 pick at this stage of his career, but he figures to graduate from caretaker to playmaker this fall. If Jim Harbaugh takes off the kid gloves this season and McCarthy excels, he’ll be a first-round pick.

Kyle McCord, Ohio State

Every Ryan Day quarterback at Ohio State has thus far been drafted in the first round, so we cannot dismiss the possibility of McCord joining that group even if he has proven nothing at this point. And of course, it’s much more likely to happen in 2025 than 2024. But given the weapons he’ll be throwing to, McCord could turn out making a meteoric rise as a single-season starter.