It’s Big Ten preview week and here is a look at the five best position groups in the conference heading into the season.
1. OHIO STATE RECEIVERS
This is one of the easiest choices you can find. There’s an argument to be made that this is the best position group in the entire country. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are both No. 1 options and likely first-rounders. They have complementary skillsets with Olave being more of a burner and Wilson a better possession, 50-50 ball receiver, but both guys can do it all. Jaxson Smith-Njigba would be the top receiver on most other teams in the whole conference, and they’ve got a pair of highly-touted true freshmen in Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. Egbuka was the top receiver prospect in the 2021 class, and Harrison turned a lot of heads in spring ball as an early enrollee. Nobody can match the high end talent and depth of this group.
2. IOWA OFFENSIVE LINE
It always starts up front for the Hawkeyes, and this season is no different. Despite losing Alaric Jackson to the draft, they bring back the rest of the line led by center Tyler Linderbaum. The All-American interior lineman is hands-down the best in the game right now, and the stats bear that out – he was PFF’s top-graded center in all of college last year. He’s got two really good tackles in Jack Plumb and Cody Ince (who kicks out from guard last season) to go along with guard Kyler Schott as the other three returning starters. Redshirt sophomore Justin Britt looks like the other starter at guard but, no matter who it is, the Hawkeyes are sure to have a menacing front yet again.
3. INDIANA DEFENSIVE BACKS
Almost the entire two-deep returns for a Hoosiers defensive back unit that was among the best in the country last season. Led led by cornerbacks Tiawan Mullen, Jaylin Williams and Reese Taylor they were ranked No. 10 in the country as a unit by PFF last season and they’ve got talent and depth. Safeties Devon Miller and Raheem Layne are also both back from last season’s squad. There are simply no holes in this group.
4. WISCONSIN LINEBACKERS
Jack Sanborn and Leo Chenal are as good a middle-linebacker pairing as you’ll find in the Big Ten. Sanborn has led the Badgers in tackles for the past two years and is on every award watchlist you can name, while Chenal is an absolute physical monster, and they’ve got a very reliable backup in Mike Maskalunas behind them. Outside, Nick Herbig will look to build on a huge freshman season that saw him emerge as one of the best pass rushers in the conference. Sixth-year senior Noah Burks lines up opposite of him, but don’t be surprised to see big plays from former four-star Spencer Lytle and true freshman T.J. Bollers.
5. OHIO STATE DEFENSIVE LINE
Even though there’s no headliner on this team like we’ve seen in years past with guys like Chase Young and the Bosa brothers, make no mistake, this year’s group will still be able to get after the quarterback. Defensive ends Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith are both proven commodities who have gotten better each year on campus. Smith especially broke out in 2020, finishing No. 4 in PFF’s pass rush grading last year. On the interior, Haskell Garrett has shown that he’s a true disruptor from the defensive tackle position. And don’t forget about five-star true freshman Jack Sawyer – he’s poised to be a contributor on passing downs early on in his career.