This may not come as a real surprise to college football fans across the country but the likes of Ohio State and Michigan are packed to the brim with NFL talent yet again in 2018. The power players in the conference (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin) hold a vast majority of the cards when it comes to players who will be drawing attention to NFL scouts this fall.In surveying the conference, it is currently a great time to reside in the state of Michigan. The Wolverines are a team that returns 17 starters from the previous season (plus adding highly coveted QB Shea Patterson), while Michigan State brings back 19(!) starters from last year’s 10-win squad.
The two inter-state rivals clash in East Lansing on October 20th, one of several premiere showcases of talent the Big Ten can boast in the fall. Expect to see another tightly contested game between the two, where the Wolverines’ star defenders, namely DL Rashan Gary, LB Devin Bush and CB Lavert Hill, clash with Michigan State’s QB Brian Lewerke and RB LJ Scott, amongst others.
This isn’t, of course, to say that the other 7 teams in the conference don’t have their fair share of talent. Iowa City is going to be a hot destination for NFL scouts in 2018, courtesy of elite TE prospect Noah Fant. Fant, who scored 11 touchdowns on 30 receptions in 2017, has an awesome blend of size, speed and explosiveness. He’s even been reported to have a 42+” vertical jump. That number, which would surpass the entire NBA draft class of 2018, with a 6-foot-5 frame which will leave scouts oozing with praise.
The Northwestern Wildcats boast a potential talent on either side of the ball as well. QB Clayton Thorson will gather attention thanks to his NFL build, but the real star for the Wildcats is RS Sophomore LB Paddy Fisher. Fisher, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds while logging 113 total tackles (9.0 tackles for loss) last season, reminds me some of Leighton Vander Esch, the recent 1st-round selection from Boise State in 2018.
Heck, even a team in the midst of a complete rebuild like Nebraska holds an intriguing talent with the physical upside to be drafted in the first few rounds. WR Stanley Morgan Jr. is as quick as a hiccup and at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds could be a player to watch. Put gold stars next to Nebraska’s match-ups at Michigan, at Wisconsin and at Ohio State (tough schedule, Coach Frost!) this year.
There will be some great match-ups with cornerbacks like Michigan’s Hill and Ohio State’s Kendall Sheffield. Morgan Jr. came up just short of 1,000 yards last season (only Panthers 1st-round pick DJ Moore eclipsed that figure receiving in the Big Ten last year), but he did log 10 touchdowns and showed impressive fluidity in the secondary.
Yet at the end of the day, the NFL’s focus on the Big Ten will stay centered on the big boys at the top of the hill. Ohio State offers an elite talent in DE Nick Bosa plus multiple players who could challenge to be top 100 selections (like LB Tuf Borland, CB Kendall Sheffield, DT Dre’Mont Jones and WR Parris Campbell).
The Wolverines have several top 100 candidates in their own right, headlined by the previously mentioned Gary and Hill. RB Karan Higdon is quite the specimen in his own right, netting 6 yards short of 1,000 yards despite playing in nearly a 50/50 timeshare in the Wolverines backfield last season. Expect Ann Arbor to be a regular destination for NFL personnel on the road, there should be weekly updates detailing a long list of pro personnel in attendance for every game the team plays.
Even the powerhouse who was tapped the most by the NFL pipeline this winter, Penn State, brings some notable star power. There’s no Saquon Barkley in this group but WR Juwan Johnson has every physical tool one could ask for in an alpha receiver. Defensively, DE Shareef Miller and CB Amani Oruwariye deserve attention.
In short, if scanning the Big Ten for NFL talent in 2018, it’s best to start with the usual suspects. They won’t disappoint, not by a long shot.