Anyone who is a fan of the draft, the NFL or college football has certainly heard the name ‘Bosa’. Joey Bosa has made waves across all levels of the sport and it’s now younger brother Nick’s turn. As Big Ten Edge Defenders go, he’s the cream of the crop. But there’s several additional talented pass rushers who call the Big Ten Conference home. How do they stack up? Here’s an early look.
With a full season left to play, plenty can (and will) change for these Big Ten Edge Defenders and their resumes for the next level. Some may not even enter the 2019 NFL Draft prospect pool, as several have more than one remaining year of eligibility. But as things stand entering the season, here are the five best draft eligible Big Ten Edge Defenders.
1. Nick Bosa, Ohio State
As if this could be anyone else. Bosa isn’t just the best Big Ten Edge Defender, he’s the best player in the conference. I would go as far as to argue he’s the best player in the country.
So it’s no surprise to find his name atop this list. Power? Check. Explosiveness? Check. Football IQ? Check. Pass rush counters? Check. It’s all there for the younger Bosa, whose primary challenge this season is to make it through the season without incident.
Perhaps it’s worth nitpicking to point out that Bosa hasn’t had a monster season from a sacks perspective, but there where a whole lot of mouths to feed on that Buckeye defensive front last year. As the elder statesman, Bosa should find plenty of production in 2018.
Needs to improve: Anticipation vs. zone read isolation
2. Anthony Nelson, Iowa
Nelson isn’t in Bosa’s stratosphere, but he is one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve uncovered on film this summer.
Nelson, at 6-foot-7 and 271 pounds, looks exactly what one would expect an NFL defensive end to look like. With heavy hands, Nelson packs a punch, too. It’s difficult to get Nelson uprooted off of the line of scrimmage in head up situations, resulting in him being effective setting the edge at the line of scrimmage.
But Nelson surprisingly offers a good deal of rush skills as well, he shows refined hand counters to soften angles and pairs it with a potent bull rush to collapse finesse tackles.
Needs to improve: Lean on the outside to flatten/turn the corner
3. Chase Winovich, Michigan
This year’s poster child for “motor”, Winovich wins a lot of reps by simply out-working his opposition. With his trademark golden mane flowing from beneath his helmet, it’s difficult to miss Winovich on film as he flied up and down the field.
In a perfect world, Winovich would be a touch more explosive, a touch longer and a touch looser. But alas, his film doesn’t illustrate any particular amount of any of those three traits. As a result, Winovich doesn’t have the ceiling of those listed above him on this list.
Needs to improve: Power in the hands
4. Shareef Miller, Penn State
Shareef Miller has some exciting physical ability, most prominently his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. But there’s not enough depth to Miller’s game to feel he’s more than a developmental player unless he shows notable growth in 2018. With teammate and fellow defensive end Ryan Bucholz announcing his retirement this summer, pressure falls on Miller to deliver as the team’s primary pass rusher.
Miller has the athleticism to be a handful off the edge, yet he needs to play more effectively with his hands in both pass and run situations.
Needs to improve: Functional strength
5. Kenny Willekes, Michigan State
Willekes locks down the fifth spot on this list because Ohio State sophomore DE Chase Young won’t be draft eligible this season. In Willekes, the Spartans have a tough player who won a lot of reps, like Winovich, with secondary effort and hustle.
Willekes isn’t quite as physically stout as Winovich, nor does he have any premiere pass rush counters that he can hit with consistency. But he’s a high production player who is capable of stressing linemen with his athleticism as a stunt defender and has the needed mobility to protect the edge.
Needs to improve: Polish