Miles Sanders has the colossal task of trying to replace Saquon Barkley's production for Penn State
For the second straight season, more than a dozen Big Ten players declared early for the NFL draft. While there are some significant losses among the 13 departures, including the conference’s offensive player, defensive back and wide receiver of the year, it could have been worse.
Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards, Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson and Ohio State defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones, each an All-Big Ten honoree this past season, all decided to return.
So who did leave early and who will replace them in 2018? As you can see below, some schools have some rather large shoes to fill at key positions.
1. Penn State
Gone: Saquon Barkely, RB
The consensus All-American and two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year was more than just one of the nation's top running backs. He also finished second in the FBS in all-purpose yards (179.2 ypg) and fourth in total touchdowns (23).
In: Miles Sanders, rising junior
The No. 1 running back recruit in the class of 2016 according to several outlets, Sanders will finally get a chance to shine. The Pittsburgh native was third on the team with 191 rushing yards on just 31 carries (6.2 ypc) and also scored twice on the ground for the Nittany Lions this past season.
Gone: Josh Jackson, CB
Another consensus All-American, Jackson was a Thorpe Award finalist and the Big Ten's defensive back of the year. The nation’s interceptions leader with eight, Jackson returned two of those picks for touchdowns.
Matt Hankins is expected to start at one corner spot after putting together a solid season as a true freshman. Who will line up on the other side is anyone’s guess at this point. Candidates include veterans Manny Rugamba and Michael Ojemudia, both rising juniors, or a trio of redshirt freshmen - Trey Creamer, Camron Harrell and Josh Turner.
Gone: DJ Moore, WR
A first-team All-Big Ten selection, Moore not only led the conference in receptions (80) and receiving yards (1,033), he also averaged more than 10 yards per punt return. He was a big part of the Terrapins’ offense and finished sixth in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (91.2 ypg).
In: Rayshad Lewis, transfer
Including Moore, the Terrapins are losing three of their top four wide receivers from 2017. This means the opportunity is there for someone to emerge at the position, which is where Lewis comes in. The son of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, Rayshad transferred back home after playing 12 games as a true freshman for Utah State in 2016 and will have three years of eligibility remaining. Senior Jahrvis Davenport (13 catches for 123 yards in 2017) also is a candidate to take a step forward in 2018.
Gone: Simmie Cobbs Jr., WR
The other first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver, Cobbs led the Hoosiers with 72 catches for 841 yards and eight touchdowns. Even though he missed all of 2016 because of an ankle injury (suspended for the first game, then got hurt early in the second), Cobbs finished his career at Indiana with nearly 2,000 receiving yards, averaging more than 14 yards per catch.
In: Nick Westbrook, returning from injury
Indiana has the luxury of welcoming back Westbrook (right), the team’s leading receiver in 2016. Westbrook tore his ACL on the opening kickoff this past season but should be ready to go by fall camp, if not sooner. Two seasons ago, Westbrook finished second in the Big Ten with 995 receiving yards on just 54 catches (18.4 ypc) as a sophomore.
Gone: Nick Nelson, CB
The Hawaii transfer made the most of his one season with the Badgers, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors after replacing four-year starter Sojourn Shelton. Nelson led the nation with 21 pass breakups and also returned a punt for a touchdown against Michigan.
In: Dontye Carriere-Williams, rising sophomore
The redshirt freshman made four starts when Wisconsin opted for five defensive backs, so he has experience. He recorded one interception and was credited with six pass breakups while playing in all 14 games. Madison Cone could be an option as well after seeing action in nine games as a true freshman.
6. Ohio State
Gone: Sam Hubbard, DE
On a loaded Buckeyes defensive front, Hubbard did enough to earn second-team All-Big Ten recognition. He tied for second on the team with seven sacks and was second with 13.5 tackles for a loss.
In: Chase Young, rising sophomore
Ohio State's defensive line cupboard is far from bare with All-American Nick Bosa leading the way and Dre'Mont Jones returning for his junior season. But Sam Hubbard's departure and the graduation of Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes present an opportunity for increased playing time for others. Young, one of the top prospects in Ohio State's 2017 recruiting class, seems like a solid candidate to move up the depth chart after registering 3.5 sacks in 10 games as a true freshman.
7. Ohio State
Gone: Denzel Ward, CB
The Buckeyes' defensive back pipeline to the NFL will continue with Ward, a second-team All-Big Ten honoree this past season. Ward led the Buckeyes with 15 pass breakups, recorded two interceptions and blocked two kicks on special teams.
In: Kendall Sheffield, rising redshirt junior
A junior college transfer from Blinn (Texas) College who started his career at Alabama, Sheffield made two starts while playing in all 14 games in his first season with the Buckeyes. He contributed in a number of ways, including nine pass breakups, forcing a fumble and recovering one. Jeffrey Okudah, the gem of Ohio State’s loaded 2017 recruiting class, also could state his case with a strong showing in spring practice.
8. Ohio State
Gone: Jerome Baker, LB
A two-year starter, Baker was the team's leading tackler (72) in 2017 and ranked fourth in both sacks (3.5) and tackles for a loss (8.0). He also had two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Baker’s leadership in the middle of the Buckeyes' defense will be missed as much as his production.
In: Malik Harrison, rising junior
Tuf Borland established himself as Ohio State's next star at linebacker, but he'll man the middle and will need help on the outside with the departures of Jerome Baker and Chris Worley. Dante Booker will likely get one of the two spots, leaving Harrison as the likely candidate to replace Baker. Harrison collected two sacks and three tackles for a loss while playing in all 14 games this past season. Keandre Jones, another rising junior, could work his way into the discussion as well.
Gone: Tanner Lee, QB
Lee's somewhat surprising decision to leave early only adds to the intrigue surrounding the quarterback position for the Cornhuskers. Lee finished second in the Big Ten in passing with 3,143 yards and has the size (6-4, 220) and strong arm that NFL scouts like in quarterbacks.
Scott Frost's return to Nebraska as head coach means big changes are in store for the Cornhuskers' offense. One of the first things Frost needs to do is identify his quarterback. Patrick O'Brien has the most experience, but he and Tristan Gebbia, one of the top prospects in the 2017 class, don’t exactly fit the mold of the dual-threat quarterbacks that have thrived in Frost's system. That leaves incoming freshman Adrian Martinez from Fresno, California, as a potential viable candidate to emerge as the starter by the fall. This will be one of the more intriguing quarterback competitions to monitor this spring and throughout the summer.
Gone: James Daniels, C
A two-year starter, Daniels was part of a Hawkeyes offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award in 2016 as the nation’s top group. Daniels made 25 starts in his Iowa career.
In: Keegan Render, rising redshirt senior
Render could slide over from guard to center and is one of three offensive linemen returning from the group that started in Iowa’s Pinstripe Bowl victory over Boston College. He has 20 career starts to his credit, including one at center. Another name to watch is rising redshirt sophomore Cole Banwart, who saw action in two games this past season.