The 14 teams in the Big Ten rarely recruit a hefty number of junior college prospects each season, but there are a handful of names joining the conference expected to make an impact in 2017. Ohio State lost three key members from its 2016 secondary, and former Alabama cornerback Kendall Sheffield should compete for a starting job after a year in the junior college ranks. Andrew Van Ginkel is expected to push for significant snaps as a hybrid edge rusher in Wisconsin’s 3-4 scheme, while Purdue inked five junior college prospects in coach Jeff Brohm’s first class in West Lafayette.
Which junior college recruits could have the biggest impact on the Big Ten in 2017? Here are 15 players to watch this offseason:
15 JUCO Transfers to Watch in the Big Ten for 2017
Ryan Brand, QB, Maryland
North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson, sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and freshman Kasim Hill are considered the favorites to start at quarterback for the Terrapins in 2017. However, Brand is also a name to watch this offseason, as the former Air Force quarterback landed in College Park after a season at the College of San Mateo. The Detroit native threw for 918 yards and nine scores in his only year at San Mateo.
Related: Early Big Ten Predictions for 2017
Kai Higgins, DE, Purdue
Purdue inked a Big Ten-high five junior college recruits in the 2017 signing class. The additions from the junior college ranks are key for new coach Jeff Brohm and the program’s hopes of generating quick improvement this fall. Higgins played one season at Chaffey College and recorded 25 stops with three sacks in nine appearances. He will have three years of eligibility with the Boilermakers.
T.J. Jallow, CB, Purdue
Jallow is the highest-rated of the five junior college prospects inked by Purdue on National Signing Day. The Mississippi native ranked as the No. 56 junior college prospect by the 247Sports Composite and was a four-star recruit by ESPN. Jallow had a standout 2016 campaign at East Mississippi Community College, recording 43 stops and seven pass breakups.
Mike McGinnis, LB, Indiana
Indiana returns one of the Big Ten’s top linebackers in Tegray Scales, but this unit was hit with a surprise departure after Marcus Oliver left early for the NFL. McGinnis should have a chance to crack the two-deep this offseason, as the New Jersey native joins the team after a standout career at ASA College. McGinnis recorded 91 tackles (18 for a loss), three forced fumbles, one interception and 2.5 sacks in 2016. He’s rated as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Neil McLaurin, QB, Minnesota
Replacing Mitch Leidner at quarterback is one of Minnesota’s biggest offseason question marks for new coach P.J. Fleck. Former walk-on Conor Rhoda (8 of 16) is the most-experienced option, but redshirt freshman Seth Green and junior Demry Croft return for 2017. McLaurin committed to Minnesota under former coach Tracy Claeys and enrolled in time to compete during spring practice. The Mississippi native threw for 964 yards (52.8%) and eight scores and added 440 yards and six touchdowns in 2016 at Southwest Mississippi Community College. McLaurin ranked as a three-star prospect and the No. 172 junior college recruit in the 247Sports Composite.
Del’Shawn Phillips, LB, Illinois
Lovie Smith’s defense has several voids to fill in the front seven after the departures of standout linemen Dawuane Smoot, Carroll Phillips and Chunky Clements, along with linebacker Hardy Nickerson. Phillips should be an impact addition for Smith, as the Michigan native should push for a starting job at linebacker this offseason. Phillips originally started his career at Western Michigan and ended up at Garden City Community College for two years. In 2016, Phillips recorded 95 stops (12.5 for a loss), two sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions.
Kendall Sheffield, CB, Ohio State
Sheffield ranked as the No. 2 defensive player from the junior college ranks in the 247Sports Composite. The Texas native started his career at Alabama in 2015 and is back at the FBS level after one season at Blinn College. During his only year at the junior college level, Sheffield recorded 31 stops, two interceptions and 11 pass breakups. Sheffield fills an immediate need for Ohio State after the departures of cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley early to the NFL.
Royal Silver, DT, Minnesota
Minnesota’s line needs a few reinforcements for 2017 with the departure of Hendrick Ekpe (28 tackles) and Scott Ekpe (17 tackles). Tackle Steven Richardson should push for All-Big Ten honors next year, but this unit needs more depth and help off the edges and on the interior. Silver should help plug some of the gaps in the middle, as the 285-pound lineman heads to Minneapolis after two years at Iowa Western Community College. In 2016, Silver recorded 63 tackles (11 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. He’s rated as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Ethan Smart, OL, Purdue
Center Kirk Barron and tackle Matt McCann headline the options for new coach Jeff Brohm in the trenches, but there are significant voids to fill after guards Jason King and Jordan Roos and tackle Cameron Cermin expired their eligibility. Smart should provide depth or compete for a starting role after transferring in from Northeast Mississippi Community College. He ranked as a three-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite.
Nick Underwood, LB, Maryland
Maryland’s linebacker corps already has one of the Big Ten’s top defenders in Jermaine Carter (110 stops in 2016), and this group should have some additional help from Underwood in 2017. The Oregon native started his collegiate career at Air Force before spending 2016 at Riverside Community College. Underwood collected 71 stops (11.5 for a loss), two interceptions and recovered four fumbles in 11 game at Riverside last year.
Andrew Van Ginkel, LB, Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s defense has to retool its linebacker unit under new coordinator Jim Leonhard after the departures of T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel. This unit will have help in the form of Chris Orr and Jack Cichy returning from injury, along with Van Ginkel’s arrival from the junior college ranks. The Iowa native starred at South Dakota in 2015, recording 18.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He transferred to Iowa Western Community College in 2016 and recorded 50 tackles (13.5 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks. Van Ginkel ranked as the No. 25 junior college prospect in the 247Sports Composite and should be a good fit as a hybrid edge rusher for the Badgers.
Haydon Whitehead, P, Indiana
Whitehead isn’t transferring in from a junior college, but he’s a noteworthy addition for Indiana. The Australia native joins the team after participating at Prokick Australia and is a former Australian Rules Football player. Whitehead should compete to be Indiana’s starting punter in 2017.
Alex Woods, DB, Maryland
Maryland’s secondary will have a couple of new faces after the departures of cornerbacks William Likely and Alvin Hill, along with safety Jarrett Ross. Additionally, the status of safety Denzel Conyers is uncertain after he applied for an extra year of eligibility after a season-ending injury in 2016. Even if Conyers returns, Woods should compete for snaps right away this fall. The North Carolina native spent two years at Lackawanna Community College and played in seven games as a freshman in 2015. Woods did not play at the junior college level in 2016. He’s rated as a three-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Terry Wright/Isaac Zico, WR, Purdue
New Purdue coach Jeff Brohm produced some of the nation’s best offenses during his three-year stint at WKU. Assuming the Boilermakers can find a few capable targets for quarterback David Blough, this offense should take a step forward in 2017. Purdue must replace its top four statistical wide receivers from 2016, as tight end Cole Herdman (35 grabs) is the top returning target. Wright and Zico should have an opportunity to make an immediate impact or compete for a starting job this fall. Wright averaged 16.1 yards per catch at Coffeyville Community College in 2016, while Zico grabbed 46 passes for 938 yards at Georgia Military College last fall. Zico ranked as the No. 113 junior college recruit in the 247Sports Composite, while Wright checks in at No. 298.