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25 Key Big Ten Players Returning From Injury in 2017

Jack Cichy

Jack Cichy

Injuries are an unfortunate part of any college football season and usually take a toll on every FBS team by the end of the year. Several key players were hit by the injury bug in 2016, including a handful of big names from the Big Ten. Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy, Indiana receiver Simmie Cobbs, Michigan offensive lineman Grant Newsome and Illinois wide receiver Mike Dudek are just a few of the top players returning from injury into Big Ten action this fall. 

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Additionally, Michigan State cornerback Vayante Copeland, Iowa receiver Matt VandeBerg, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Orr and Rutgers receiver Janarion Grant are just a few of the other key players slated to return to action in 2017.

25 Key Big Ten Players Returning From Injury in 2017

Dante Booker, LB, Ohio State

Booker opened the year as Ohio State’s starter at weakside linebacker, but his 2016 season was derailed due to a knee injury. After recording two tackles in the opener, Booker did not record a stat the rest of the season and was credited with just two game appearances by Ohio State. He should return as a key contributor for the linebacker unit in 2017.

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Jack Cichy/Chris Orr, LB, Wisconsin

With T.J. Watt off to the NFL and Vince Biegel out of eligibility, Wisconsin needs a few reinforcements at linebacker. The good news for the Badgers? Two standouts are back from injury. Cichy recorded eight tackles for a loss and five sacks in 2015 but was limited to seven games due to injury in 2016. Orr was lost for the year in the opener against LSU and should build off a promising freshman campaign (46 tackles in 2015).

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Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana

Cobbs ranked as one of the Big Ten’s top receivers in 2015, catching 60 passes for 1,035 yards and three touchdowns. However, Cobbs wasn’t able to make an impact in 2016 after an ankle injury suffered in Week 2 against Ball State. His return is critical with Indiana losing two out of its top three receivers from 2016.

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Vayante Copeland, CB, Michigan State

Copeland started in five of Michigan State’s first seven games and recorded 36 tackles and two passes. However, Copeland’s season was cut short by a foot injury in late October. He returns as a key cog in Michigan State’s secondary in 2017.

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Chayce Crouch, QB, Illinois

The Fighting Illini offense was forced to start three different quarterbacks due to injury in 2016. Crouch replaced Wes Lunt after an injury and completed 18 of 32 passes for 249 yards and one score and added 176 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in four appearances. However, Crouch suffered a season-ending injury in mid-October. He will compete with junior college transfer Dwayne Lawson and Jeff George Jr. for the starting job this spring.

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Mike Dudek, WR, Illinois

Dudek emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top receivers in 2014 but missed the last two seasons due to knee injuries. In 13 games as a true freshman in 2014, Dudek caught 76 passes for 1,038 yards and six touchdowns. His return to the lineup would provide a much-needed boost to the supporting cast for Illinois’ offense in 2017.

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Dennis Finley, OL, Michigan State

Finley emerged as a starting lineman for Michigan State in 2015 but a serious leg injury sidelined him in early October. While the Detroit native couldn’t return to the starting lineup in 2016, he did manage to play in one game (Rutgers) in late November. If Finley is back at full strength, that’s a boost to a Michigan State offensive line that allowed 22 sacks in Big Ten games in 2016.

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Rafael Gaglianone, K, Wisconsin

Gaglianone has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top kickers over the last three years and should push for all-conference honors in 2017. Despite connecting on seven of his first eight attempts, Gaglianone was sidelined after Week 3 due to an injury. He’s connected on 44 of 57 attempts in his career.

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Janarion Grant, WR, Rutgers

Rutgers averaged only 138.3 passing yards per game last season, but there’s hope for improvement in 2017 under new coordinator Jerry Kill. The offense also regains the services of its best receiver. Grant caught 20 passes for 210 yards through the first four games of 2016 but was sidelined the rest of the season due to injury.

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J-Shun Harris II, WR, Indiana

Harris was an impact player for Indiana’s offense in 2014, catching 18 passes for 168 yards and two scores as a true freshman. However, Harris has missed the last two years due to knee injuries.

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Justin Hilliard, LB, Ohio State

Hilliard ranked as one of the nation’s top linebacker recruits in the 2015 signing class and took a redshirt year in his first season on campus. The Cincinnati native worked his way into a backup role in 2016 and accumulated four stops through the first three games. After missing the rest of 2016 due to injury Hilliard should compete for snaps in a reserve role once again.

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Taivon Jacobs, WR, Maryland

Jacobs ranked third on the team in 2015 with 21 catches for 264 yards and two touchdowns. The Maryland native missed 2016 due to injury but is slated to return to the lineup in 2017.

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Drake Johnson, RB, Michigan

Michigan’s crowded backfield could have another name to watch if Johnson returns for 2017. After finishing second on the team with 271 yards and four scores in 2015, Johnson missed 2016 due to a hamstring injury.

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Brandon Knight, OL, Indiana

Indiana’s offensive line has a few huge voids to fill this offseason. Not only is this unit losing standout guard Dan Feeney, but the coach for this group (Greg Frey) is headed to Michigan. Knight played in eight games (with six starts) but missed the rest of the year due to an injury.