The 2022 NFL Draft is setting up to be flooded with terrific talent out of the Big Ten, led by some of the usual names when it comes to the NFL draft. Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State are all about to send off some big-time players to the next level, but some of the best draft picks may be coming out of Iowa or Purdue as well.
And in what is looking to be a unique year with the draft and players returning to use an extra year of eligibility in college, some schools may have an easier time replacing some of the top NFL stars of the future than usual. But there are certainly big shoes to fill around the Big Ten.
And limiting this list to just 10 players that will be the toughest to replace just could not be done. So we took some liberties with this list and paired off a few teammates for a couple of schools because mentioning one without the other just wasn’t fair.
So here are 11 of the toughest players to replace in the Big Ten after the 2022 NFL Draft.
Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
Replacing Michigan's top disruptor on the defensive line is no easy task for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines. Hutchinson was the lifeblood of the Michigan defense and he led the charge up front with 16.5 tackles for a loss during Michigan's Big Ten championship run. His importance can't be overstated and is driven home by the fact that he became just the fourth defensive player to finish second in Heisman Trophy voting.
George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
One of the best defensive prospects to come out of Purdue in recent years has more than left his mark on the defensive line in West Lafayette. Karlaftis had 11.5 tackles for a loss in 2021 and also returned a fumble 56 yards for a touchdown.
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
The best offensive lineman heading to the NFL out of the Big Ten will be coming from Iowa. The Hawkeyes' center was the recipient of this season's Rimington Trophy and has been the anchor in the middle of the Iowa offensive line and should make a smooth transition to the next level. Iowa will have to replace yet another solid offensive lineman, but Kirk Ferentz is used to this routine.
David Bell, WR, Purdue
The Big Ten is sending off a highly-talented group of wide receivers to the NFL. Among them will be Bell, the Boilermakers' dynamic pass catcher. One of two receivers to average more than 100 yards per game in 2021, Bell also led the conference in receiving in 2020 with 104.2 yards per game.
Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, WRs, Ohio State
Ohio State is seeing two potential first-round wide receivers leave for the NFL, which is typically a reason to be concerned for the offense during the offseason. The duo combined for 135 catches and 1,994 yards, to go with a bevy of touchdowns. Wilson tied for second in the Big Ten with 12 touchdown catches despite playing in just 11 games.
Olave was the only player in the Big Ten with more scoring grabs. He had 13 in his senior season even though he sat out the Rose Bowl. Olave should also be a first-round draft pick for a team in need of a receiver early in the draft.
Fortunately for Ohio State, Jaxon Smith-Njigba showed off in the Rose Bowl to end the year as the Big Ten’s leading receiver in both receptions (95) and yards (1,606).
Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Penn State's offense struggled at times during the past two seasons, but Dotson had been the shining light to rely on in Happy Valley. Dotson may be the best pro prospect at wide receiver to come out of Penn State this century, which makes replacing him extra difficult. Quarterback Sean Clifford will have to form a connection with a new go-to receiver in 2022.
David Ojabo, OLB, Michigan
Michigan's defense had an anchor at linebacker with Ojabo, who was used to break through the line of scrimmage on many occasions. Ojabo had 12.0 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson are leaving massive shoes behind.
Arnold Ebiketie, DE, Penn State
Penn State's defense is losing a tremendous amount of talent to the NFL this season, but the departure of Ebiketie may be the toughest one to address. Ebiketie, a transfer from Temple, made his presence known at end with 18 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks.
Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn, LBs, Wisconsin
How do you replace a player with 115 tackles in 11 games? Wisconsin's about to find out. Chenal led the Badgers with 115 tackles during the 2021 season. Wisconsin will also have to replace Sanborn, who led the Badgers in tackles in 2020 and ended the 2021 season with 91 tackles, including 16 for a loss
Chenal appears to have developed the higher draft outlook, but replacing both tacklers in the middle of the defense will be on the to-do list for head coach Paul Chryst and the Badgers.