Big Ten programs continue to turn out some solid NFL talent, and you can expect plenty of those players to go high in the 2020 NFL Draft. A good number of the Big Ten's top players in this year's draft pool are actually diving in a year early, including star running backs Jonathan Taylor and J.K. Dobbins and perhaps the best defensive player on the board: Chase Young.
With so many talented players leaving their respective schools early for a shot at NFL glory, there will be some key positions left to fill around the Big Ten in 2020. The ability to reload at those positions could be the difference between a Big Ten contender and a pretender. Some schools will look to keep things running smoothly with young players getting ready to step up for their shot at a more significant role on the field. Others will rely on more veteran players ready to finally get their chance. And others will hope that incoming recruits or transfers will be able to get the job done this fall.
Here is a look at 10 players around the Big Ten leaving school early for the NFL and which players may be looked to fill their spot this fall.
Gone: Chase Young, DE
Arguably the best defensive player in college football, if not the best player overall, Young was a force to reckon with on the defensive line in 2019. Replacing his Big Ten-leading 16.5 sacks is no easy task, even for a program that has thrived on defensive linemen talent.
In: Zach Harrison, rising sophomore
One likely candidate to take a crack at filing Young’s shoes may be Harrison. The former five-star recruit has big potential to be one of Ohio State’s shining stars on the defensive line the next few years, and he has already shown what he can do with 3.5 sacks in 2019 backing up Young.
Gone: Jonathan Taylor, RB
Like Ohio State, Wisconsin is also looking to replace a 2,000-yard rusher with Jonathan Taylor off to the NFL. Taylor was a workhorse for the Badgers the last three seasons who climbed up the all-time rushing chart with 6,174 career rushing yards and 50 rushing touchdowns. At a school known for running backs, Taylor stood out right from the start.
In: Nakia Watson, rising sophomore
Wisconsin has the option of going with a more veteran option at running back with Garrett Groshek, but keep an eye on the younger Watson becoming a contributor after a solid freshman season running the football. Watson appeared in all 14 games Wisconsin played in 2019 and had the second-most rushing yards on the team (331) and two touchdowns. With Taylor moving on, Watson should be given consideration for the featured back position in the fall.
Gone: J.K. Dobbins, RB
One of Ohio State’s top running backs in program history, according to the school record books, J.K. Dobbins was instrumental in the success of the Buckeyes offense in 2019. The 2,000-yard back scored 21 rushing touchdowns and two more receiving touchdowns as Ohio State’s top offensive player.
In: Master Teague III, redshirt sophomore
The time may have arrived for Teague to become Ohio State’s top running threat. Teague rushed for 789 yards and four touchdowns in 2019, and he is Ohio State’s most experienced rushing option heading into 2020. Ohio State’s running game will be a key position to watch in 2020, but Teague will look to keep things stabilized on the ground.
Gone: Jeff Okudah, CB
Ohio State’s top pass defender has been Okudah, so he will leave some big shoes to fill in 2020. Okudah was a playmaker for the Buckeyes defense with three interceptions and nine pass breakups (and a controversial forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown that was waved off by an instant replay in the Fiesta Bowl).
In: Sevyn Banks, rising junior
Banks was the top backup on the Ohio State depth chart for Okudah in 2019. As such, he appears to be the most likely candidate to take over at the position in the fall. Banks will begin working on proving he belongs as a starter this spring when the Buckeyes get to work on their Big Ten title defense by locking down on pass defense.
Gone: Yetur Gross-Matos, DE
After leading Penn State with 9.5 sacks in 2019, Yetur Gross-Matos decided to strike while the stock was high and declare for the NFL draft. Scouts have taken to his ability to create pressure in the backfield and he could be gone in the first couple of rounds of the draft. That will leave Penn State with a key spot to fill at defensive end in 2020.
In: Jayson Oweh, rising redshirt sophomore
When Gross-Matos missed the regular-season finale due to an injury, Oweh stepped in and showed what he was capable of doing as a starter. Oweh has decent athleticism and talent that will make him a strong threat off of one end of the defensive line in 2020, assuming he wins the starting nod. He will be the top candidate for the job while Shaka Toney returns for his final season of eligibility on the other end of the line.
Gone: KJ Hamler, WR
Penn State loses its top receiving option other than tight end Pat Freiermuth with Hamler moving on to the NFL. The undersized but incredibly speedy receiver was Penn State’s biggest home run threat the last two seasons, so replacing him will not be easy. Hamler could be a good slot receiver in the NFL for the right team.
In: Daniel George, rising redshirt sophomore
Penn State is in need of a young receiver to step up and become a reliable target. One name to watch is George. The former four-star recruit caught nine passes for 100 yards in 2019, and he could be competing for a starting job this year. With a new receivers coach and new offensive coordinator, George will have his chance to make a good first impression with the new coaches in Happy Valley.
Gone: Josiah Scott, CB
Michigan State’s pass defense was led by Scott’s three interceptions and 38 tackles. Clearly, Scott was the best pass defender Michigan State had on the field in 2019, and his decision to turn pro is no real shock considering his potential and the kind of season the Spartans had last fall. It was his time to move on.
In: Kalon Gervin, rising redshirt sophomore
In 2019, Kalon Gervin was Scott’s top backup option on the depth chart, so it would be the most likely scenario to see him rise to the starting job in 2020. Although there could be shuffling around in the secondary with different players, Gervin has shown glimpses of why he should be the next starter in the position Scott leaves vacant. The former four-star recruit has plenty of potential to be a part of the kind of no-fly-zone defense Michigan State wants to embrace again.
Gone: Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR
Michigan is losing one of its top wide receiver targets in Peoples-Jones. The 6-foot-2 wideout saw his numbers go down in his junior year, although he played in two fewer games played compared to the previous season due to injury. Where he will fit in the NFL mix remains to be seen, but Michigan losing an experienced receiving threat leaves a slight question to be answered in 2020.
In: A.J. Henning, incoming freshman
The good news for Michigan is it will return some other key receivers in 2020. Ronnie Bell and Nico Collins are each back after being Michigan’s top two productive receivers in 2019. The Wolverines will also get some new blood with the addition of Henning, a four-star recruit who could slide right into some playing time as a true freshman. Henning was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois in 2019.
Gone: Anthony McFarland Jr. and Javon Leake, RB
Maryland is losing not one, but two of its top running backs from last season with Leake and McFarland each leaving the program. Together, Leake and McFarland combined for 1,350 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns (eight each) for a Maryland offense that started off red-hot and quickly fizzled as the season went on.
In: Jordan Castleberry, transfer from Michigan
Castleberry spent one semester at Michigan before transferring to Maryland in January. Due to NCAA rules, Castleberry will likely have to sit out the entire 2020 season even though he can use the 2019 season as a redshirt season. If he is ruled eligible to play in 2020, then he can step right in and compete for some playing time. If Castleberry is forced to sit the 2020 season, then Tayon Fleet-Davis and Jake Funk could be the next-best options for the Terrapins.
Gone: Josh Uche, LB
Although he still had a year of eligibility to use, Uche will be one more upperclassman leaving Michigan at a key position this season. Uche played in 13 games for the Wolverines in 2019 and might have been a starter in '20 had he made the decision to return. Instead, Michigan will open up the competition for playing time at linebacker just a little bit more in 2020.
In: Michael Barrett, rising junior
The potential breakout star for the Michigan defense just might be Barrett. The Georgia native is supposedly on track to lock down a starting spot at linebacker after performing at a high level on special teams for the Wolverines. With openings at linebacker, Barrett will be given his opportunity to move into a new role on the defense, and expectations are high for his future.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.