Michigan set a school record with 11 players hearing their names called during the three-day 2017 NFL Draft. Ohio State was once again well represented in the draft as well, as Urban Meyer continues to pump out NFL-ready talent in Columbus. In all, 35 Big Ten players were among the 253 players selected.
But now, the page is quickly turning to the 2018 NFL Draft. It figures to be another good one for the Big Ten considering some of the players expected to be on the big boards a year from now.
Here are the top 25 players (in alphabetical order) from the Big Ten that you should expect to see in the draft mix in 2018. Be warned, it could be a big year for the Buckeyes once again.
Brian Allen, OL, Michigan State (Sr., 6-2, 305)
Coming into the 2017 season, Allen is among the top offensive linemen found in the Big Ten. With the ability to play at either guard spot or center, his versatility on the line will be a perk the two-time All-Big Ten honoree brings to the table.
Blessuan Austin, CB, Rutgers (Jr., 6-1, 195)
Austin would be an early entrant to the draft if all goes well in the fall. Considering his level of play already seen in an overmatched program, it is not a stretch to suggest that the player who was second in the Big Ten in passes defended could be ready to take a dip in the draft pool next year.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State (Jr., 5-11, 223)
Penn State’s star running back is drawing plenty of draft hype for 2018, should he decide to leave early. Barkley is being heralded as a potential top-five pick next year, and if he puts on a show as he has done to this point, he could be the first running back off the board.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State (Sr., 6-2, 220)
Barrett may not be among the top quarterback options in the 2018 NFL Draft, but his athleticism could make him a player worth watching closely. If he doesn’t improve his passing accuracy, don’t be shocked if Barrett ends up taking a similar path to Braxton Miller, the former Buckeyes quarterback who is now a wide receiver for the Houston Texans.
Saeed Blacknall, WR, Penn State (Sr., 6-3, 212)
Penn State’s offense is expected to be a well-oiled machine in 2018, and that could benefit Blacknall’s draft stock. The senior should be a fixture in the passing game and could rack up the kind of numbers and production that catches the eye of NFL scouts and talent evaluators.
Jason Cabinda, LB, Penn State (Sr., 6-1, 232)
Cabinda will have to stay healthy this season, but if he does then he should be expected to prove worthy of a draft pick thanks to his consistent play. He won’t dazzle with his speed, so he will have to make up for it with his tackling.
Paris Campbell, WR, Ohio State (Jr., 6-1, 208)
Look for a breakout season from Campbell in Columbus as he is expected to take on a more vital role in the Ohio State offense in 2017. If he proves to be a reliable option for J.T. Barrett, he could quickly move up the draft boards.
Mason Cole, OL, Michigan (Sr., 6-5, 305)
Over the past three seasons, Cole has been a fixture on the Michigan offensive line. He has started 38 straight games for the Wolverines and has shown the ability to play tackle or center. With another year to show what he can do, Cole should feel good about hearing his name called next April.
Rashard Fant, CB, Indiana (Sr., 5-10, 175)
The Big Ten may not be very deep in future NFL defensive backs this fall, but Fant is one player who is expected to go relatively early in next year’s draft. Fant had three interceptions last season for the Hoosiers, one of which he returned for a score.
Troy Fumagali, TE, Wisconsin (Sr., 6-6, 249)
If Penn State’s Mike Gesicki (see below) is not the Big Ten’s first tight end drafted, then it will be Fumagali. The Badgers’ big target caught 47 passes for 580 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season and he will remain a reliable option in the passing game this fall.
Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State (Sr., 6-6, 252)
The Big Ten figures to have two excellent tight ends in the draft next spring. For his part, Gesicki led all Big Ten tight ends last season with 679 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
Janarion Grant, WR, Rutgers (Sr., 5-10, 172)
Rutgers’ top playmaker went down with a broken ankle last season, otherwise he might have been in the draft this year. Once he is back to full speed, Grant should be expected to be a threat to Big Ten opponents this season and will become an intriguing option for NFL teams in need of a receiver or a special teams weapon.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State (Sr., 6-1, 205)
Hamilton will have to be more productive in the scoring department after scoring producing just one touchdown in 2016. With Chris Godwin and his 11 touchdown catches gone, and fellow senior Saeed Blacknall will be the top two receivers on the field, so opportunities will be available.
Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State (Jr., 6-5, 263)
Hubbard is part of a deep, talented Buckeyes defensive line that could see several early departures to the draft after this season. Many are already hyping him not only as Ohio State’s top defensive lineman for the 2018 NFL Draft, but also as a potential top-10 pick.
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan (Sr., 6-2, 282)
Michigan set a school record for draft picks in the this year’s draft, so it’s understandable to expect not nearly as many in 2018. But the talent exodus won’t slow down Hurst, who could have an outside shot of going in the first round with a solid senior season.
Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern (Sr., 5-11, 193)
Saquon Barkley may get the spotlight, but Jackson was the Big Ten’s leading rusher in 2016 and finished second only to Ezekiel Elliott in ‘15. After another 1,400-yard season, it stands to reason Jackson should be ready to fill a position of need for some lucky NFL team in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Chris Jones, CB, Nebraska (Sr., 6-0, 195)
Jones is a player that could move his way up draft boards with a solid 2017 season as the anchor of Nebraska’s secondary. Jones picked off three passes and returned one for a touchdown in 2016 and should be one of Mike Riley’s top performers this fall.
Dre’Mont Jones, DL, Ohio State (Redshirt Sophomore, 6-3, 295)
After redshirting his freshman season Jones was quick to make an impact at a stacked position for the Buckeyes. He finished the 2016 season sixth on the team in tackles and moved into a starting role due to an injury to Tracy Sprinkle. He proved he was worthy of the responsibility then, so there’s no reason to not expect even better things from him as the full-time starter entering this season.
Jamarco Jones, OT, Ohio State (Sr., 6-5, 310)
The All-Big Ten offensive lineman is already a perfect fit for an NFL team and he should only get better with another year in Columbus. Jones is expected to be one of the top offensive linemen prospects in the entire 2018 NFL Draft, and he could move his way into the first round with a strong showing this fall.
Tyquan Lewis, DL, Ohio State (Sr., 6-4, 365)
Among the top defensive linemen in the nation coming into the 2017 season, Lewis will get another opportunity to wreak havoc and make plays under the coaching of position coach Larry Johnson. Lewis led the Buckeyes in sacks as a sophomore in 2015 with eight (on a line that included Joey Bosa) and was named the Big Ten's defensive lineman of the year last season.
Billy Price, C, Ohio State (Sr., 6-4, 312)
Whether you like him at center or guard, Price could be among the Buckeyes hearing their name called early in next year’s draft, at least among offensive linemen. He will have plenty of experience to fall back on and could step into an NFL front line from the start of training camp.
Damon Webb, S, Ohio State (Sr., 5-11, 195)
Webb could benefit from having a little bit of a rebound season after some hiccups in 2016. Teams could throw in his direction at times last season, but if he starts to shut things down on the back end in the fall, then Webb could impress some scouts and improve his draft stock.
Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State (Redshirt Sophomore, 5-10, 214)
Weber would have to join the early entrant pool to be a part of next year’s event, but he already has the look of a solid NFL prospect and could prove his value with another 1,000-yard season with the Buckeyes.
Sean Welsh, OL, Iowa (Sr., 6-3, 295)
The Hawkeyes always seem to have some solid offensive linemen, and Welsh is being hyped as one of the next greats to come out of Iowa City. Not only is he a terrific blocker, but Welsh also can play multiple positions well, which NFL teams love. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz knows offensive linemen and he has not shied away from suggesting Welsh has the potential to be among the best he has ever coached.
Chris Worley, LB, Ohio State (Sr., 6-2, 230)
Ohio State has been pumping out linebacker prospects over the years, and a move to the middle could help Worley continue that tradition. His athleticism will help make up for any concerns about his size.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.