Ohio State's Chase Young could be among several Big Ten defensive linemen to go early in next year's draft
After one of the strongest years for defensive linemen in the NFL draft has been recorded in the books for 2019, the Big Ten could already be preparing for another strong year at the position next year. Some of the top draft prospects to watch from around the conference heading to the 2020 NFL Draft will be lining up at a defensive line position, and Ohio State could once again be the school that has the top linemen on the board.
Ohio State has been a steady contributor to the NFL draft and that shows no signs of slowing down in 2020. The Buckeyes will once again have a load of prospects to watch for various positions in next year's draft. Archrival Michigan should also have a good handful of players heading to the NFL next season as Jim Harbaugh continues to improve the quality of players in Ann Arbor. It is no surprise the list of top prospects will come from those two programs in the coming year, although Wisconsin and Michigan State each have some notable prospects on the board as well.
Here is a list of the top 25 players from the Big Ten to watch for in the 2020 NFL Draft.
1. Chase Young, DE, Ohio State (Jr., 6-5, 265)
One of the true breakout stars for the Ohio State defense last season was Young, who shined in the absence of Nick Bosa. Young now appears destined to follow in Bosa's footsteps this season and be one of the top draft prospects from the Big Ten.
2. A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa (Jr., 6-6, 280)
Just like Young, Epenesa was a bit of a breakout player for the Hawkeyes last season and is on track to be one of the top defensive players in the conference this fall. A drop in stats may be possible this season as opposing teams focus more on him this year, but that will only support the case for Epenesa being one of the top defensive linemen on the bog board.
3. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State (Jr., 5-10, 217)
Dobbins remains one of the top running backs in the Big Ten and should be more of a focal point of the Buckeyes offense this year. Although he had a productive 1,000-yard season in 2018, Dobbins was a supporting player to quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Expect head coach Ryan Day to build more on the running game this season and for Dobbins to benefit from it.
4. Tyler Biadasz, C, Wisconsin (Jr., 6-3, 318)
Wisconsin's production line of offensive linemen shows no end in sight, and Biadasz continues to lead the way in Madison. Able to play a couple of positions, Biadasz will provide a nice boost to any team in need of help up front.
5. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin (Jr., 5-11, 219)
Taylor is entering his junior season and he should once again rack up major yardage behind the Wisconsin offensive line. The only concern NFL teams may have about Taylor is whether or not he can protect the football better this season. The wear and tear after the previous two years may be a slight concern as well, but there is no denying Taylor is a steady back.
6. Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State (Jr., 6-5, 265)
After racking up 20 tackles for a loss last season as a sophomore, Gross-Matos is not going to be flying under any radars this season. If he can have similar success this fall, he will add to the depth on the defensive line the Big Ten will once again have to offer NFL franchises next spring.
7. Paddy Fisher, Northwestern, LB (Jr. 6-4, 241)
Among the defensive players draft experts will be watching closely will be Northwestern's leading linebacker. Fisher not only demonstrates solid tackling ability but also brings good leadership to the field.
8. Tarik Black, WR, Michigan (Jr., 6-3, 215)
Black may not have had much of an impact on the Michigan offense just yet, but the expectations are high for him this fall. And NFL draft experts are watching closely and expect him to be one of the top receivers out of the Big Ten, and he could even get into the first round with a good 2019 season.
9. Khaleke Hudson, LB, Michigan (Sr., 6-0, 220)
The Wolverines have one of the most versatile defenders in the conference with Hudson manning the viper position, a role that combines the duties of being a safety, linebacker and pass rusher. Hudson may not be quite a first-round pick at this time, but he should hear his name called on day two at the latest.
10. Thayer Munford, OL, Ohio State (Jr., 6-6, 310)
Ohio State's defensive linemen production has been strong over the years, but Munford will continue to prove the offensive linemen are worth watching as well. The big lineman has the ability to play multiple positions, which NFL teams will love.
11. David Dowell, S, Michigan State (Sr., 6-1, 205)
Michigan State's pass defense may have had some weak spots the last couple of seasons, but Dowell remains one of the stronger assets the Spartans have on their side. A good showing in the fall should keep Dowell in line for a relatively early draft pick in the spring by a team in need of padding the depth in the secondary.
12. Joe Bachie, LB, Michigan State (Sr., 6-2, 238)
Michigan State also has a strong draft prospect at linebacker with Bachie. He recorded 102 tackles in 2018 to prove he knows how to track down a ball carrier and bring him to the ground.
13. Joe Gaziano, DE, Northwestern (Sr., 6-4, 275)
Another defensive prospect to keep an eye on in Evanston is Gaziano, who is quite a handful for opposing offensive linemen in the conference. Gaziano is looking like a possible day two draft pick if everything goes according to plan for the Wildcats this fall.
14. Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan (Sr., 6-2, 205)
A new offensive scheme in Ann Arbor may help Patterson deliver on some of his recruiting hype and potential when he originally committed to Ole Miss. Patterson has been solid doing what he was asked to do last season, but allowing him to open things up will help his draft stock.
15. K.J. Hill, WR, Ohio State (Sr., 6-0, 195)
Hill will be a key player for the Buckeyes this fall. Hill will be the go-to receiver for new Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and will be asked to make some plays that will potentially open things up for J.K. Dobbins on the ground.
16. Jordan Fuller, S, Ohio State (Sr., 6-2, 205)
The Buckeyes are in good shape in the defensive backfield with Fuller at safety. Fuller is probably entering the season as a mid-round draft prospect, but he can quickly rise up the big boards with a strong performance in the fall to help Ohio State to another potential Big Ten title run, and perhaps a spot in the playoff.
17. Kenny Willekes, DE/LB, Michigan State (Sr., 6-4, 262)
Willekes also begins the season as a possible mid-round prospect with plenty of potential to move up the board quickly. Willekes led the Big Ten with 20.5 tackles for a loss in 2018 and will once again pressure quarterbacks this fall.
18. Nate Stanley, QB, Iowa (Sr., 6-4, 243)
Iowa's quarterback opted to return for another season with the Hawkeyes despite a relatively down year for the position in the 2019 NFL Draft. But the wild nature of the draft in 2019 may have proven to be a benefit to Stanley, who now gets another year to improve his stock and prepare himself for next year's draft.
19. Isaiahh Loudermilk, DE, Wisconsin (Jr., 6-7, 307)
Loudermilk has had a few stretches where he hasn't been on the field the past two seasons but the hopes are high for him in 2019. Loudermilk will need a full season proving he can be a leader on the Badgers defense if he is going to rise the in the draft rankings.
20. Nick Westbrook, WR, Indiana (Sr., 6-3, 216)
Indiana's top receiver in 2018 should once again be the main guy in the passing game in '19. If Westbrook is going to elevate himself form a mid-round draft outlook at best, he will need to improve his receiving total and score more than four touchdowns in the fall.
21. Raequan Williams, DT, Michigan State (Sr., 6-4, 298)
Getting any yardage past Williams is a tall order for most players, which is why NFL scouts will like his ability to plug holes in the middle of the line of scrimmage. Williams could probably benefit from a few more sacks and a couple more tackles for a loss, but he is likely to hear his name called during the draft in 2020.
22. Robert Landers, DT, Ohio State (Sr., 6-1, 285)
Yet another Ohio State draft prospect looking to continue the trend of top defensive linemen is Landers. The defensive tackle will look to help create mismatches on the line of scrimmage as opposing linemen try to slow him down along with Chase Young on the end.
23. Lavert Hill, CB, Michigan (Sr., 5-11, 181)
Hill could benefit from a strong season this fall, but he could be the fourth player from Michigan's secondary to be drafted next spring. Hill likely has the most room for improvement compared to his teammates, so keep an eye on him to see if he can show growth to improve his draft outlook.
24. Brian Lewerke, QB, Michigan State (Sr., 6-3, 214)
It may be a weak year for Big Ten quarterbacks overall, and it may not be a given that Lewerke gets drafted by an NFL team next fall. Lewerke will likely be a late-round draft pick at best unless he can improve on his 8:11 touchdown-to-interception ratio from last season.
25. Lorenzo Neal, DT, Purdue (Sr., 6-3, 315)
A defensive lineman with a previous ACL injury means Neal can benefit from having a good steady and healthy 2019 campaign for the Boilermakers. When he’s healthy, he can get a push on the line and cause some problems. Look to see if he can build his stock throughout the fall.
— 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.