Penn State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and others occasionally step up to take a swing at the vaunted Ohio State Buckeyes but no one has been able to knock them down the mountain. With the Big Ten scheduled to kick off its 2021 season with Nebraska and Illinois on Aug. 28, CBS Sports provides a look at the conference's draft eligible talent:
A two-game study of center Doug Kramer and offensive tackle Vederian Lowe was honestly mixed. The first game was not impressive and Kramer spent a lot of time on the ground. The second game was technically more clean and both displayed NFL caliber plays. In that situation, I often find that the second game watched was later in the season and an example of becoming more comfortable as the season drags on. However, the opposite was true in this particular case. Could they have been battling injuries much like Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis was last season? The context is important and the upcoming season will serve as a bit of a tiebreaker.
Indiana was creating some problems in the Big Ten prior to an injury of quarterback Michel Penix Jr. The Hoosiers should be a relatively experienced team this fall with cornerback Tiawan Mullen serving as the crown jewel on defense. Mullen has gotten a lot of early round buzz. His teammate, senior linebacker Micah McFadden, is one of the more enjoyable players to watch because he moves well and has an instinctual feel for the game.
Two Hawkeyes have been on the radar since performing admirably as true freshmen in 2019. Tight end Sam LaPorta caught 27 passes and averaged 10 yards per reception last season. He projects as one of the top tight end talents available. Center Tyler Linderbaum has been an immovable object at the heart of a unit that has always been Iowa's strength. Early first-round projections have included Linderbaum.
Northern Iowa safety transfer Xavior Williams is a fascinating addition to that defense. Linebacker Jack Campbell is another that could burst onto the scene in 2021.
Offensive tackle Jaelyn Duncan is an impressive looking prospect that progressed over the course of the season. In a surface level study, there were plenty of pros and cons but his ceiling is very high. Wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. has great size. He gets up to speed quickly and is quick into his breaks. The Washington DC native has averaged over 16 yards per reception in his career.
The Terrapins are guided by Alabama quarterback transfer and brother of Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa -- Taulia Tagovailoa.
The Wolverines have a reputation of producing NFL caliber offensive linemen of late from Jalen Mayfield to Michael Onwenu to Cesar Ruiz. Although those levels of talent may not be in the program at this time, offensive tackles Ryan Hayes and Andrew Stueber are worth monitoring. Hayes may have the athletic upside to reach a similar plateau as the aforementioned draft selections whereas Stueber is a bit more limited. He looked much more comfortable moving over to right tackle when Mayfield was out rather than during his action inside.
On the defensive side of the ball, I admittedly have not been a big fan of the development happening along the front seven. Kwity Paye played all of last season in a track stance and his first step was a correction. Indianapolis has obviously worked with him on his pre-snap stance because that is already gone. The changes under former Ravens linebackers coach and new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will be closely observed. Michigan has a couple of really gifted athletes in that unit with defensive tackle Chris Hinton and edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson. The addition of defensive passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale should benefit that group as well. Daxton Hill can line up at safety or over the slot. He is not afraid to mix it up and breaks quickly.
Head coach Mel Tucker says that the quarterback battle rages on with just eight days remaining until the opener against Northwestern. It is difficult to get excited about the prospects of Temple quarterback transfer Anthony Russo for that reason. The quarterback that wins the battle will be surrounded by tantalizing offensive skill talent.
Wake Forest running back transfer Kenneth Walker III caught my eye before he left Winston-Salem so that should be a boost. Wide receivers Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed are both interesting players. Nailor shows quick feet, some nuance to his route-running and an ability to track the football in the air. Reed is a bit more of a Swiss Army knife in the way that the Spartans tried to manufacture touches for him last season.
Offensive tackle Daniel Faalele had his share of supporters last season but he played at a gargantuan 6-foot-9, 380 pounds, which naturally limited his movement. Reports out of Minneapolis suggest that Faalele has slimmed down and could take the leap forward this season. His upside, literally and figuratively, overshadows that of quarterback Tanner Morgan and running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who could be Day 3 choices.
Until Faalele takes the field and shows off his new physique, my favorite player on the Golden Gophers roster is edge rusher Boye Mafe. Mafe is a fluid athlete that plays with maximum effort. He can become more consistent and develop some counter moves but the raw traits are there for him to make an impact at the next level. Minnesota also added Clemson defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney through the transfer portal.
The Cornhuskers lost their most impactful offensive player in the transfer portal -- wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson -- but they did add Montana wide receiver Samori Toure and USC running back Markese Stepp. Nebraska has some defensive players that could intrigue teams on Day 3 of the draft but the prospect with the most upside is incoming Ohio State cornerback transfer Tyreke Johnson, who was the odd man out in Columbus.
Northwestern is riding high after placing not one, but two prospects (offensive tackle Rashawn Slater and cornerback Greg Newsome II) in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Although unlikely, it is not impossible that the Wildcats could achieve the feat for a second consecutive year with cornerback A.J. Hampton and safety Brandon Joseph. Joseph is regarded as one of the nation's top safety prospects after recording six interceptions, including a one-handed interception in the end zone against Ohio State, last season. Hampton is a little more of a stretch but he displayed good speed down the boundary and is willing to fly up and make the Ronde Barber-esque tackle in the flat.
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald recently announced that former No. 2 high school pro-style quarterback, according to the 247Sports Composite, and Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson would start this season over incoming South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski.
Where does one begin in coverage of the Buckeyes? They have NFL talent at every level. The quarterback export might not be as clear as it was a year ago but Ohio State arguably has the deepest room in the country with C.J. Stroud, Kyle McCord and Quinn Ewers all having been top 30 overall recruits in either the 247Sports Composite or 247Sports' Top247. Jack Miller III was also regarded as a four-star recruit. Stroud will earn the starting nod opening day against Minnesota.
Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline has been the best in the country at developing players at the position. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave stand out as likely first-round picks. Tight end Jeremy Ruckert is looked upon favorably as a prospect. Despite losing center Josh Myers and offensive guard Wyatt Davis to the NFL, the Buckeyes have offensive tackles Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere. Munford was not highly viewed when I watched him in 2018 and 2019 but last season produced some of the consistent, technically sound play that could warrant more early round consideration. Petit-Frere is more athletically gifted. Similar to Duncan at Maryland, he has had his highs and lows but his stock could go to the moon.
Edge rusher Zach Harrison has run hot and cold for me. He still has a lot to prove before he is a first-round pick. Edge rusher Tyler Friday surprised me a bit with a stronger 2020 campaign. Although outside of my personal top 100, he is trending upwards. Defensive tackle Haskell Garrett is the most sound prospect on that side of the ball. He is one of the top defensive tackle prospects available. The only downside is that he will be 24 years old as a rookie in the NFL. Defensive tackle Taron Vincent is immensely gifted but there is a lot for the sophomore to learn. It would not shock me if he was in the debate for top 50 status by season's end. After losing two starting linebackers to the NFL Draft, the team is left picking up the pieces. Fortunately, they have highly-regarded recruits across the board. Senior Dallas Gant and USC linebacker transfer Palaie Gaoteote IV are expected to carry the load.
Finally, what would an outlook on the Buckeyes be without a look at the secondary? Some are very high on cornerback Sevyn Banks. Although a fine player, I do not hold him in the same regard as Denzel Ward, Marshon Lattimore or Jeff Okudah right now. Safety Marcus Hooker -- younger brother of former first-round pick and Cowboys safety Malik Hooker -- is one to watch in the defensive backfield.
Offensive tackle Rasheed Walker has a great frame to play the position. He plays the game with animosity. The Maryland native needs to work the tendency to overset entirely out of his game but his understanding of alternating pace of punches is promising.
Cornerback Joey Porter Jr. -- yes, that Joey Porter -- has good speed down the boundary and is quick to key and react. He does appear timid as a tackler but that could improve with more exposure. Linebacker Brandon Smith has elite movement skills but has not put it all together. He is one of the young players in the conference to look out for this season. Cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields and safety Jaquan Brisker are a few veterans in that Nittany Lions secondary.
Edge rusher George Karlaftis is one of the top prospects in his class. He is powerful and does a nice job of softening the edge with his hands. His value to condense inside and rush the passer is also important. Wide receiver David Bell is a strong candidate to make more of a name for himself in draft circles this year. He has been highly productive over the last two years but does not get the same kind of buzz as others at his position. The Indianapolis native has great size and is a natural athlete. Bell has long arms, which allows him to make catches outside of his frame.
Tennessee's loss is Rutgers' gain as head coach Greg Schiano has made the Scarlet Knights competitive once again. Wide receiver Bo Melton has good speed and a little wiggle in space. He does a nice job of creating separation and is willing to make a contested catch.
Cornerback Avery Young is a physical player with a fiery personality. He changes direction smoothly and arrives with anger. His strength is zone coverage allowing him to see the field and utilizing his awareness. A move to safety is not farfetched. The addition of Temple defensive tackle transfer Ifeanyi Maijeh should be fruitful.
Quarterback Jack Coan cleaned out his locker and drove four hours southeast to Notre Dame paving the way for highly-regarded recruit Graham Mertz. Wide receiver Danny Davis III is a Ferrari talent driving through a school zone to this point in his career. He has not come close to his potential. Tight end Jake Ferguson is a reliable pass catcher with at least 30 receptions in each of the past three seasons. Jack Sanborn is a strong, physical linebacker built in a traditional mold. He has disciplined eyes but is not overly athletic.