Syndication: Detroit Free Press

Michigan and Ohio State represented the Big Ten in the College Football Playoffs, and then the conference had 55 players taken in the 2023 NFL Draft. The Big Ten is loaded with talent once again as the season is set to kick off with Nebraska vs. Minnesota on Aug. 31. 

Rather than outright ranking the conference's best preseason NFL Draft prospects this year, we've decided to try something different. Here are some draft-related superlatives for the conference entering the 2023 campaign.

Best quarterback: J.J. McCarthy, Michigan

McCarthy is the best quarterback in the Big Ten right now. Perhaps a starter at Ohio State or elsewhere emerges to challenge him, but Maryland's Taulia Tagovailoa -- brother of Tua -- is the only other one on the radar. McCarthy completed 64.6% of his passes for 2,719 yards, 22 touchdowns and 5 interceptions for a Michigan team that went 13-1 with wins over Ohio State and Penn State. 

McCarthy had a good sense for pressure last season, taking sacks on just 3.0% of his dropbacks, according to TruMedia, which was the 13th best mark in college football. Standing 6-foot-3, 196 pounds, McCarthy has good arm strength to drive the ball to all three levels. He just needs to show more consistency in his ball placement and improved decision-making.

He has the potential to become Michigan's first Day 1 selection at the quarterback position since his head coach, Jim Harbaugh, in 1987.

Best non-quarterback prospect: WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State

Harrison and Penn State offensive tackle Olu Fashanu are two of the top three prospects eligible for the 2024 NFL Draft. The Big Ten should be well-represented throughout the three-day event next spring. 

Ohio State tight end Cade Stover, Buckeyes edge rushers Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau, Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean, Penn State cornerback Kalen King, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Burke, Michigan linebacker Junior Colson and several others are worth noting for this honor.

Best running back: TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State

Henderson is the top dog despite injuries plaguing his sophomore campaign. The Virginia native burst onto the scene as a true freshman, breaking an Ohio State freshman record for touchdowns scored (15 rushing and 4 receiving). A few metrics illustrate the injury that the running back was dealing with. Henderson broke just 13.2% of tackles in 2022, according to TruMedia, down from 27.3% the prior year. As a true freshman, he converted 55.6% of third down runs into first downs, but just 42.9% as a sophomore. 

Although none of the running backs grade out as Top-50 prospects based on prior years, the Big Ten is the cradle of running backs in 2023-2024. The conference has a handful of the best players at the position nationally: Michigan's Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, Wisconsin's Braelon Allen and Ohio State's Miyan Williams and Henderson.

Best pass catcher: WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State

Harrison is one of five prospects with an early first-round grade and he is the second highest rated player behind USC quarterback Caleb Williams. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Harrison does a great job of getting off the line of scrimmage, running routes and setting up breaks. Quiet and unassuming, the son of the eight-time NFL All-Pro goes about his business as a seasoned professional. 

Harrison was patient waiting for a larger share of the targets in Columbus. The Buckeyes have produced Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave and Jaxon Smith-Njigba over the last two draft classes. In 2022, the Philadelphia native had 77 receptions for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns. An astonishing 79.2% of his receptions went for either a first down or touchdown, according to TruMedia. 

Ohio State is loaded at the skill positions. The talent at running back was already outlined but wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, tight end Cade Stover and Harrison give the contender an arsenal of weapons. Stover was a 4-star recruit at linebacker and played running back for his high school before making the transition to tight end. He also holds his high school's all-time scoring record and was named second-team All-Ohio as a basketball player.

Penn State has a few pass catchers likely to see increased target share -- tight end Theo Johnson and wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith -- and Illinois wide receiver Isaiah Williams, a former quarterback, is one of the more entertaining prospects to watch in the conference despite inconsistent quarterback play. 

Best offensive lineman: OT Olu Fashanu, Penn State

In his first two years on campus, Fashanu had played a total of 84 offensive snaps. Even the most optimistic expectations for his first full season as a starter were exceeded. The Maryland native was beaten on just 1.1% of his pass blocking snaps, according to TruMedia, which amounted to zero sacks allowed. Fashanu suffered a season-ending injury in October against Ohio State. 

There is a good chance that Fashanu would have been the first offensive lineman drafted in 2023 had he declared despite only making nine collegiate starts. Instead, it was Ohio State's Paris Johnson Jr. taken No. 6 overall by Arizona. 

Michigan's Zak Zinter is a prospect who had been included in at least one of my first-round mock drafts a year ago. He remains the top-rated interior offensive lineman. Illinois' Isaiah Adams has a Top-100 grade early in the process and Wisconsin's Jack Nelson is an offensive tackle that could rise precipitously. 

Best pass rusher: JT Tuimoloau, EDGE, Ohio State

The choice came down to Tuimoloau and his teammate, edge rusher Jack Sawyer. Sawyer may be a bit more effective right now in the way that he sets up counters and activates spins and swipes off the edge. The ex-quarterback is more comfortable playing in space than his teammate. 

However, Tuimoloau's pass rush plan is more well-rounded. He is capable of winning with power and has multiple moves to unleash on unsuspecting linemen. One elevated aspect of Tuimoloau's skillset is his awareness. The Washington native's eyes remain fixated on the backfield and when his pass rush does not get home, he peels off and gets his long arms into pass lanes. 

Penn State edge rusher Chop Robinson, a Maryland transfer, has a lot of support in the scouting community. His teammate, Adisa Isaac, has the talent to make a big jump more than a full year removed from an Achilles injury that cost him the 2021 season. 

As a whole, the 2024 draft class is expected to feature more defensive tackle talent. The Big Ten should have multiple representatives with Illinois' Jer'Zhan Newton, Michigan's Kris Jenkins and Ohio State's Michael Hall and Tyleik Williams.

Best in coverage: CB Kalen King, Penn State

King had to share the stage with eventual Steelers second-round selection Joey Porter Jr. and senior Johnny Dixon last year but he is now the principal star. Opponents completed 45.0% of pass attempts in King's direction last season for 343 yards and 1 touchdown, according to TruMedia. The Detroit area talent posted three interceptions a year ago. 

Ohio State cornerback Denzel Burke should be a Top-100 pick comfortably but is not in the same vein as Denzel Ward or Marshon Lattimore. Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean should be taken in a similar range as his teammate, cornerback Riley Moss (No. 83 overall), in the 2023 NFL Draft. Minnesota safety Tyler Nubin is a really instinctive prospect responsible for seven interceptions over the past two seasons.

Best incoming transfer: EDGE Andre Carter, Indiana

College football fans will find the remnants of Western Michigan's defensive line scattered across the landscape with Carter at Indiana and defensive tackle Braden Fiske at Florida State. Carter ranked No. 12 in college football with 54 pressures last season, according to TruMedia. The buzz out of Bloomington is palpable as they are thrilled with the returns on the ex-Bronco thus far. 

Iowa tight end Erick All is a prospect who has received a lot of attention in recent years but an injury limited him to three games played in 2022. Michigan commonly contends for the Joe Moore Award, which is annually given to college football's best offensive line. They brought three transfers into that unit this year.

Penn State wide receiver Dante Cephas (Kent State) and Maryland offensive tackle Gottlieb Ayedze (Frostburg State) are a few other notable transfers. 

Best senior prospect: OT Olu Fashanu, Penn State

Fashanu is listed as a junior but the East-West Shrine Bowl has him on their Watch List, so that would indicate that he is on pace to have enough credits to be considered a senior. 

It is a strong year for senior talent in the Big Ten. Offensive linemen Isaiah Adams and Zak Zinter were noted earlier, as were interior defenders Jer'Zhan Newton and Kris Jenkins Jr., who is the son of the 3-time All Pro Jets and Panthers defensive tackle. 

Breakout candidate: OT Jack Nelson, Wisconsin

Nelson started 13 games at right guard in 2021 before sliding into a more natural role at left tackle in 2022. Listed at 6-foot-7, 305 pounds, the Wisconsin native has more than enough foot speed to play on the edge. According to TruMedia, Nelson was beaten on 3.7% of his pass blocking snaps last season. As he physically matures and play strength improves, the possibility exists that he is mentioned among the best in the class before all is said and done. 

Iowa tight end Luke Lachey is another that could break out. However, he could also be hampered by a lack of targets in the Iowa offense and incoming Michigan transfer Erick All siphoning some of those targets. Michigan's production of edge rushers, from Aidan Hutchinson to David Ojabo to Mike Morris, may continue with Braiden McGregor and Jaylen Harrell serving as the most likely suspects.