Big Ten Preview of the 2020 NFL Draft: Buckeyes continue to churn out first-round talent post-Urban Meyer
Edge rusher Chase Young headlines an OSU class filled with first-round potential
Urban Meyer may be gone, but Ohio State is still stacked with first-round draft talent under new head coach Ryan Day.
That being said, the rest of the Big Ten is also loaded with talent that NFL fans should keep an eye on during the 2019 college football season. While we'll look at the top players to watch throughout the conference, we'll start with Ohio State, as the Buckeyes look to parlay their talent into a third consecutive conference title.
DE Chase Young
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound junior made the most of his extra opportunities in 2018. After Nick Bosa (the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft) went down with an injury, Young responded with 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Young also showcased his versatility while displaying his ability to cover receivers downfield.
Already projected as a top-five pick, Young could be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft if he builds on the success he had in 2018.
CB Jeffrey Okudah
The newest product out of "Cornerback U" is Okudah, one of the top corners in college football entering the 2019 season. Lauded for his excellent feet and ability in man-to-man coverage, Okudah could catapult himself into the first round of the 2020 draft if he continues to excel in zone coverage. He will also improve his draft stock by recording some interceptions, something he has yet to do during his time in Columbus.
RB J.K. Dobbins
Currently tabbed as the fifth-best running back prospect by CBSSports.com, Dobbins has rushed for 2,458 yards and 17 scores during his first two seasons at Ohio State while averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Expect Dobbins, whose statistics regressed last season while playing alongside Dwayne Haskins, to thrive with new OSU QB Justin Fields under center. Fields, a dual-threat quarterback, should help open up more running lanes for Dobbins, who should also continue to make plays in the passing game after catching 48 passes during his first two years with the Buckeyes.
OL Thayer Munford
Munford, was arguably the Big Ten's best offensive linemen in 2018, missed the entirety of Ohio State's spring practices after undergoing back surgery in January and missing the Buckeyes' Rose Bowl victory over Washington. Despite his setback, Day recently confirmed that Munford will again be the team's starting left tackle in 2019.
And despite the time off, the 6-foot-6, 310-pound lineman has looked good this summer with regard to his physical fitness.
"I feel a lot better than I did last year," Munford said, per ElevenWarriors.com. "I'm just happy to be back with my brothers and happy to compete and happy to be with them on the field."
WR K.J. Hill
The 6-foot, 195-pound wideout returns for his senior season after breaking out in 2018, catching 70 passes for 885 yards and six scores. Hill's true breakout game came against Minnesota when he caught nine passes for 187 yards and two scores.
With Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin now in the NFL, Hill should get even more opportunities to shine as the Buckeyes' top receiver entering the 2019 season.
More to watch
Safety Jordan Fuller will enter his third season as OSU's starting free safety after sitting out the Buckeyes' spring camp with a lower body injury. Fuller has recorded at least 70 tackles and an interception in each of his first two seasons as a starter. Senior LB Malik Harrison is coming off his best season to date in Columbus, racking up 81 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception last season. Junior Brandon White is poised to have a standout season after finally finding a home at strong safety following his time at receiver earlier in his career.
DE A.J. Epenesa
The 6-foot-6, 280-pound pass rusher broke out with 10.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and 16.5 tackles for loss last season. An exceptionally strong defender with "heavy hands," Epenesa is also considered elite when it comes to his ability in run support. A higher sack total in '19 will only strengthen his draft stock.
OT Tristan Wirfs
Wirfs is already considered an NFL-ready lineman entering his junior season. Last fall, his play on the line helped the Hawkeyes average over 148 rushing yards per contest. Giants Wire recently projected the New York Giants selecting Wirfs in the first round of the 2020 draft.
More to watch
Alaric Jackson earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last fall after becoming Iowa's starting left tackle as a sophomore. Fellow junior Ihmir Smith-Marsette led the Big Ten and was second in the nation last year with an average of 29.5 yards per kickoff return.
CB Lavert Hill
Already regarded as one of the nation's top cornerbacks by CBS Sports, Hill was an All-Big Ten performer last season as well as an Associated Press third-team All-American. A complete cornerback who makes plays in both pass coverage as well as in run support, Hill will have to prove that his small stature (he's listed at 5-feet-11 and 182 pounds) can hold up at the next level.
OL Jon Runyan, Jr.
An All-Big Ten first-team selection last season, Runyan received the 2018 Hugh H. Rader Memorial Award (given to the team's best lineman), joining his father, Jon Runyan, as the school's first only father-son duo to win the award. A graduate student who didn't become a starter until last year, Runyan could jump up the draft board with another strong season in 2019.
S Josh Metellus
A versatile athlete who has seen time at both safety positions, Metellus is entering his third season as a starter on the Wolverine defense. A second-team All-Big Ten performer in 2018, Metellus received an NFL Draft evaluation last year before deciding to return to Michigan for his senior season. He is now considered the "glue guy" of Michigan's defense after the unit lost several key players, including ILB Devin Bush.
More to watch
A team captain entering his senior season, Ben Bredeson has the prototypical size for an NFL guard at 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds. He also has a wealth of experience having started in 33 games entering 2019. Considered an excellent blocker in zone schemes, he will have to show more athleticism during his final year in Ann Arbor while having a more consistent pad level. Receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones will look to improve his draft stock in 2019 after catching 47 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns last year while averaging 13 yards per catch.
LB Joe Bachie Jr.
A smart player who is exceptional between the tackles, Bachie also has a knack for creating turnovers. Over the past two years, the 6-foot-2, 231-pound LB has four interceptions, four forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles to his credit.
DE Kenny Willekes
A former walk-on, Willekes was named the Big Ten's Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2018 after recording 78 tackles (20.5 for loss) and 8.5 sacks. He will be a surefire first-round pick with a similar season in 2019.
DT Raequan Williams
Already being projected as a late first-round pick in the 2020 draft, Williams decided to honor his mother's wishes to see him graduate while returning to East Lansing for his senior season. A third-team All-Big Ten selection last season, Williams was a major reason why MSU finished first in the country in run defense in 2018.
More to watch
If your NFL team needs a kicker, MSU kicker Matt Coghlin might be your guy. A first-team All-Big Ten selection last year, Coghlin has made 80.5 percent of his field goal attempts and each of his 63 career extra point attempts.
DE Yetur Gross-Matos
The 6-foot-5, 246-pound edge rusher had a breakout year in 2018, collecting eight sacks, 20 tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles. An extremely impressive athlete, Gross-Matos' length, agility and explosiveness are exactly what NFL scouts are looking for. He could be a legitimate first-round pick if he improves his consistency and hand usage this fall.
DT Robert Windsor
Windsor, who picked Pittsburgh OLB T.J. Watt's brain when the two were back home in Wisconsin during the offseason, is being regarded in some circles as one of the top five defensive tackles in college football entering 2019. Windsor, who recorded 20 tackles for loss last season, said that Watt told him to work on having his hands and feet move "simultaneously and violently" this season, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
More to watch
WR KJ Hamler returns to the fold after catching five touchdown passes and averaging 18 yards per catch last season. He also averaged 26.2 yards on 20 kickoff returns. Senior LB Cameron Brown is looking to build off of his 2018 season that saw him record 63 tackles and two sacks while forcing three fumbles. Safety Garrett Taylor, who started his college career at cornerback, is the Nittany Lions' returning leader in interceptions after tying for the team lead with three picks in 2018.
RB Jonathan Taylor
A punishing back who put up video-game numbers during his first two collegiate seasons (he rushed for 4,171 yards and 29 touchdowns while averaging 6.9 yards per carry), the 5-foot-11, 219-pound Taylor also is also blessed with deceptive speed that allows him to turn moderate gains into break-breaking plays. The Jaguars' Leonard Fournette is an NFL back to comes to mind when talking about Taylor, who should be one of -- if not the -- first running back selected in next year's draft.
OL Tyler Biadasz
After being advised to return to Wisconsin in 2019 by the NFL Draft committee, expect Biadasz, a first-team All-Big Ten center last season, to be motivated to have an even better year this fall. A physical yet versatile lineman, Biadasz is arguably the best center in the Big Ten entering the 2019 season.
More to watch
A.J. Taylor could be primed for a breakout year after catching 63 passes for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Others to watch
Illinois: A year after becoming the first Illinois running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season since 2010, Reggie Corbin, a home run hitter who averaged 8.5 yards per carry last season, will look to improve his draft stock this season after contemplating coming out following his 2018 campaign. A compact runner who is deceptively fast, the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Corbin is great at finding holes out of the shotgun. He will hopefully get more opportunities this season to show that he can find the right holes in more traditional offensive formations.
Indiana: Nick Westbrook is definitely one of those under-the-radar players that could be a late draft steal this time next spring. An honorable All-Big Ten receiver in 2016, Westbrook overcame an ACL injury (that wiped out his entire 2017 season) to catch 42 passes and four touchdowns last season while averaging 14.0 yards per catch.
Maryland: The Terrapins have one of the best-kept secrets in the Big Ten in running back Anthony McFarland. McFarland, who missed his entire senior season in high school due to a leg injury that also caused him to miss part of his freshman season, finally showed what he could do in 2018. After rushing for over 200 yards against Indiana, he ran circles around Ohio State, gaining 298 yards on the ground on his way to 1,034 yards for the season despite receiving just 131 carries.
Minnesota: NFL teams looking for a receiver out of the Big Ten will be keeping their eye on Tyler Johnson, who caught 78 passes for 1,169 yards and 12 scores last season. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Johnson is especially good at winning 50/50 battles with opposing defensive backs downfield.
Nebraska: Owners of the Big Ten's worst defense last season, the Cornhuskers are hoping for a big year from senior DT Darrion Daniels, an Oklahoma State transfer who could evolve into one of the conference's top defensive tackles.
Northwestern: A third-team All-American last fall, junior linebacker Patty Fisher racked up 229 tackles during his first two seasons with the Wildcats. While he will most likely return to school in 2020, a strong junior season could convince him to turn pro this winter.
Purdue: Brycen Hopkins enters the 2019 season as arguably the Big Ten's best tight end. If he can get in the end zone more this season, Hopkins, who has the look of a modern-day tight end NFL teams are looking for, will vastly improve his draft stock next spring.
Rutgers: As was the case a year ago, the Scarlet Knights will again rely on their ground attack, which means that junior running back Raheem Blackshear (586 rushing yards last season) will get more opportunities to shine in 2019.
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