MnB’s list of the top 25 players in the conference comes to a close today with five guys at the top of the list. This was the hardest one to put together, seeing as the argument could be made for any of these five players to be ranked in any spot here.
Without further ado, here we go:
5. TE Jake Butt, Senior, Michigan
When Jim Harbaugh was hired at U-M, it was clear that the tight end position was going to be a big part of the offense as it always has been in his coaching career. Butt emerged from the 2015 season as a first-team All-American player and had a breakout season in Ann Arbor with 51 catches for 654 yards and three touchdowns.
He could have easily jumped to the NFL, but decided to return for his senior season, where he again will be a valuable commodity across the middle while the Wolverines break in a new quarterback. Michigan likes to spread the ball around in the passing game, but Butt will catch more than his fair share of passes.
4. DT Malik McDowell, Junior, Michigan State
McDowell is one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in the country and is set to be the next great pro prospect to come out from the Spartan defense since Mark Dantonio has been in East Lansing.
He was a role player during his freshman season, but broke out in a big way in 2015 for MSU with 13 tackle sfor loss, 4.5 sacks and an interception for a touchdown. McDowell has the look of a first round prospect that should have his name called very early in 2017’s NFL Draft if he continues to produce and decides to leave early.
3. CB Jourdan Lewis, Senior, Michigan
Lewis was nothing short of stellar last season. Detractors will point to low interception totals as a reason to put him down, but not many balls get thrown your way when you essentially eliminate an entire side of the field. Lewis did just that in 2015.
Despite having only two interceptions on the season, Lewis broke the school record for passes defended in a single season with 20 and also added a pick-six, in addition to being a valuable asset in the return game. He is another first-team All-American and was a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik awards.
2. CB Desmond King, Senior, Iowa
Spots 2 and 3 on this list could easily be 2a and 2b, but King gets the nod here as the second-ranked player in the conference. He won the Thorpe Award while accumulating eight interceptions on the season.
King was a unanimous first-team All-American and could have easily opted to head to the NFL after 2015, like Butt and Lewis on this list. The Hawkeyes snatched him right out of Detroit and the Wolverines’ and Spartans’ backyard, making him the one that got away from the in-state schools.
1. LB/DB Jabrill Peppers, Redshirt Sophomore, Michigan
Peppers may not be the most accomplished player in the conference yet, but he is without a doubt the most talented and valuable player to any team in the Big Ten heading into this season.
He is a Swiss Army knife that can do darn near anything asked of him on the field. The hype has followed him throughout high school and into Ann Arbor. Even with injury setbacks in his first season, he returned to back up the hype in 2015.
Peppers affects the game in so many different ways. He has lined up at cornerback, safety, running back, wide receiver, wildcat quarterback and as a returner and has made an impact at all spots. The Wolverines will be counting on him at linebacker in Don Brown’s defense this season, but look for him to make an impact all over the field and perhaps even emerge as a Heisman contender.
That’s it for our list. Be sure to hit the links above to see the rest and sound off with your thoughts in the comments below!