Today we are continuing our series counting down the top five players at each position in the Big Ten ahead of the 2023 football season. Today we’ll be looking at the defensive tackle position, which always seems to be full of great players in the conference.
While some of these guys might not be household names, they’re poised for big years and will help set the table for the defensive performances of their teams in 2023.
5. Michael Hall Jr. - Ohio State
Michael Hall Jr. returns as part of what will be a loaded defensive line for Ohio State in 2023. In a group that features defensive ends Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau, Hall is something of the forgotten man. He dealt with some injuries last year and was only able to appear in parts of 12 games, but was still able to make an impact in his time on the field by logging 19 tackles (7.5 tackles for loss) and 4.5 sacks.
Hall’s efforts earned him third-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and an honorable mention from the coaches. The emergence of Tuimoloau and Sawyer as a formidable pass-rush duo might make it difficult for Hall to garner attention on a national level, but he should still serve an important role in the middle of the Ohio State defensive front this year.
4. Noah Shannon - Iowa
Noah Shannon is back for another season as a member of the Hawkeye defensive line. He returns after being named an All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media and coaches for a second consecutive year. While Shannon is undersized (6-foot, 289 pounds), he made an impact last year and certainly would have had a shot at being drafted had he chosen to leave Iowa.
Shannon posted 44 total tackles last year, including 8.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. He will again be a part of an Iowa defense that will make life difficult for any offense it faces. He will have plenty of opportunities to wreak havoc surrounded by other experienced defensive linemen like Logan Lee and Jacob Evans.
There are three things every good DL needs.@CoachUrbanMeyer looks at some @HawkeyeFootball film to show the importance of 1) effort, 2) violent hands and 3) leverage.— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) November 11, 2022
Full ➡️ https://t.co/kWT70P3rKW pic.twitter.com/LemR5fXG46
3. Keith Randolph - Illinois
Keith Randolph returns for a fifth season as a part of what should once again be a formidable Illinois defensive line. He played in all 13 games last year on his way to third-team All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and media, racking up 53 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
Randolph and teammate Jer’Zhan Newton were a terror for opposing offenses last year, as the Illinois defensive line contributed to allowing the ninth-fewest rushing yards per game in FBS last year. With both back in 2023, we should see much more of the same. While Randolph may be the lesser known of the “Law Firm” duo, he still has plenty of talent in his own right as a run stuffer and is poised for another big year.
2. Kris Jenkins - Michigan
The Michigan defense is losing several key contributors for the second consecutive year. Kris Jenkins had a chance to be among the losses, as he generated some NFL draft buzz down the stretch last year, but opted to return for his senior season. He played in all 14 of Michigan’s games last year and made his presence felt on the interior of the defensive line. He recorded 54 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He also earned All-Big Ten honorable mentions from both the coaches and the media.
While Jenkins was solid in a breakout season last year, he is expected to take another step to help fill the void left by guys like Mazi Smith and Mike Morris on the defensive front. He is also generating some early buzz as a potential first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Michigan DT Kris Jenkins Jr. (6-3, 300 -- as of spring). Covers a lot of ground inside and has been very quick, and a problem, off the ball for a bit.— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) May 2, 2023
Son of former All-Pro DT Kris Jenkins Sr. Nephew of Cullen Jenkins.@DPBrugler's got Jr. on the rise. https://t.co/vJWDW1qJ8G pic.twitter.com/THro3NScrf
1. Jer’Zhan Newton - Illinois
His ability was alluded to earlier, but Jer’Zhan Newton was an absolute force on the defensive line in 2022. He broke out in a big way with 61 total tackles, and a team-high 14 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. His efforts earned him first-team All-Big Ten honors from both the media and coaches. He was also pegged as a second-team All-American by the Associated Press.
Newton garnered national attention for the first time last year and likely could’ve been selected early in the draft had he declared. Another solid year will likely result in more accolades and an early selection in the draft next spring, as he is currently recognized as one of the best defensive players in all of college football.