Hot Reads: Who Will Defend the Pass in the Big Ten?
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: Who Will Defend the Pass in the Big Ten?

January 18, 2018

The Big Ten didn’t do too poorly when it came to early entries for the 2018 NFL Draft. Overall 13 players from the conference with eligibility remaining declared. Only the 10-team Big 12 had fewer departures (11). The SEC led the way with 26 followed by the ACC (25) and the Pac-12 (18).

The team breakdown: Ohio State 3, Nebraska 2, Maryland 2, Iowa 2, Indiana 1, Penn State 1, Wisconsin 1 and Purdue 1. What’s interesting about this, for purposes of looking at 2018 at least, is where those departures happened.

Four of the 13 Big Ten early entries were cornerbacks. Iowa lost Josh Jackson, Maryland lost JC Jackson, Wisconsin lost Nick Nelson and Ohio State lost Denzel Ward. Add that to the players lost via graduation and just six of the 16 players to earn first-, second- or third-team all-conference honors in 2017 at defensive back are gone.

So my question is: Who is going to cover the pass in the Big Ten in 2018? It’s an interesting question for a conference that’s always more about run defense than anything else.

There are a lot of factors that could be in play here, but some interesting numbers to consider: In 2017, the conference average for completion percentage (58.05) was the second-highest of the last five years. Yards per attempt (6.89), however, were at the second-lowest mark from the same span. My theory: A bunch of talented, veteran defensive backs in the conference resulted in fewer deep completions and more short-to-mid-level throws, which certainly could result in a better completions percentage but shorter passes overall.

Of course quarterback quality also has to factor in here. On that front, just three of the 12 quarterbacks to qualify for the conference leaderboard in passer rating were seniors, and only one of those three, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, was a full-time starter. He’s gone as is Indiana’s Richard Lagow, Michigan’s John O’Korn and Nebraska’s Tanner Lee (the only early exit at quarterback). Beyond that, though, you’ve got a bunch of quarterbacks with starting experience back and some diminished star power in the back end of Big Ten defenses.

Point being, the Big Ten is basically going to be the Big 12 next year.

Not really. The teams just don’t play that way, but the five-year highs of 7.2 yards per attempt and a 59.6 completion percentage could be within reach. 

So which teams are going to exploit that in 2018?

The Grab Bag

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