Last week we took a look at the offensive side of the ball for a Big Ten mock fantasy draft. To no one's surprise, names like Saquon Barkley and J.T. Barrett led the way for the conference. Defensive players almost always take a back seat to the skill positions when it comes to fantasy football as they are typically part of an entire unit instead of individual players.
Today's college football landscape includes a variety of spread attacks that tend to put up big-time points and numbers. Still, teams that have the manpower on defense continue to come out on top.
Each of the three College Football Playoff national champions – Ohio State, Alabama, and Clemson – featured one of the country's top defenses. The Buckeyes finished No. 19 in total defense for the 2014 season, but anyone who was paying attention knows they were playing their best ball late in the season. The Crimson Tide was No. 3 in 2015 and the Tigers checked in at No. 8 last year.
Ohio State is expected to have one of the top defenses in the conference, and its line rotation will likely be able to match up against any unit in America. Thus, it should be no surprise that several Buckeye defenders make an appearance in our mock fantasy draft.
Note: Every setup is different, but leagues that include individual defensive players typically award points for tackles, sacks, passes defended, forced turnovers, and touchdowns. Sacks usually count for 2-3x as many points as a standard tackle.
1. Jerome Baker • Linebacker • Junior • Ohio State
It's rather tough to distinguish between the top three picks, but we've got Baker on top due to his playmaking ability. It's highly unlikely that the outside linebacker leads the league in tackles, but his speed and athleticism may be unmatched in the conference. He showed in last year's Oklahoma game that he's also more than capable of coming up with the big play.
2016 Stats: 83 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 TD
2. Tegray Scales • Linebacker • Senior • Indiana
Indiana's leader on defense had one of the conferences more impressive stat lines in 2016. Scales led the Big Ten in tackles and was toward the top in sacks as well. He also recorded a whopping 23.5 tackles for loss. He's a tad undersized for an inside linebacker – checking in at just 6-foot-0 and about 230 pounds – and that's one of the reasons he elected to return for his senior year.
Is it a bit of a homer pick having Scales behind Jerome Baker? You're damn right it is, but they should be two of the conference's top defensive players and the duo will square off in just one week.
2016 Stats: 126 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD
3. Josey Jewell • Linebacker • Senior (RS) • Iowa
All Josey Jewell has done in three seasons at Iowa is record over 300 tackles while leading what is usually one of the country's more underrated defenses. Last year's Butkus finalist was second in the conference in total tackles and has started 30-consecutive games for Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes.
2016 Stats: 124 tackles, 1.5 sacks
— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) August 22, 2017
4. Tyquan Lewis • Defensive End • Senior (RS) • Ohio State
Some fantasy leagues employ a "big-play" format that awards upwards of six points for a quarterback sack or interception. In a world such as that, it's totally reasonable to move defensive ends up the board a little bit. For our mythical mock, the linebackers stand above the rest.
Tyquan Lewis was Ohio State's sack leader in 2016, and he will be looking for a repeat performance this season. The Buckeyes employ some major rotation along the defensive line, but Lewis should be a constant in his final season in Columbus.
2016 Stats: 29 tackles, 8.0 sacks
5. Marcus Allen • Safety • Senior • Penn State
Penn State's defense will be led by senior defensive back Marcus Allen. The safety was third in the conference with 110 tackles and will now look to lead a young secondary in Happy Valley. NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks recently listed Allen as the No. 4 defensive back in America.
Although he's best suited to play near the line of scrimmage as a pro, he's athletic enough to be a factor against the pass, which will entice defensive coordinators looking for a safety who can rock and roll in the back end. In a league skewing toward the pass, a long, athletic safety with pop could be a hot commodity when the draft rolls around.
2016 Stats: 110 tackles, 3 passes defended
6. T.J. Edwards • Linebacker • Junior (RS) • Wisconsin
Wisconsin's 3-4 defense was set to feature two of the conference's top linebackers in Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards. With Cichy sitting out the season due to a torn ACL, Edwards will now be looked upon as the leader of a what seems to always be a very disciplined Badger defense.
The junior has led the team in tackles for the last two seasons even though he missed time with a foot injury in 2016. Paul Chryst will likely find it impossible to replace Cichy, but the Badgers' coaching staff still has one of the Big Ten's best lining up at the position.
2016 Stats: 89 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 INTs
7. Nick Bosa • Defensive End • Sophomore • Ohio State
It's impossible to pinpoint how things will transpire with Ohio State's defensive ends. Would it really surprise anyone if Nick Bosa recorded more sacks than Tyquan Lewis? Bosa got to the quarterback five times as a true freshman and will absolutely be seeing the field more often in 2017. Ohio State's "rushmen" package continues to be one of the more exciting elements of the defense, and Bosa should line up all over the line this season.
It probably is worth noting that Joey Bosa's breakout year came when he was a sophomore. The elder Bosa recorded 13.5 sacks in 2014.
2016 Stats: 29 tackles, 5 sacks
8. Sam Hubbard • Defensive End • Junior (RS) • Ohio State
Sam Hubbard enters his junior season with high expectations. His story has been well documented, going from a lacrosse player to a high school safety to a potential linebacker and now a defensive end. He replaced Joey Bosa a season ago and started all 13 games as a redshirt sophomore. One interesting element could be Hubbard lining up at linebacker from time to time.
You can flip-flip the younger Bosa and Hubbard if you'd like, and honestly I feel a little bad leaving Jalyn Holmes out of our first round. We are really splitting hairs when it comes to the most talented defensive line in the country.
2016 Stats: 46 tackles, 3.5 sacks
9. Rashan Gary • Defensive End • Sophomore • Michigan
Like most rational humans, I never bought into the Jabrill Peppers college hype. I am, however, buying into the Rashan Gary hype. While it may be a tad extreme to put him on some All-American lists already, there's no doubt that the sophomore is going to be a problem for the Big Ten.
Proud to announce top position performers of 2017 Michigan Football Spring Combine. Offense led by Chris Evans, defense led by Rashan Gary! pic.twitter.com/hAQKJo07Lc
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) March 16, 2017
Michigan is going through a major reload on defense, and Gary should be one of its best players in 2017. He backed up Chris Wormley last season and will now take over as the starting strong-side defensive end.
Do we actually think he runs a 4.57 forty like the above tweet claims? Of course not. Does that really matter? Of course not. The kid is going to be a good one.
2016 Stats: 23 tackles, .5 sacks
10. Steven Richardson • Defensive Tackle • Senior • Minnesota
Minnesota defensive tackle Steven Richardson is an interesting player that doesn't get a lot of publicity. Yes, he was recently named to the Bronko Nagurski watchlist – an award that goes to the country's top defensive player – but you just don't hear a whole lot about P.J. Fleck's prized defender.
Richardson is maybe 6-foot-0 and just shy of 300 pounds, but he's quietly become one of the conference's top linemen. He's likely to be the Gophers' best player in 2017, and he's got a knack for causing problems for opposing quarterbacks.
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) August 19, 2017
2016 Stats: 31 tackles, 7 sacks