Unofficial 2022 Preseason All-Big Ten Team

By Dan Hope on July 25, 2022 at 8:35 am
TreVeyon Henderson and C.J. Stroud

Big Ten Media Days will be held this week in Indianapolis, which means it’s time for our annual predictions of who the best players in the conference will be this year.

Since I started here at Eleven Warriors in 2017, I’ve made my picks every year before Big Ten Media Days of which players I believe will ultimately earn postseason All-Big Ten honors. These preseason All-Big Ten picks are not career achievement awards; while I strongly considered players who earned All-Big Ten honors last year when making my selections, the selections are the players who I believe will have the best seasons this year, regardless of how much they played last year.

In 2021, just under half (12 of 25) of the players on my preseason All-Big Ten team went on to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors from conference coaches and/or media last season. Five of the seven Ohio State players on my preseason All-Big Ten team went on to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors; defensive end Zach Harrison and wide receiver Garrett Wilson had to settle for second-team recognition.

My predictions for this year’s All-Big Ten team are as follows; feel free to share your own predictions in the comments below the article. The number of players at each position were chosen to mirror the number of players that are included at each position on the actual All-Big Ten team.

QB: C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

Ohio State’s quarterback has been the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year in nine of the last 10 years, and it would be a surprise if that streak doesn’t continue in 2022. Stroud was already the Big Ten’s quarterback of the year and offensive player of the year last season, and he enters his second year as the Buckeyes’ starter as the heavy favorite to win those awards again.

If Stroud can stay healthy and build off his strong finish to last season, he should earn first-team All-Big Ten honors with ease. The bigger question will be whether he can earn All-American honors and win the Heisman Trophy.

RB: TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State
RB: Braelon Allen, Wisconsin

While they both earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last year, Henderson and Allen were the two best running backs in the conference by the end of 2021, when both were true freshmen.

With identical averages of 6.82 yards per carry, Allen and Henderson had the highest rushing averages among all Big Ten running backs who had at least 100 carries in 2021. Now that they both have a year of experience at the collegiate level, there’s reason to expect them to not only be the two best running backs in the Big Ten as sophomores, but two of the top running backs in the entire country.

WR: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
WR: Jayden Reed, Michigan State

In hindsight, it’s hard to believe Smith-Njigba earned only third-team All-Big Ten honors last season; he surely would have been a first- or second-team honoree if all-conference teams were chosen after his 15-catch, 347-yard, three-touchdown Rose Bowl, after which he finished the year as the Big Ten’s leader in both reception and receiving yards. With Chris Olave, David Bell, Jahan Dotson and Garrett Wilson all now in the NFL, though, Smith-Njigba is the clear frontrunner to earn Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year honors in 2022.

Marvin Harrison Jr. could be a contender for All-Big Ten honors too if he can build off his own three-touchdown Rose Bowl performance, but he’ll have tough competition to beat out in Reed, who also earned third-team All-B1G honors last season after catching 59 passes for 1,026 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior. Like Smith-Njigba, Reed enters 2022 as his team’s clear-cut No. 1 receiver and is expected to be one of the nation’s top wideouts.

TE: Sam LaPorta, Iowa

I debated giving this spot to Michigan’s Erick All, who emerged as a top target for the Wolverines last season and was dominant as a blocker in their win over Ohio State, making him perhaps the most complete tight end in the Big Ten.

But it’s hard to pick against LaPorta, who led all Big Ten tight ends with 53 receptions for 670 yards last season and plays in an Iowa offense that consistently uses its tight ends as pass-catchers. While All will have plenty of competition for targets around him, LaPorta is Iowa’s No. 1 receiving option, which should enable him to put up big numbers again and contend for Big Ten and national awards.

OT: Peter Skoronski, Northwestern
OT: Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State

Skoronski is the Big Ten’s most established star at offensive tackle, already earning first-team All-Big Ten honors last year as a sophomore after earning second-team recognition as a freshman. He may be the frontrunner to earn Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors this season.

I debated between both of Ohio State’s starting offensive tackles for the other tackle spot, but sided with Johnson as left tackles tend to get a bit more recognition than right tackles during award season. Dawand Jones also has the talent to be an All-Big Ten performer, though, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Ohio State tackle’s name on the All-Big Ten first team at the end of the season.

OG: Donovan Jackson, Ohio State
OG: Zak Zinter, Michigan

Jackson hasn’t yet started a game at the collegiate level, but he has all the tools to be an elite guard. Much like Wyatt Davis when he immediately emerged as one of the best guards in the country as a first-year Ohio State starter in 2019, I’m predicting Jackson will establish himself as one of the Big Ten’s best interior offensive linemen right away.

Zinter was already one of the Big Ten’s best guards in his first year as a full-time starter last season, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors as a key piece of Michigan’s rushing attack that bullied Ohio State and many other opponents on the ground last season. He’ll be one of the leaders up front for the Wolverines this year.

Donovan Jackson
Donovan Jackson could quickly emerge as one of the Big Ten’s best offensive linemen this season.

C: Olusegun Oluwatimi, Michigan

Oluwatimi was one of the best centers in the entire country last season at Virginia, where he earned first-team All-ACC and second-team All-American honors and was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy.

As long as Oluwatimi has a smooth transition to the Wolverines’ offensive system after transferring this offseason, there’s a high likelihood he’ll be the Big Ten’s best center right away.

DL: P.J. Mustipher, Penn State
DL: Mazi Smith, Michigan
DL: Garrett Nelson, Nebraska
DL: J.T. Tuimoloau, Ohio State

I considered putting three different Ohio State defensive ends on this team. Zach Harrison made my preseason All-Big Ten team for each of the last two years and earned actual second-team honors last year, and I’m expecting Jack Sawyer to emerge as an impact pass-rusher for the Buckeyes this year, too. But I left them off in favor of Tuimoloau, whose potential as both a pass-rusher and run-stopper might make him the Buckeyes’ most complete defensive end. 

Mustipher earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season despite missing the second half of the year with an injury, which speaks to his status as one of the conference’s best defensive tackles. Smith was a disruptive defensive tackle for Michigan last season and will now be the leader up front for the Wolverines following the departures of their other three starting D-linemen from last year. Nelson’s 11.5 tackles for loss in 2021 were the second-most among returning Big Ten defenders, and he’ll lead a Nebraska pass-rush that projects to be one of the conference’s best.

LB: Jack Campbell, Iowa
LB: Nick Herbig, Wisconsin
LB: Steele Chambers, Ohio State

Campbell led the entire nation with 143 total tackles in 2021, so he’ll be a frontrunner for Big Ten Linebacker of the Year honors if he can duplicate that production in 2022. Herbig led all returning Big Ten players with 14.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks last season, and he’s poised to be the leader of Wisconsin’s always-stout linebacker unit now that 2021 All-Big Ten linebackers Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn are in the NFL.

Chambers showed flashes of becoming a Darron Lee-esque playmaker for Ohio State after moving into the starting lineup at linebacker midseason, and should be a much more complete linebacker now that he’ll have had a full offseason of practicing at the position rather than running back. Jim Knowles’ defensive scheme is also designed to create playmaking opportunities for linebackers, which should set up the increase in production Chambers will need to become an All-Big Ten player.

DB: Denzel Burke, Ohio State
DB: Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
DB: Riley Moss, Iowa
DB: Ronnie Hickman, Ohio State

Burke’s excellent freshman campaign at Ohio State sets the expectation that he will become one of college football’s elite cornerbacks in 2022. Porter is also one of college football’s most talented cornerbacks and could be a first-round 2023 NFL draft pick with a big year. And while I tend to prefer putting two cornerbacks and two safeties on my preseason All-Big Ten team, I couldn’t leave off Moss after he earned Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year honors with a dominant season for Iowa in 2021.

That leaves just one spot for Hickman and Michigan State’s Xavier Henderson, who I’m expecting to be the Big Ten’s top two safeties this year. While it’s hard to leave either one of them off, I gave the nod to Hickman, who was Ohio State’s most productive defender last year and will play an even bigger role for the Buckeyes this year as their “adjuster” free safety.

Ronnie Hickman
Ronnie Hickman will look to establish himself as the Big Ten’s best safety in 2022.

K: Jake Moody, Michigan

It was hard to believe Noah Ruggles didn’t earn Big Ten Kicker of the Year honors after making 20 of his 21 field goal attempts last season, but he had the misfortune of being in the same conference as Lou Groza Award winner Moody, who’s also back for another season in the Big Ten this year.

Ruggles will certainly be a contender for first-team All-Big Ten honors if he is as consistent as he was last year, but that might depend on the performance of Moody, who has a bigger leg and is more likely to be called upon to kick 50-plus-yard field goals.

P: Adam Korsak, Rutgers

How good is Korsak? Good enough that he’ll be one of the three Rutgers representatives at Big Ten Media Days, an opportunity that’s often reserved for players on offense and defense.

While that might say as much about Rutgers’ lack of star power as it does about Korsak, he is legitimately one of the best punters in college football, as he was a Ray Guy Award finalist last year. He was Rutgers’ only first-team All-Big Ten player last year, and he stands out as the Scarlet Knights’ most likely All-Big Ten performer again this year.

RET: Jayden Reed, Michigan State

Ohio State’s Emeka Egbuka might be the Big Ten’s best kickoff returner this year – I’ll even go as far as predicting Egbuka will have Ohio State’s first kickoff return touchdown since 2010 this year – but Reed gets the preseason All-Big Ten nod at the return specialist spot because he returns both kickoffs and punts.

Reed tied for the national lead with two punt return touchdowns last season and was also effective on kickoff returns, averaging 23.4 yards per return. It’s rare for a player to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors at two different positions, but Reed has the all-around talent to make it happen.

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