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Big Ten breakdown: Top ranked recruit on each roster

Donovan Peoples-Jones
Donovan Peoples-Jones (AP Images)

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

With the college football season set to swing into full action this weekend, recruiting is always on my mind. So I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the highest ranked returning player on each roster and the highest ranked player from the class of 2019. We start today with the Big Ten.

These are only players recruited by the school and doesn’t include transfers.

MORE: Big Ten Power Poll | Big Ten fantasy tips for Week 1

CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals100 | Position | Team | State

ILLINOIS

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Calvin Avery

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM 2019 CLASS - Isaiah Williams

The skinny: Avery trimmed his list of top schools to Illinois, Oklahoma, Colorado, TCU and USC before committing to the Illini in August. At Illinois, Avery saw immediate playing time, finishing with 18 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss during his true freshman season. A leg injury sustained during the spring game hindered Avery’s progress during the off-season, but he has still showed flashes of stardom since summer camp began. If he can become more consistent, he has the potential to make a big impact this fall.

Farrell’s take: Avery was a huge pickup for Lovie Smith out of Texas, a Rivals250 prospect with excellent size and the ability to impact right away. Luring top recruits to Illinois hasn’t been easy in recent years, but Smith has managed to land some big names each of the last few recruiting cycles and that should help the roster.

It will be interesting to see how Williams impacts as a freshman as he was much higher ranked than Avery and can do a lot of things.

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INDIANA

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Michael Penix Jr.

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Samson James

The skinny: Penix was initially committed to Tennessee, but then re-opened his process after the Vols underwent a coaching change. He ended up taking December official visits to Indiana, Florida State and South Florida before committing to the Hoosiers. As a true freshman, Penix saw action in three games last fall, completing 21 of 34 passes for 219 yards and one touchdown. Penix won a heated three-way battle for the starting job over Peyton Ramsey and Jack Tuttle in fall camp.

Farrell’s take: Penix was a big pickup, especially with some of the other schools looking at him and the fact that he’s from Florida. He always had a live arm and a maturity about him and the talent to extend the play, so it’s not surprising to see him land the starting job. James, a former Ohio State commitment, was a huge get for Indiana last recruiting cycle.

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IOWA

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - A.J. Epenesa

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Jestin Jacobs

The skinny: The son of former Iowa lineman Eppy Epenesa, AJ committed to the Hawkeyes in January of his junior year. He never wavered off his Iowa pledge despite accumulating upwards of 25 offers. Epenesa arrived at Iowa with serious expectations, so after flashing his potential as a true freshman in 2017 he began to put everything together in 2018 with 37 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. All eyes will be on him this fall to see if he can live up to all of the preseason accolades flowing his way.

Farrell’s take: Five-stars are rare for Iowa, but a legacy recruit like Epenesa was a must-keep for the staff and they did a good job keeping everyone else at bay. He’s been an instant impact guy on the defense and is ready to take that next step to stardom this season. Jacobs, a four-star outside the Rivals250, was the biggest commitment for Iowa last recruiting cycle and he has a ton of potential.

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MARYLAND

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Terrence Davis

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Nick Cross

The skinny: Davis initially seemed close to committing to Michigan during the summer leading up to his senior season, but then ended up slowing down his process and eventually choosing Maryland in early January. He has become a valuable member of the offensive line during his time in College Park. After starting 18 games over the last two seasons at right guard, despite dealing with injuries in 2018, Davis is healthy and looks primed to have a big season on the interior offensive line for the Terps.

Farrell’s take: Davis was a monster offensive guard ranked in the Rivals100 back in 2016 and he’s made a big impact on the offense as expected. Many schools came after him hard, but the Terps held onto the in-state star and it has paid off. He was recruited by then assistant coach Mike Locksley, who is now the head man at Maryland. Cross was a huge get for them in the 2019 cycle and is ranked even higher than Davis was.

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MICHIGAN

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Donovan Peoples-Jones

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Chris Hinton

The skinny: Michigan won out for the services of Peoples-Jones over Florida, Florida State, Michigan State and Ohio State in December of his senior year. Through his first two seasons at Ann Arbor, Peoples-Jones has yet to reach his potential. Having totaled 69 receptions for 889 yards and eight touchdowns during this time, there has been improvement, but more will be needed out of him this fall in order for the Wolverines to reach their lofty goals in 2019.

Farrell’s take: Peoples-Jones was a big-time in-state keep for Jim Harbaugh and company back in 2017 and he’s shown flashes of greatness with much more expected this year. He’s not only an elite receiver but can impact in the return game as well. Out of high school he was a long, physical receiver with good speed.

Hinton was a huge get in the 2019 cycle as Michigan tries to add more five-stars to the roster. Shea Patterson was obviously higher rated than either player but as a transfer he doesn’t make this list.

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MICHIGAN STATE

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Kalon Gervin

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Julian Barnett

The skinny: Gervin was initially an early commitment to Notre Dame before he re-opened his process. He then ended up taking official visits to Oregon, Oklahoma and Nebraska during his senior season. However, it was in-state Michigan State that made his final two, along with the Ducks, which eventually led to his early December commitment to the Spartans. After redshirting in 2018, Gervin looks in line to receive significant second-team playing time this fall behind Josiah Scott and Josh Butler.

Farrell’s take: Michigan State’s reputation for developing defensive backs has certainly helped them recruit the position in recent years as Gervin was a huge in-state keep. He lacked great size but had excellent instincts and ball skills and he could support the run. Barnett is even higher ranked as a Rivals100 prospect and is another huge in-state recruit.

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MINNESOTA

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Carter Coughlin

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Jacob Clark

The skinny: With his mother, father, uncle and grandfather being past athletes at Minnesota, the Gophers were considered the heavy favorite from the start. Ohio State did put up a good fight, and he also considered Oregon, but Coughlin did the expected and committed to the Gophers during the spring after his junior season. Coming off his best collegiate season to date, when he finished with 48 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, which was second in the Big Ten, and four forced fumbles, people around the program are excited about his potential during his final season in Minneapolis.

Farrell’s take: Coughlin was the rare four-star for Minnesota and was a Rivals100 prospect to boot with great size, good bloodlines and the ability to play any linebacker position. However, Clark is arguably a more important commit as the quarterback of the future and a great get from Texas.

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NEBRASKA

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Lamar Jackson

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Wan'Dale Robinson

The skinny: Jackson took official visits to Nebraska, Utah, Michigan, Arizona and Arizona State before committing to the Huskers on the eve of National Signing Day. At the end he chose the Huskers over UCLA, USC, Arizona State Oregon and Arizona. Jackson is coming off his best collegiate season, having finished with 28 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups. He also finished strong, which has the coaching staff and fans excited about his final season in Lincoln.

Farrell’s take: Jackson was the nation’s top safety when he came out with great length and the ability to hit but he’s had an up-and-down career at Nebraska as a cornerback. However, bigger things are expected from him this year. Robinson, a former Kentucky commitment, is the highest ranked from the 2019 class and should see plenty of time.

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NORTHWESTERN

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Devin O'Rourke

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Michael Jansey Jr.

The skinny: O’Rourke took visits to Northwestern, Illinis and Indiana during the spring, but the final visit to Evanston was enough for him to commit to the Wildcats in early March. During his true freshman season, O’Rourke only saw action in two games, so he was able to keep his redshirt. With several veterans in front of him he will be fighting for playing time this fall, but he is athletic enough to make his mark.

Farrell’s take: O’Rourke was a huge get for Northwestern in the 2018 class from in state and should be making an impact as early as this season. A long and talented defensive end coming out of high school, he also showed a great motor. Jansey Jr. will contribute on defense as well before long as the program has done a good job recruiting in state and are building a defense.

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OHIO STATE

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Chase Young

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Zach Harrison

The skinny: In the summer before his senior season and shortly after attending the Buckeyes’ Friday Night Lights camp, Young committed to Ohio State. Maryland was also considered, but the Buckeyes were always thought to be the favorite. The buzz regarding Young has continually gotten louder since the end of last season. Having finished his sophomore season with 33 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks, he looks primed to have an All-American caliber season this fall.

Farrell’s take: Justin Fields is obviously the highest rated player on the roster but Young is the highest rated recruit, and he’s no slouch. In fact he could be the best defensive end in the country this year and the NFL is drooling over the former five-star. Harrison could contribute early as a rush end and could grow into a defensive tackle if needed. He’s a physical specimen.

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PENN STATE

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Micah Parsons

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Brandon Smith

The skinny: Parsons initially committed to Penn State before backing off the pledge in order to take a closer look at a few other programs. Ohio State became the biggest challenge to Penn State, but the Nittany Lions were able to regain his commitment in late November. Parsons did not disappoint during his true freshman season, finishing with 82 tackles, four tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Farrell’s take: Parsons was a defensive end in high school who played standing up quite a bit as well while Smith was a linebacker who looked like a defensive end. Parsons is turning into a star as expected and the five-star recruit has taken to linebacker with ease. Smith could be a star in a year or so as well, so the linebacker position looks loaded.

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PURDUE

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Rondale Moore

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - David Bell

The skinny: Moore was initially committed to Texas, but when he re-opened his process during his senior season, Purdue jumped at the opportunity. The Boilermakers, who were already talking to Moore before his de-commitment, were able to seal the deal after he took an official visit to West Lafayette in December. Moore turned in one of the more surprising all-around performances of the season in 2018. A game-breaking threat any time he touches the ball, all eyes will be on West Lafayette to see what Moore does for an encore this season.

Farrell’s take: We’ve seen what Moore can do on the field and bigger things are expected as he was clearly underranked coming out of high school. His strength is what impresses me the most and surprises opponents. Bell is a big-time get from in state and you could make a case that without Moore, they don’t take such a next step in recruiting.

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RUTGERS

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Micah Clark

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Aaron Young

The skinny: Clark announced a top five of Rutgers, Michigan, North Carolina, Michigan State and Tennessee before committing to the home-state Scarlet Knights during the spring. He saw action in seven games as a true freshman, but then was redshirted in 2018 after playing in only three games. Since the end of last season Clark has been moved to the defensive line and then missed half of spring practice due to personal reasons and then a leg injury. Summer camp has not gone much better as he continues to deal with medical issues.

Farrell’s take: Clark was a huge in-state get for Rutgers as a Rivals250 prospect in 2017 but he hasn’t panned out yet. However, on the defensive side of the ball perhaps he can turn things around. Young has a chance to be special as a running back who can also catch the ball.

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WISCONSIN

HIGHEST RANKED RETURNING PLAYER - Danny Davis

HIGHEST RANKED SIGNEE FROM CLASS OF 2019 - Graham Mertz

The skinny: Davis took official visits to Wisconsin, Oregon, West Virginia and Kentucky before committing to the Badgers on National Signing Day. It came down to the Badgers, Mountaineers and Wildcats, with the last visit to Madison putting Wisconsin over the top. Davis has had a productive first two seasons with the Badgers, having totaled 66 receptions for 836 yard and 10 touchdowns. Expectations were for a bigger season this fall, but a recent foot injury may slow Davis down a bit through the first few games.

Farrell’s take: Davis has been very good for Wisconsin and that’s no surprise as we liked his speed, size and ball skills coming out and the Badgers beat some good teams to land his services. Mertz could see time this year and he is clearly the quarterback of the future and the best QB I’ve seen Wisconsin recruit.

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