Big Ten spotlight: Teams that have produced most active NFL players
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report…
The NCAA recently released an interesting list of players on NFL opening weekend rosters by college. This week we’ll take a look at which teams in the Power Five conferences produce the most pros and we start with the Big Ten.
MORE: Key recruiting targets for top four teams in AP Top 25
1. OHIO STATE - 42
The skinny: Leading the way for the Big Ten is Ohio State, with the Buckeyes' numbers recently bolstered by the flood of Urban Meyer recruits making their way into the league. This includes Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Michael Thomas and Curtis Samuel. Aside from this group, there are several pre-Meyer players that have made their mark in the NFL, including Ryan Shazier, Malcolm Jenkins, Cameron Heyward and Terrelle Pryor, who has redefined his career recently as a wide receiver.
Farrell’s take: No surprise here as the Buckeyes have recruited at the highest level in the Big Ten for years. But the influx of talent from the Meyer era has been amazing and the young talent on the current roster should continue to add to that over the next many years. Elliott, Bosa, Thomas and Samuel are all four-star prospects who were coached to a five-star level in Columbus.
2. MICHIGAN - 35
The skinny: Any list of Michigan alumni in the NFL must start with Tom Brady, but the Wolverines have 34 others ex-players in the league this season. Big things are expected in 2017 from rookie Jabrill Peppers, while Frank Clark, David Harris and Chad Henne have long established themselves as reliable veterans. It will be interesting to see how younger players like Jake Butt, Taco Charlton, Jourdan Lewis and Taylor Lewan progress in the coming seasons.
Farrell’s take: This number will jump considerably with the way Jim Harbaugh is recruiting and the young roster he fields today is loaded with guys the NFL is drooling over. Brady was pre-Rivals.com (he would have been a four-star) and is the clear superstar of the league, but the 2017 NFL Draft was huge for the Wolverines as players are being developed much better under Harbaugh that the previous two coaches.
3. WISCONSIN - 32
The skinny: While J.J. Watt is the most successful ex-Badger, he definitely isn’t the only one who has made a name for himself in the NFL. Known for their punishing running attack, it should come as no surprise that the Badgers have several top-level offensive linemen and running backs in the league. Joe Thomas and Travis Frederick are among the top offensive linemen at their position, while plenty will also be expected from rookie Ryan Ramczyk. And at running back Melvin Gordon and James White have found success, while rookie Corey Clement recently made the Philadelphia roster.
Farrell’s take: Surprised that Wisconsin is so close to Ohio State and Michigan? Don’t be. A powerful, pro-style offense is attractive to NFL scouts and the defense has always played physically. While guys like Thomas, Gordon, White and Clement were big-time four-star recruits, Watt was a two-star and Ramczyk was unranked. The Badgers have become known for developing players above and beyond their ranking.
4. PENN STATE - 30
The skinny: The majority of the star power for the Nittany Lions has come on the defensive side of the ball. NaVorro Bowman, Cameron Wake and Tamba Hali are well-respected veterans, while Sean Lee and Paul Posluszny have also established themselves at linebacker. Offensively, Allen Robinson has impressed in Jacksonville, while Chris Godwin, Jesse James and Christian Hackenberg are just some of the younger players hoping for an opportunity to prove themselves in 2017 on that side of the ball.
Farrell’s take: This number is astonishing when you consider the scholarship reduction in recent years and you could argue that Penn State would be No. 1 on this list without them. Some of the key guys are from the old regime of course but Bill O’Brien and now James Franklin have developed some excellent players. And with the recruiting resurgence in Happy Valley, watch for this number to swell in a few years.
5. MICHIGAN STATE - 29
The skinny: While the Spartans are more known for their defensive style of play, their offensive star power in the league continues to grow. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell is one of the elite talents in the league, Kirk Cousins continues to put up big numbers in Washington and Jack Conklin is considered by many to be one of the league's top young offensive linemen. It will also be interesting to see if some of their younger defensive back alumni, such as Trae Waynes, Montae Nicholson and Darqueze Dennard, continue to develop.
Farrell’s take: Michigan State probably does more with less, when it comes to star ratings, than anyone else in the Big Ten and possibly the country. Bell was a two-star as was Waynes and Dennard, while Conklin was a walk on. Cousins was a three-star and the list goes on and on. I’m not surprised at all they are in the top five here.
Nebraska 27 – Most successful… Ndamukong Suh
Iowa 26 – Most successful… Marshal Yanda
Illinois 17 – Most successful… Vontae Davis
Rutgers 16 – Most successful… Devin McCourty
Farrell’s take: Nebraska and Iowa just missed the cut here and the Huskers especially could crack the top five in a few years if they continue to recruit at a high level. The drop off after Iowa is actually quite astonishing considering the number of NFL players from mid-level Power Five programs, Group of Five programs and FCS schools.