football Edit

NFL Combine: Big Ten memories, storylines, hits and misses

Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (© Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK)

The list of invitees to the NFL Scouting Combine is out and the workouts are to start in the coming weeks leading into the NFL Draft. Here is a look at some memories, thoughts and trends surrounding the players invited from the Big Ten.


MORE GORNEY: Recruiting Rumor Mill | XFL returns with several former five-stars on team rosters

TRANSFER PORTAL: Latest news | Transfer portal player ranking | Transfer portal team ranking | Transfer Tracker | Message board | Team ranking FAQs

CLASS OF 2023 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Team | Position | State

CLASS OF 2024 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Team | Position | State

CLASS OF 2025 RANKINGS: Rivals100



There are five former five-star prospects from the Big Ten who have been invited to Indianapolis and probably two – Ohio State’s OL Paris Johnson Jr. and WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba – have the best chance at being first-round picks. It’s almost a certainty both will be taken in the opening round with Johnson probably being the most-sure thing since Smith-Njigba will be watched closely after missing significant time this season with injuries.

Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison, Maryland receiver Rakim Jarrett and Nebraska receiver Trey Palmer are probably not in the first-round range at this point.



Joey Porter, Jr.
Joey Porter, Jr. (© Dan Rainville / USA TODAY NETWORK)

This might be a sign that not enough players headed to the Big Ten are getting five-star rankings. Or it could be a one-off year where some players across the country that headed to that conference were just slightly underranked.

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud was a fringe five-star and could come off as the No. 1 quarterback in the draft. Four-star offensive linemen Peter Skoronski, Jaelyn Duncan and possibly Luke Wypler could end up being first-round selections and then Michigan defensive lineman Mazi Smith has been in first-round discussions as well.

The biggest miss in the rankings arguably when it comes to Big Ten programs is Penn State defensive back Joey Porter Jr., who is widely expected to go in the first round as one of the top handful of corners in a loaded group. He was a three-star out of Pittsburgh (Pa.) North Allegheny.



Jake Moody
Jake Moody (© Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Michigan is on a roll that could dramatically help with future recruiting. The Wolverines played in the College Football Playoff and came inches away from playing for a national title. Then Michigan finished with a top-20 recruiting class in 2023. And now the Wolverines lead the Big Ten with nine combine invites – and they accomplished that feat without former five-stars and high fours.

Sure, it helped that both specialists got invited in Jake Moody and Brad Robbins but four-stars Mazi Smith and Mike Morris on the defensive line lead the way. That cannot hurt when top recruits look at Michigan’s development for the NFL. Offensive linemen Ryan Hayes (three-star), Olu Oluwatimi (unranked after starting his career at Air Force), three-star TE Luke Schoonmaker and three-star DJ Turner II also landed invites. Former two-star receiver Ronnie Bell was clearly a miss in the recruiting rankings.




Charlie Jones
Charlie Jones (© Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Here is a look at some Big Ten players who absolutely outplayed their ranking as it’s impossible to predict everyone perfectly. There will always be some big surprises. Here they are:

Former three-stars Jack Campell (Iowa linebacker), Northwestern defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore and Minnesota offensive lineman John Michael Schmitz are all potential second- to third-round selections. Campbell had more than 300 tackles in his career, Adebawore had 9.5 sacks over the last two years and Schmitz had only one other Power Five offer coming out of Homewood (Ill.) Homewood Flossmoor.

Two-star receivers Mitchell Tinsley from Penn State and Purdue's Charlie Jones were both production machines who transferred from smaller programs, and former two-star running back Chase Brown from Illinois was also a big transfer that should be drafted.

Unranked Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell has a mid- to late-round grade and unranked defensive back Devon Witherspoon from Illinois was supposed to go JUCO but joined the team late and thus missed on a final ranking.



Three Big Ten programs have two or fewer players heading to the combine and that could be a challenge to overcome in recruiting.

Michigan State is sending only two with one being a punter, Indiana linebacker Cam Jones, a former three-star, is the only Hoosier heading up the road to Indianapolis and Rutgers has just one player as well and it’s punter Adam Korsak.