Replacing The Stars: Where Big Ten teams will turn in 2020
There are many college football stars headed off to the NFL, with many of them starring last week at the NFL Combine. Who will replace these departing standouts? Today we look at the Big Ten.
Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.
ASK FARRELL: Which 2021 players are destined for NFL combine?
AJ EPENESA, Iowa DE
The skinny: Chauncey Golston will man the opposite side of the line but replacing AJ Epenesa still seems like a work in progress. John Waggoner and Zach VanValkenburg bring back the most experience, but neither made much of an impact in 2019. Logan Lee was able to redshirt as a freshman and should push for playing time after impressing in practice. Iowa also has Deontae Craig coming in, who possesses a great deal of natural ability, but true freshmen usually face a tough road to seeing playing time in Iowa City under Kirk Ferentz. However, the guess here is that Waggoner or VanValkenburg will play with the first-team at the beginning of the season, with Lee and Craig earning increased time as we get into October and November.
Farrell’s take: Waggoner was well-regarded out of high school and I like his chances to step his game up. He won’t be Epenesa, but I like what Waggoner has to offer. Craig is one to watch to see how quickly he develops as he could be special.
YETUR GROSS-MATOS, Penn State DE
The skinny: While losing Yetur Gross-Matos to the NFL will be felt, the Nittany Lions have a couple of intriguing young players with a great deal of potential. Most likely to fill Gross-Matos’ void is Jayson Oweh, who has impressed everyone in Happy Valley since his arrival with his hard work and athleticism. Finishing the 2019 season with 21 tackles, five tackles for a loss, five sacks and two forced fumbles, Oweh may make fans forget about Gross-Matos sooner than later. Also keep an eye on Adisa Isaac, another young, athletic end who will earn increased playing time this fall.
Farrell’s take: Oweh is the guy here and we liked him a ton coming out of high school as an athletic freak who was still raw and learning. I like Isaac as well, but look for Oweh to push for all-conference honors and take his game to the next level this season.
SHEA PATTERSON, Michigan QB
The skinny: It is debatable if Shea Patterson ever fully reached the expectations of Michigan fans after his transfer from Ole Miss, but either way it is always interesting when a program must replace a multi-year starter at quarterback. While spring and summer practices will determine everything, Dylan McCaffrey is the early frontrunner after backing up Patterson during the last two seasons. However, his lack of actual playing time does leave the door open for both Joe Milton and Cade McNamara. Plenty of eyes will be on Ann Arbor this off-season to see if any of the three can distance themselves from the pack.
Farrell’s take: McCaffrey is the guy here for now as he’s more polished and game ready than Milton or McNamara. Don’t let the last name fool you, this isn’t a freak athlete like his brother Christian McCaffrey but he’s a more than capable starter in a pro-style offense who can move around some. Patterson was solid but never reached the heights expected as he latched onto his first read too often and struggled with confidence. McCaffrey will eventually be an upgrade.
JONATHAN TAYLOR, Wisconsin RB
The skinny: With Jonathan Taylor heading to the NFL and Bradrick Shaw entering the transfer portal, there is an odd void at the running back position in Madison. Nakia Watson returns after rushing for 331 yards and two touchdowns on 74 carries as Taylor’s main back-up last season. However, he will likely get a serious push from incoming freshman Jalen Berger.They are different types of backs, which may work in the Badgers’ best interest, with Watson being more power, while Berger is all-purpose. This may very well be a two-man effort to replace Taylor, who left Wisconsin after rushing for 6,174 yards and 50 touchdowns in his three seasons.
Farrell’s take: Taylor is nearly impossible to replace with his size and speed combination. He’s arguably the best back in Wisconsin history which is saying something. How do you replace that? I like Berger to make a strong push as yet another New Jersey back who will impact for the Badgers. It’s a lot of pressure to put on one kid but Berger could be very special.
CHASE YOUNG, Ohio State DE
The skinny: Replacing an All-American defensive end has become an annual tradition for Ohio State. As with the Bosa brothers, replacing Young will not be simple, but the Buckeyes have a stable of capable young players waiting their turn. The pick here to take that next step towards stardom is Zach Harrison, who as a true freshman totaled 24 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in limited action. It would not be surprising if Tyreke Smith, Jonathan Cooper and/or Javontae Jean-Baptiste also became major contributors on the defensive line, but Harrison looks to be the one with the highest ceiling at this point.
Farrell’s take: Worry not, Ohio State fans. While the next Joey or Nick Bosa or Chase Young might not be on the roster, there is plenty of talent here. Harrison is a physical freak and has the best chance to be the next great DE for the Buckeyes but the depth is impressive. Smith is also a physical presence and he could be special as well.