Ranking the Big Ten defensive ends
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Penn State's Maurice Evans is the Big Ten's top defensive end.|
After Big Ten Media Days interrupted the position-by-position ratings, we're back at it today with the defensive ends. Despite losing premier pass rushers like Ohio State's Vernon Gholston and Michigan State's Jonal Saint-Dic, the league looks solid on the edges. National sacks leader Greg Middleton from Indiana is back alongside Penn State star Maurice Evans, Illinois marauder Will Davis and others.
Here's the rundown:
1. Maurice Evans, Jr., Penn State -- Middleton had more sacks last season, but Evans proved to be a greater backfield menace. He ranked sixth nationally with 21.5 tackles for loss and ranked second in the Big Ten with five forced fumbles to go along with 12.5 sacks. Penn State boasts the Big Ten's best line, which makes it harder for opponents to double-team Evans.
2. Greg Middleton, Jr., Indiana -- He came out of nowhere to lead the nation in sacks with 16 last season. Middleton registered six multi-sack games and forced two fumbles, returning one for a touchdown. His challenge this fall will be maintaining a high level of production despite increased attention from opponents.
3. Will Davis, Sr., Illinois -- The defensive line could be Illinois' strongest unit, and Davis is its anchor. He ranked fifth in the league in sacks last season (9.5) despite not being an opening-day starter. Davis boasts excellent speed off the edge and will be coveted by NFL teams in April.
4. Matt Shaughnessy, Sr., Wisconsin -- Health is a concern after Shaughnessy broke a bone in his right leg during spring practice. If he's full strength by Aug. 30, he could do some major damage. The prototype end ranked fourth in the Big Ten in tackles for loss with 18 last season, and he has nine sacks in the last two years.
5. Derek Walker, Sr., Illinois -- After being named the team's top lineman in 2006, Walker's production fell off a bit last fall. But another year playing with a talented line should help him. Walker has excellent size and complements Will Davis on the other end of the Illini line.
6. Tim Jamison, Sr., Michigan -- Jamison is always around the ball and should flourish under new defensive coordinator Scott Shafer. One of many Wolverines players to benefit from the new strength program, Jamison had 10 tackles for loss last season to go along with two forced fumbles and an interception.
7. Brandon Graham, Jr., Michigan -- Graham recorded only 25 tackles last season, but he made them count. The sophomore led Michigan in sacks (8.5) and ranked second in forced fumbles (3). He also recovered two fumbles. Graham's summer weight-room progress is well documented, and he could shoot up this list by the end of the season.
8. Josh Gaines, Sr., Penn State -- The Nittany Lions' most experienced defensive lineman has played in every game the last three years, making 21 starts. His numbers might not be as eye-popping as other players on the list, but Gaines' endurance and leadership are invaluable to Penn State's defensive front.
9. Lawrence Wilson, Jr., Ohio State -- Many tabbed Wilson for a breakout season in 2007, but a broken leg in the opener sidelined the promising pass rusher. He's back to full strength and appears to be the ideal replacement for Gholston. If Wilson builds off his momentum as a freshman, when he collected three sacks and five tackles for loss, he'll soar up the list.
10. Cameron Heyward, So., Ohio State -- Heyward should be primed for a strong season after filling in well for Wilson as a freshman. He finished second on the team in tackles for loss (10) and added three pass breakups and a fumble recovery. The athletic Heyward provides versatility at end and should complement Wilson, who's more of a pure pass rusher.
Other defensive ends to watch this fall:
Trevor Anderson, Jr., Michigan State
Kirk DeCremer, So., Wisconsin
Corey Wootton, Jr., Northwestern
Jammie Kirlew, Jr., Indiana
Willie VanDeSteeg, Sr., Minnesota