We're continuing to rank each position group in the Big Ten, both by individual player and as units.
We wrapped up the offense on Tuesday and are now turning our attention to the defense. Let's start up front, with the top individual defensive linemen in the league heading into 2012. Remember that we're basing this heavily off 2011 production, along with consideration given for 2012 potential.
A drumroll, please:
1. John Simon, DE, Ohio State: Others on this list may have more physical gifts, but few get as much out of their talent as Simon. A nonstop motor and off-the-charts work ethic are his best qualities. He had 16 tackles for loss and can play just about anywhere on the line. He seems poised for huge things this fall.
2. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: Short likely would have been selected in the first three rounds had he enter the NFL draft, but he's got his eyes set on the first round. He just might get there, too, as an exceptionally athletic 310-pounder who wreaks havoc in the middle. He had 17 tackles for loss last year, the same number as Big Ten defensive player of the year Devon Still.
3. William Gholston, DE, Michigan State: No one has more potential than Gholston, and he's already pretty productive, too. A second-team All-Big Ten performer a year ago, he had a breakout showing against Georgia in the Outback Bowl. He can be scary good.
4. Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: Speaking of high ceilings, there are many who think Hankins is a first-round pick in next year's draft. It's easy to see why, since he's a massive, 317-pounder who's quick on his feet. He had 11 TFLs last season, and that number could go up.
5. Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois: So far, this list proves one thing: The Big Ten is once again stacked at defensive tackle. Spence is one of the strongest players in the league and a big reason for the Illini defensive success a year ago. He could parlay a big junior year into a high NFL draft pick next April.
6. Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois: Buchanan is undersized at 240 pounds and was overshadowed by teammate Whitney Mercilus last year. But no returning Big Ten defensive linemen had more than his 7.5 sacks a year ago. Explosive off the edge, he can also drop back and play outside linebacker when not terrorizing quarterbacks.
7. Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State: Hill has been a sturdy, steady player in the middle of the defensive line and complemented Still last season. The question is whether he can become more than that and take his game to the next level as Still did in 2011. And, of course, whether he'll be wearing a Penn State uniform while doing so.
8. Craig Roh, DE, Michigan: The Wolverines need Roh to take his game to the star level in 2012 as he moves to the strong side to replace Ryan Van Bergen. Roh is undersized for the position but has worked hard to add weight. He's got the necessary speed and athleticism to be an impact end.
9. Cameron Meredith, DE, Nebraska: Meredith has started 27 consecutive games for Nebraska and has been effective both as a pass-rusher and a run-stopper. He looks to be a leader on the defense this season.
10. Marcus Rush, DE, Michigan State: Jerel Worthy got most of the headlines last season, and Gholston steals the spotlight now, but Rush is a very promising player in his own right. He collected 12 tackles for loss and four sacks last year as a redshirt freshman and is sure to get plenty of opportunities this season as teams game plan to stop Gholston.