- Dan Murphy, ESPN Staff Writer
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Football season can't come soon enough but, until that opening kickoff, we're here to help you pass the time.
Every day this week, as part of a new series, we're debating the top -- or, in some cases, second-best -- player at different positions. We won't always agree, but we'll always give you our reasons for a particular pick.
The Wednesday roundtable of the week: After Penn State's Anthony Zettel, who is the best defensive tackle in the Big Ten?
Austin Ward: Ohio State DT Adolphus Washington
The versatility provided by Washington seemingly always makes him a candidate to be shuffled around up front. But after finding a home on the interior for the Buckeyes, Washington developed into an invaluable building block for a much-improved defense and could have left school last year and been a second-round pick.
He’ll have a chance to boost that stock this fall, and Ohio State will certainly be glad to have him around as it tries to defend its national title. His statistics might look relatively modest with 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, but by the end of the season Washington was figuring out how to beat double teams, stuffing the run and picking his spots as a pass-rusher to make an impact.
The addition of defensive line coach Larry Johnson a year ago has only helped make Washington more dangerous, and with the strength to battle in the trenches, the speed to still rush the passer and fundamentals that continue to be sharpened, the veteran will be among the top threats in the league this fall.
Josh Moyer: Nebraska DT Maliek Collins
How do you want to measure the best defensive tackle -- numbers, ability, accolades? Because, any way you look at it, Collins has it covered.
The 6-foot-2, 300-pound junior led the Huskers last season with 14 tackles for loss and finished behind only Randy Gregory in sacks (4.5) and QB hurries (13). He also only got better as the season wore on, collecting at least five tackles in four of the last six games. He collected plenty of honors, too, as Nebraska's Defensive co-MVP and as a second-team All-B1G selection. He's also the only returning defensive tackle, outside of Zettel, who earned a spot.
Former coach Bo Pelini said Collins reminded him of two-time All-American Glenn Dorsey. That's high praise, but it's well-deserved. He's not just one of the top DTs in the B1G, he's one of the top players.
Dan Murphy: Rutgers DT Darius Hamilton
At 255 pounds, Hamilton isn’t your typical space-eating, eclipse-producing, dominant force on the interior defensive line. He gets the job done for the Scarlet Knights with his speed (clocked at a 4.7-second 40-yards dash) and technique. He posted six sacks and a team-high 11.5 tackles for loss during his junior season.
Hamilton has not had the supporting cast in the trenches of players like Washington or Nebraska’s Collins during his first three years on campus. Rutgers’ run defense suffered last year in its Big Ten debut, but it’s hard to fault Hamilton (a former five-star prospect) for those problems. He should have more of a premier pass rusher next to him to attract some attention this season if sophomore Kemoko Turay continues to develop.
Hamilton has played a big role in helping Turay prepare to take the next step in 2015. The two-time captain has been on a strong influence on his young defensive linemen and the defense a whole. His leadership may be his best asset for the Scarlet Knights and sets him apart from some of the league’s other talented defensive tackles.
336dAdam Rittenberg, Brian Bennett, Austin Ward and Mitch Sherman