We're picking up this week where we left off two weeks ago with a discussion of the best players at each position in the Big Ten. Next up are the defensive backs.
Mitch Sherman: Minnesota CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun
Suppressing the urge to simply go with the next guy up at Michigan State's DB factory, I settled on the Golden Gophers' senior co-captain for his knack to make the right play at the right time.
After all, is there anything more vital to the success of a defensive back?
A junior-college transfer originally from Delaware, Boddy-Calhoun missed most of the 2013 season with injury but made a name for himself in the Big Ten last fall. And if you don't know the name, it's pronounced BREE-in. Learn it, because he figures to factor prominently again in 2015 as the vocal leader of a secondary that rivals Ohio State and Wisconsin as the league's best.
Boddy-Calhoun, at 5-foot-11, is a smaller version of Seahawks' All-Pro corner Richard Sherman, according to Minnesota secondary coach Jay Sawvel. That comparison ought to grab your attention. If you watched the Gophers in 2014, you understand. Boddy-Calhoun always appears around the football -- like at Nebraska, when he jarred the ball loose from De'Mornay Pierson-El for an interception with 79 seconds to play at the 2-yard line as the Gophers led by four points.
He led Minnesota with five interceptions last season, not including his pick of a two-point conversion against Missouri in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, and earned All-Big Ten recognition from the media -- among two returning first-team defensive backs.
Look, there are plenty of good defensive backs in the league this season. William Likely at Maryland is more versatile. Michael Caputo at Wisconsin is more physical. Eli Apple and Vonn Bell at Ohio State are more athletic.
But with the game on the line in man-to-man coverage, I'd trust no one more than Boddy-Calhoun to do his job.
Josh Moyer: Ohio State S Vonn Bell
Well, Mitch, if you're looking for a guy who makes the right plays at the right times, then you don't really have to look much further than Bell.
He finished 2014 with six interceptions -- one more than Boddy-Calhoun -- and had four of those in his last six games, including a crucial red zone pick against Alabama. Actually, that last fact might have something to do with why Bell wasn't a first-team All-American this preseason.
See, Bell's best performances came at the end because, according to co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, it took Bell about four or five games last season to really get acclimated. (He was coming off a torn MCL in the spring, after all.) That's a scary thought, considering he still ended up with such a strong statistical season: 92 tackles (57 solo), 12 pass deflections, six breakups, and a sack and fumble recovery.
That's, in part, why I have him ranked over Boddy-Calhoun -- not because he had a better overall season but because he was better when it counted. And because, once Bell found his footing, few in the nation were better.
That's why Bell has received such strong endorsements this preseason. His uncharacteristic blend of speed and athleticism -- let's call this play Exhibit A and this Exhibit B -- are rare in college football. That's why Alabama's Nick Saban wanted him as a recruit so badly. That's why Phil Steele and Athlon have him as their highest-ranked Big Ten defensive back this preseason. That's why Mel Kiper Jr. has the junior just outside his Big Board of the top-25 draft prospects.
No, he hasn't garnered comparisons to players like CB Richard Sherman. But Ash almost did him one better: "I would say Vonn is one of the best tacklers I've ever been around." High praise, but not much of a stretch considering he had more tackles last season than any other Ohio State safety of the past 10 years.
So, forget the Big Ten. Bell is one of the best safeties in the nation -- and that's why he's my pick.