- Josh Moyer, Penn State/Big Ten reporter
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ESPN.com’s Travis Haney took a closer look at players who could break out nationally in 2015, so as part of a conference-wide series, we decided to pick out the five Big Ten players most likely to break out.
1. Penn State DE Carl Nassib
Tired of seeing Nassib on breakout lists yet? Well, get used to it. If there’s one player who could come out of nowhere and make the All-B1G team, it sure seems to be Nassib. He’s strong and quick, and he solidified a starting job early in the spring. Teammates have raved about his improvement and athleticism, and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has been especially complimentary. Said Shoop: “He could be a five- or 10-year veteran in the NFL.” That kind of praise doesn’t come often, but apparently, neither do former walk-ons such as Nassib.
2. Wisconsin LB T.J. Edwards
He played QB and some safety in high school – not linebacker – so he can be forgiven for needing a redshirt year to transition. Turns out, that’s all he really needed. As a redshirt freshman, he has already earned one of the Badgers’ starting inside linebacker spots while impressing this coaching staff. During one practice about two weeks ago, for example, he had two interceptions and two sacks and “was constantly making tackles on running plays.” Edwards is going to be a special player, and it looks as if it won’t take long for the rest of the Big Ten to figure that out.
3. Minnesota DE Hank Ekpe
Ekpe started just one career game, but that really hasn’t been due to lack of ability. A severe sinus infection last year left him with severe headaches and sometimes blurry vision. But that’s all in the past now. He is healthy, and he has drawn some pretty lofty comparisons this spring. Coach Jerry Kill likened him to Missouri’s Shane Ray and Markus Golden, two players who just went in the first and second rounds of the NFL draft. Ekpe has been “almost unblockable” at times and could be a pleasant surprise for the Gophers.
4. Ohio State WR Noah Brown
To start off, he claimed the title of “most talked about Buckeye in spring practice.” What exactly is everyone talking about? Urban Meyer said he could be one of the starting three, and receivers coach Zach Smith said he “had probably as good of a spring as I could’ve wanted.” He dropped more than 20 pounds from the past season, made an incredible one-handed catch in the spring game and is now expected to be among the players to fill the shoes of Devin Smith, Evan Spencer and Jeff Heuerman.
5. Nebraska RB Terrell Newby
The Huskers have had a 1,000-yard rusher for six straight seasons, and as long as Newby's impressive spring continues into the fall, he sure looks like a good bet to keep that streak going. It's obvious he can run – Newby had 53 yards on seven carries in the spring game – but more importantly, he’s also versatile. Head coach Mike Riley has praised his ability to catch and block. Said Riley: “A guy with what we’ve done in the past with those things can function pretty well.” He won’t be the only Husker carrying the ball, but he’s on the path to lead this team in touches.
Former Penn State walk-on Carl Nassib looks like the real deal; Ohio State WR Noa Brown has shed some weight and could help replace Devin Smith.