Biggest Holes to Fill for Big Ten Teams in 2022
Ohio State Wide Receiver
The performances of Jaxson Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr, and Julian Fleming in the Rose Bowl against Utah provided a cushion to the blow, but the Buckeyes still have to replace two top-11 picks at the position. It helps that quarterback CJ Stroud and running back TreVeyon Henderson can take away some of the pressure, and this is where their recruiting pedigree becomes a luxury and could allow them to fill the holes without missing a beat, but you can't judge what players will be just from one game.
Ohio State Offensive Line
This could be the one area that weakens the Buckeyes' offense as the team loses four key offensive linemen including three starters. The good news is starting center Luke Wypler and tackle Dawand Jones both return, but replacing three-fifths of the line is never an easy thing to do. Luckily, it's an older group and most of the returning players were listed on the two-deep depth chart at the end of last season.
Indiana Wide Receiver
Ty Fryfogle was the guy to watch and Peyton Hendershot gave the passing offense a jolt from the tight end position. Both had over 500 receiving yards in 2021 and are not the only losses for the Hoosiers in this phase of the game. Miles Marshall, Camron Buckley, and Jordyn Williams have all transferred, leaving the Indiana offense with just two receivers who have had seasons over 100 yards. The team will have to lean on senior DJ Matthews and North Carolina transfer Emery Simmons this season.
Indiana Running Back
Leading rusher Stephen Carr has graduated, and, while he didn't exactly light the world on fire during his time in Bloomington, he had a productive college career overall and still leaves a key vacancy for his team. The Hoosiers did land Auburn transfer Shaun Shivers, but he is a much smaller and shifter type of back who best fits in a complementary role rather than as a feature player or starter. Indiana will need to find a true starting back to pair with Shivers if it hopes to have a serviceable running offense in 2022.
Michigan Defensive Line
The Michigan defense--especially the defensive line-- was a huge part of its run to its first conference title since 2004. Now, star defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo are off to the NFL as are defensive tackles Donovan Jeter and Chris Hinton Jr. That leaves Mazi Smith as the most prominent player on the defensive front as the Wolverines will trot out a whole new group this fall.
Michigan State Running Back
Kenneth Walker III burst onto the scene as one of the best running backs in college football last season and was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round in April. He won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back and had arguably the best individual season of any running back in program history. The Spartans have a stable full of capable backs who will attempt to take the torch-- including returnees Harold Joiner, Elijah Collins, and Jordan Simmons and transfers Jarek Broussard and Jalen Berger.
Penn State Wide Receiver
This makes my list because Jahan Dotson's combination of speed and dominant route running far exceeds that of any returning players for the Nittany Lions and his departure will be very apparent on this offense. Having said that, Parker Washington stands in an excellent position for a breakout year after posting 820 yards and four touchdowns as the number two option last year, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith also returns after a productive season. Anything beyond that is relatively unknown for the team at this point. They have talent at the position; I'm just not sure how they replace a game-changer like Dotson.
Olakunle Fatukasi and Tyshon Fogg were two of the most underrated linebackers in the Big Ten during their careers. They had above-average athleticism and proved to be great tacklers. Fogg contributed in every year he was on the team--including the final three as a starter-- and Fatukasi started alongside him for most of that time and finished his career with the 12th-most tackles in Rutgers football history. Between the two of them, Rutgers is losing over 600 career tackles, over 100 games played, and two of its team captains. I don't care where those players head off to or how well-known they were during their careers; that's production and character you can't easily replace at any level.
Minnesota Defensive Line
This group gets a little bit of help with defensive end Thomas Rush returning for a fifth year. However, there is still a ton being replaced. Defensive ends Boye Mafe and Esezi Ottomewo both head off to the NFL after becoming the Gophers' top pass rushers and combining for 22.5 sacks in their careers. That may not seem like much, but Mafe's 15 are good enough for ninth in Minnesota football history, and Ottomewo's production was not far behind. The team also needs to replace defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney, who started 12 of 13 games last year after transferring from Clemson.
Cameron Taylor-Britt produced three consecutive noteworthy seasons as a starter and his 2021 performance catapulted him into the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. While he only had one interception last year, he proved to be a sure tackler and a true shutdown corner when tested. Those can be hard to find and even more difficult to replace. Nebraska will attempt to do just that with transfers Tyreke Johnson and Tommi Hill as the lead candidates.
Purdue Wide Receiver
The Boilermakers will look to replace David Bell (NFL) and Milton Wright (academically ineligible) this season. Bell finished his three-year collegiate career with nearly 3,000 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns, while Wright had a career-best 732 yards with seven touchdowns in 2021 and was expected to become the primary target for Aidan O'Connell after Bell's departure. The absence of both players leaves the Boilers likely looking at Iowa transfers Charlie Jones and Tyrone Tracy as well as senior Broc Thompson and redshirt junior TJ Sheffield to take on blogger roles.
Greg Newsome put the Wildcats' secondary on the map as a 2021 first-round NFL draft selection. However, star safety Brandon Joseph-- who is currently projected as a possible first-round prospect for 2023-- leaves a big hole on the backend of the Northwestern defense after transferring to Notre Dame. AJ Hampton should be able to hold down the fort at corner, but Joseph's replacement remains a mystery.
Wisconsin Wide Receiver
Wisconsin is usually a largely run-based offense, so there may not be a huge drop-off in production in the passing game. However, junior Chimere Dike is the only returning Badger receiver to have caught more than three passes last season. He becomes the primary target with Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis moving on from the program.
Wisconsin Offensive Line
While Wisconsin doesn't have to replace as much as Ohio State will, the Badgers have two spots on the offensive line after losing Logan Bruss and Josh Seltzner to the pros. However, history has shown us that Wisconsin turns out stud offensive linemen as if it were a factory. We just don't know who will be the ones stepping up this time.