Biggest shoes to fill in the Big Ten
The 2020 NFL draft saw many players from the Big Ten Conference get selected throughout its 7 round process. Because of that, just as is the case every year, those teams will have to replace some very productive players. This is certainly not an easy transition, but players have to come from somewhere. Here are the spots that I think players will have the biggest shoes to fill in the conference in 2020.
Iowa Defensive End
The Hawkeyes lost one of their all-time great players, A.J. Epenesa, who was a second round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills. Epenesa was constantly one of the country's leaders in sacks and tackles for loss. He was a multiple year selection to All-Conference and All-American teams and was Defensive MVP of last year's Holiday Bowl. The likely candidates to replace Epenesa in 2020 seem to be Chauncey Golston, Chris Reames, and John Waggoner. Golston is a senior coming off an All-Big Ten season playing opposite Epenesa. He led the Big Ten in fumble recoveries and may stay in the other DE spot. Waggoner has similar size measurements to Epenesa but limited game experience. He played as a reserve in 10 games as a redshirt freshman. Reames isn't as heavy as Epenesa or Waggoner, but at 6'7" has length that can cause problems for opposing QBs. He's just a redshirt freshman and has no game experience at the college level. Joe Evans got moved from LB to DE this off-season and may also be in the competition.
Michigan State Defensive Line
The Spartans have had a dominating d-line the past couple of seasons (especially against the run), but lose 3 starters (DE Kenny Willekes and DTs Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams). The only returning starter on the front is senior DE Jacub Panasiuk. Willekes is the program's all-time leader in tackles for loss, former Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, and All- American. Williams and Panasiuk were both 4 year starters with iover 100 career tackles each Williams was also a 2 time all-Big Ten performer. The presumed replacements are Drew Beesley (Willekes), Naquan Jones (Williams), and Jacob Slade (Panasiuk). All three saw significant playing time as backups in 2019. Jack Camper, DeAri Todd, Zach Slade, Michael Fletcher, Jalen Hunt, and Brent Mossburg are also players I would think are under consideration for the spots.
Penn State Defensive End
The Nittany Lions lost Yetur Gross-Matos, who has the 10th most sacks in school history, to the NFL. While senior Shaka Toney likely has one DE spot, the other is up for grabs. Shane Simmons and Jayson Oweh look like the most likely candidates. Simmons probably has a leg up on Oweh as an incoming senior. He appeared in all 13 games last year. Oweh also appeared in 13 games last year with one start. Both will have a role to play this year, but the starter will have more pressure.
In 2019, the Gophers had Rodney Smith run for the third most yards by a senior in program history; He also holds the school records for all purpose yards, kick return TDs, and longest kick return. Smith, however, is now fighting for a roster spot in the NFL, meaning Minnesota will have to replace him. That replacement is likely Mohamed Ibrahim. Ibrahim is a redshirt junior and has significant game experience for the Gophers. He has set single game rushing records and will be looking to climb the schools all-time rushers list.
All-world, 2 time Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor is now a member of the Indianapolis Colts. Over the past 3 seasons, Taylor has been the workhorse for the Badgers offense, which seems to consistently churn out good backs. The Badgers will now have to find the next one. Senior Bradrick Shaw has also transferred to Cal, leaving Garrett Groshek as the most experienced RB on the roster. Groshek is a former quarterback with a career 916 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. He will be the leader, but I'd expect the Badgers to give plenty of backs a chance until one breaks out.
I usually wouldn't single out a specific position in the offensive line unit, but this is a big loss. Tyler Biadasz was a 3 time All-Big Ten honoree, 2-time All-American, and the 2019 Rimington Trophy winner. Center is a crucial position on the offensive line and a key to how well the whole unit works and communicates. Replacing such a great player at a position like this is a TALL order.
The Wolverines lose Khaleke Hudson, Jordan Glasgow, Josh Uche, and Devin Gill from last year's team. The first 3 are in the NFL, while Gill has transferred to South Florida. Uche was selected the team's Defensive Player of the Year for 2019 and was a 2 time All-Big Ten honoree. Hudson was a 3 time All-Conference honoree with 37 career starts. Glasgow played mainly special teams, but played a role on defense as well. Gill appeared in 40 games through out his Wolverine career. Josh Ross and Cam McGrone are the returning LBs with the most experience for this season. They'll have to make sure the unit is on the same page.
Penn State Wide Receivers
K.J. Hamler was a guy who could make game-changing plays for the Nittany Lions, but he is now a Denver Bronco. With Hamler in Denver, much of the receiving responsibility is passed on to TE Pat Freiermuth. Jahan Dotson is a returning starter and will likely be called upon to take a leading role. The rest seems to be pure competition, as there are no real proven commodities.
Ohio State Defensive Line
The Buckeyes have to replace 3 starters and one reserve along the defensive front. DE Chase Young was the most dominant defensive end we had seen in college in some time. DTs Davon Hamilton., Jashon Cornell, and Robert Landers are also now gone. There is plenty of talent on this roster to replace them with guys like Tyreke Smith, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Jonathon Cooper, and more, but replacing almost an entire d-line is a daunting task.
Ohio State RB- Didn't make the list because Trey Sermon and Master Teague are certainly good enough to take over for J.K. Dobbins.
Ohio State WR- Same reason. K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor are gone but Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson could potentially be even better.
Michigan DB- Lose Josh Metellus and Lavert Hill but lose more LBs. Have Ambry Thomas returning at CB.
Purdue TE- Brycen Hopkins will be tough to replace. Expect them to rely more on WR until TE prove themselves.
Michigan OL- Lose several starters (Ben Bredeson, John Runyan, Cesar Ruiz). All played key positions and must find good replacements to protect whoever their new QB is.
Wisconsin LB- Lose pass rusher Zach Baun, but MLB JackSanborn is back, and they always seem to find good guys to play the edge,