The B1G Picture: Shoes to fill
The Big Ten saw 44 of its brightest stars get selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, second only to the SEC, and seven players from the conference heard their name called in the very first round.
Potent offensive weapons like Ohio State and Minnesota's Justin Fields and Rashod Bateman, as well as defensive difference-makers like Michigan's Kwity Paye and Northwestern's Greg Newsome are just a few of the names that require replacing this season, and for some teams, turning over top-end talent may be more difficult than others.
In the third part of our conference-wide series, contributors for each Rivals.com team site in the Big Ten were tasked with highlighting the biggest shoes that must be filled on their respective rosters ahead of the upcoming season.
The single pair of shoes most important to fill this season for the Buckeyes is no doubt that of Justin Fields, but since we touched on the quarterback battle on Monday, let’s discuss another vital position group that is undergoing wholesale turnover this season.
The Ohio State linebacker unit loses its top four players from a season ago in Pete Werner, Baron Browning, Justin Hilliard and Tuf Borland, which means this year’s senior class of Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant and K’Vaughan Pope will be stepping into leadership roles without much game experience to back it up.
With Gant injured this spring, four-star second-year LB Cody Simon saw first-team reps on the inside, but bullet hybrids Craig Young, Ronnie Hickman and Kourt Williams –– if healthy by the start of the season –– may take some time away from the aforementioned group due to the potential schematic changes on the Buckeye defense.
– BuckeyeGrove team writer Griffin Strom
The biggest shoes to fill this season has to be at running back with the departure of Stevie Scott III.
Say what you want about his production or lack of a season ago, but Scott was the safety net for the Hoosiers when it came to running the football. Yes, Indiana brings back Tim Baldwin, Sampson James and David Ellis, but those three didn’t do a whole lot a season ago.
Baldwin had 141 yards on 22 carries, of which 106 came against Maryland. James finished with 96 yards on 32 carries in six games and Ellis accounted for 61 yards on 16 touches. Indiana finished 12th in the Big Ten out of 14 teams in rushing offense, averaging 108.7 yards and Indiana finished with 869 yards on 278 carries and 12 touchdowns.
Say what you want about Scott, but he was able to find the end zone and get the tough yards for Indiana, and the question now is who is going to step up and do that.
– TheHoosier staff writer Paul Gable
Pat Freiermuth at tight end stands out, but the fact that he was injured earlier in the season and missed action the rest of the way meant Penn State had the opportunity to get extensive action for backups Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson already.
After that, edge rusher Jayson Oweh might not have had the statistical impact many believed he’d make coming into the season, but his early exit for the NFL and Shaka Toney’s graduation mean two new starters are coming at the position this fall.
– BlueWhiteIllustrated senior editor Nate Bauer
Ruben Hyppolite. The sophomore linebacker will likely be tasked with stepping in and replacing the Terps' leading tackler from a season ago. If anyone is up to the task, it is likely Hyppolite.
The former Rivals four-star got his first career start versus Indiana last season, finishing with seven tackles. He also had a huge game in the Terps' win over Penn State, again tallying seven tackles, as well as a couple of sacks. He should likely be one of the Terps' leading tacklers next season.
– TerrapinSportsReport publisher Scott Greene
I’d say the biggest shoes to fill would probably be those of former defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour.
The current New York Jet had a pretty solid grad transfer year for the Scarlet Knights in 2020 and it will be be hard to replace his impact, but it will be up to former All-AAC lineman Ifeanyi Maijeh to replace him.
He’s shown potential in the past and is back working with the DLine coach who recruited him out of high school in Jim Panagos. Now add in the fact he looked pretty darn solid and a little more athletic than his predecessor. Maijeh should fit in just fine and if he has a solid year, the NFL could be within reach.
– TheKnightReport publisher Richard Schnyderite
The guy with the biggest shoes to fill is 2021 first-round NFL Draft pick (No. 21 overall to the Indianapolis Colts) Kwity Paye. We have redshirt sophomore defensive end (will play as a stand-up outside 'backer as well) Taylor Upshaw as the projected starter opposite of Aidan Hutchinson and in replacement of Paye.
Upshaw got some experience last season while Hutchinson and Paye were out with injuries, and he showed some flashes, notching 17 tackles, three stops for loss and one sack. He's no Paye, however, and will need to have improved this offseason if he wants to be an All-Big Ten type of player this fall.
– TheWolverine staff writer Clayton Sayfie
Michigan State didn’t have an NFL Draft pick for the first time in program history, but the Spartans did lose one of the best players in recent program history with the graduation of linebacker Antjuan Simmons.
Few players in recent Michigan State history have meant as much to the program as Simmons did. Simmons was a team leader, a reliable playmaker, and the face of the Michigan State program. Those kind of guys are tough to replace.
– SpartanMag associate editor Paul Konyndyk
This is a tough one because Northwestern lost a ton on both sides of the ball, including QB Peyton Ramsey and NFL first-round CB Greg Newsome II. But I’m going to go with middle linebacker Paddy Fisher.
A four-year starter and three-year captain, Fisher was the leader of the defense that carried the team over the last few years. He won the Butkus-Fitzgerald Award as the top linebacker in the Big Ten last year and made over 400 tackles in his career.
On top of that, the players vying to replace him – redshirt junior Khalid Jones and sophomore Cullen Coleman -- have very little game experience.
– WildcatReport publisher/managing editor Louie Vaccher
Offensive line is always going to be a key position for the Hawkeyes and the most important position there is left tackle.
Alaric Jackson was a multiple year starter at left tackle and he departed when he graduated. Mark Kallenberger was expected to be the starter, but he opted to graduate the spring and move on from football. In steps Jack Plumb, who was potentially a starter at right tackle this season. So far, Plumb has looked solid at left tackle.
– HawkeyeReport publisher Tom Kakert
One on each side of the ball includes who will take over at left tackle and the defensive end spots.
Cole Van Lanen anchored that left side of the offensive line, and now he’s off to attempt to earn a roster spot with the Green Bay Packers. Tyler Beach worked as the first-team left tackle in the spring during the open practices, and the fourth-year lineman has experience on both sides of the line on the edge.
Isaiah Loudermilk is off to the Pittsburgh Steelers while Garrett Rand announced earlier this year he’s stepping away from the game due to injuries, leaving opportunities at end. Those two starters were huge for Wisconsin in stymying opponents’ run games.
Luckily for the Badgers, Matt Henningsen returns and should be a force at one of the spots (and he also has starters’ experience in the last three seasons). Isaiah Mullens received reps last season as well but will be called upon for a more prominent role.
Behind them, it will be interesting who rounds out the rotation. Rodas Johnson appeared to have a solid spring in the sessions we saw, and UW will also welcome in Oregon transfer Isaac Townsend.
– BadgerBlitz senior writer Jake Kocorowski
Minnesota returns essentially almost every starter from a year ago except at a couple positions. Rashod Bateman would be the easy answer, but I’m going to go with cornerback Benjamin St. Juste, the 3rd round draft pick of the Washington Football Team.
Behind Bateman are a handful of players with experience and talent. Behind St. Juste, there isn’t much. Terell Smith played in 11 games as a freshman posting 43 tackles and one INT, however, was ousted for St. Juste and has struggled since.
Talented redshirt freshman Miles Fleming saw some interest from Ohio State late in his recruiting process but has yet to play in a game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another transfer at this position to get more depth and competition.
– TheGopherReport staff member Alex Carlson
WR Rondale Moore. He was one of the most electric players in school history, but he turned pro early. But know this: He played only seven total games the last two years due to injury, so his impact was minimal following a sensational debut in 2018.
– GoldandBlack associate editor Tom Dienhart
The biggest shoes to fill are at running back. Dedrick Mills battled injuries last season, but at this time they still don’t know who the No. 1 back is.
True freshman Gabe Ervin and freshman Marvin Scott both appear the early leaders in the clubhouse. Walk-on Jaquez Yant has also put his name in the race at running back.
On defense, without a doubt the biggest shoes to fill are at cornerback, in DiCaprio Bootle. He’s the only key player they lost from a year ago.
– HuskerOnline publisher Sean Callahan
There are two Illini veterans who departed for the NFL who will be tough to replace.
Left guard Kendrick Green emerged as star for the Illini last fall and was selected consensus All-Big Ten first team. He was the third highest rated guard in the country by PFF. Green was an early entry in the 2021 NFL Draft and was selected in the third round and 87th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Illinois spent all of spring ball looking for a No.1 wide receiver who can fill the shoes of graduated senior Josh Imatorbhebhe, who turned down his extra year of eligibility and was signed by the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent. In 2019 as a junior.
– OrangeandBlueNews publisher Doug Bucshon