All-Big Ten team: Best players at every position
With the regular season and championship games in the rearview, we’re taking a look at each conference to identify which players stood out the most at their position in 2015.
Quarterback: Connor Cook, Michigan State (+29.3)
It’s been an up and down season season for Cook, but his three-game stretch against Rutgers, Michigan and Indiana (+22.4) was the best we saw from any quarterback in that span.
2nd team: Nate Sudfeld, Indiana (+15.0)
Running back: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State (+33.7)
Impressive as a runner (+20.1), where he forced 49 missed tackles in 2015, Elliot also impressed as a blocker on quarterback runs. One of the best all-around players in the Big Ten, he kept the Buckeyes in playoff contention throughout 2015.
2nd team: Saquon Barkley, Penn State (+21.5)
Fullback: Derek Watt, Wisconsin (+21.3)
It’s not a position that everyone uses anymore, but few have been better at it than Wisconsin’s Derek Watt in 2015. With the second highest overall and run blocking grade, he’s been clearing the way for Wisconsin’s running backs all year.
2nd team: Adam Cox, Iowa (+7.9)
Tight end: George Kittle, Iowa (+18.2)
He has less than 300 receiving yards this year, but he caught 80 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2015 and scored six touchdowns. He was by far the best blocker in the conference though, with a +12.5 grade as a run blocker.
2nd team: Jake Butt, Michigan (+1.9)
Wide receivers: Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State (+23.1) and Leonte Carroo, Rutgers (+17.7)
No receivers in the Big Ten impressed as much downfield as these too, with Burbridge and Carroo producing 475 and 471 yards respectively on passes traveling 20 yards or more through the air.
2nd team: Michael Thomas (+14.3), Ohio State and Chris Godwin, Penn State (+13.7)
Slot receiver: Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska (+17.1)
One of the best receivers in the conference, Westerkamp racked up 814 yards and five touchdowns, with an average of 2.39 yards per route run from the slot.
2nd team: Alex Erikson, Wisconsin (+16.5)
Tackles: Jack Conklin, Michigan State (+35.6) and Cole Croston, Iowa (+6.5)
Conklin highlighted his dominance with an incredible performance in the Big Ten Championship game, with some impressive blocks at the second level. Croston was a solid presence for the Hawkeyes, allowing 19 total pressures throughout the year.
2nd team: Taylor Decker, Ohio State (+9.0) and Nick Gates, Nebraska (+5.7)
Guards: Sean Welsh, Iowa (+20.1) and Pat Elfein, Ohio State (+24.3)
Our top two guards were solid in pass protection with Elfein allowing six total pressures and Welsh allowing 13, but both were far and away the best run blockers at the position in the conference.
2nd team: Jacob Bailey, Indiana (+15.5) and Dan Feeney, Indiana (+13.9)
Center: Austin Blythe, Iowa (+26.2)
The clear top center in the conference, Blythe was dominant as a run blocker, despite having some struggles in pass protection. His dominance came as a run blocker (+24.8), where no other center in the conference grades out above +9.1, earns him his spot here.
2nd team: Jake Reed, Indiana (+9.5)
At PFF, we put forward a hybrid defense that features two edge rushers (4-3 defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers), three players on the “interior” of the defensive line (3-4 defensive ends or defensive tackles), and two linebackers (all inside linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers).
Defensive interior – ends: Adolphus Washington, Ohio State (+47.1) and Jake Replogle, Purdue (+46.8)
Washington and Replogle were both outstanding in their own way in 2015, with the Ohio State man racking up five sacks, eight hits and 35 hurries, while Replogle led all interior defenders in the Big Ten with 40 defensive stops.
2nd team: Maliek Collins, Nebraska (+42.5) and Austin Johnson, Penn State (+39.1)
Defensive interior – nose: Azubuike Ukandu, Maryland (+7.0)
True nose tackles are few and far between in the Big Ten, but Ukandu had a solid year on 364 snaps, racking up 20 total defensive stops.
2nd team: Connor Sheehy, Wisconsin (+5.4)
Edge rushers: Joey Bosa, Ohio State (+66.6) and Dean Lowry, Northwestern (+36.6)
Bosa was the obvious choice, arguably the best defensive player in the nation as he registered 69 total pressures in 2015. Lowry has 38 total pressures, but looked good against the run too, and did his best work against Power-5 opponents.
2nd team: Dawuane Smoot, Illinois (+38.2) and Joe Schobert, Wisconsin (+43.4)
Linebackers: Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State and Josey Jewell, Iowa (+18.2)
McMillan led all Big Ten linebackers with 58 total defensive stops, grading positively against the run and in coverage. Jewell had the third-highest coverage grade among Big Ten linebackers, with three interceptions and four pass breakups in coverage.
2nd team: Jermaine Carter Jr., Maryland (+14.1) and Marcus Newby, Nebraska (+13.0)
Cornerbacks: Jourdan Lewis, Michigan (+17.1) and Desmond King, Iowa (+14.8)
What’s crazy about Lewis’ season is just how often he was targeted. The best cornerback in the country and he saw 85 passes thrown into his coverage, the third most in the conference. He made opponents pay though, with two interceptions and 15 pass breakups. King made even more plays on the ball, with eight interceptions and 10 pass breakups.
2nd team: Nick VanHoose, Northwestern (+14.5) and Matthew Harris, Northwestern (+13.9)
Slot cornerback: Jabrill Peppers, Michigan (+16.1)
Peppers plays safety and slot corner, lining up all over the field. One of the most dynamic talents in the country he allowed just 32 receptions all year, breaking up six passes in the process.
2nd team: Von Bell, Ohio State (+13.4)
Safeties: Tanner McEvoy, Wisconsin (+16.0) and Michael Caputo, Wisconsin (+13.5)
McEvoy had six pass breakups and six interceptions in coverage, impressing against the run too, while Caputo had the fifth-highest run defense grade in the conference.
2nd team: Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern (+9.5) and Delano Hill, Michigan (+11.1)
Kicker: Drew Brown, Nebraska (-0.5 FG/XP Grade)
Brown made 12-of-14 field goals between 40 and 49 yards in 2015.
2nd team: Griffin Oakes, Indiana (-3.3 FG/XP Grade)
Punter: Sam Foltz, Nebraska (-2.6)
Foltz averaged 44.5 yards per punt in 2015, with 32.1 percent of them being returned.
2nd team: Blake O’Neill, Michigan (-6.9)
Returner: Janarion Grant, Rutgers (+12.0)
Grant scored on two kick returns and a punt return in 2015, racking up over 1,000 return yards in the process.
2nd team: V’Angelo Bentley, Illinois (+12.5)