Big Ten superlatives: Best pass rusher, most unlucky and more
The 2016 college season is almost upon us, and the Big Ten is returning a handful of talented names. Who are the best at various aspects of play around the conference? In honor of media days, here are our picks for 2016 Big Ten superlatives:
Best Pass Rusher: Wisconsin 3-4 OLB Vince Biegel
The Big Ten is loaded with several of the best pass rushers in the country, but no returning EDGE player was more productive in 2015 than Biegel. Among returning players, Biegel had the highest overall and pass rush grades, as well as the top mark for pass rush productivity (he was credited with 47 total pressuers on 179 rushes).
Most Reliable Hands: Iowa WR Matt VandeBerg
Out of 66 catchable balls thrown his way in 2015, VandeBerg dropped just one. No other Big Ten receiver with at least 30 receptions had less than three drops, and only two other receivers in the entire country were able to match VandeBerg’s feat.
Best Run Stopper: Nebraska DT Kevin Maurice
With 14 run stops and just two missed tackles in 104 run play snaps, Maurice was tops in the Big Ten last season in run stop percentage. All 14 were accumulated over the course of his final six games played, thus he looks poised to break out with a huge season for the Cornhuskers.
Best Pass Blocker: Indiana OG Dan Feeney
Anyone who has kept up with our analysis this offseason will not find this as a surprise, as we have been complimentary of Feeney throughout. He did not give up a sack last season, and posted the best mark in the country for pass blocking efficiency.
Best Slot CB: Iowa CB Desmond King
While King’s eight interceptions and 12 pass break ups from last season put him on the obvious short list for discussions on the best overall CB in the country, few likely realize just how dominant he was while working out of the slot last season. When lined up inside in 2015, QBs in 17 attempts threw just as many interceptions to him as they did completed passes (three), and had a QB rating of just 23.9.
Most Elusive: Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
Forget about the Big Ten for a moment, our highest 2015 elusive rating among returning RBs went not Leonard Fornette, not Dalvin Cook, not Christian McCaffrey and not even Nick Chubb; that honor belongs to Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. He broke a total of 67 tackles on 202 combine carries and receptions.
Best Coverage Safety: Nebraska S Nate Gerry
Gerry was outstanding in coverage last year, as he gave up just 20 catches on 43 targets, intercepting four and breaking up three. Considering opposing QBs had a rating of just 39.2 when targeting him, they would do wise to look elsewhere in 2016.
Most Productive TE: Iowa TE George Kittle
The general consensus seems to be that Michigan’s Jake Butt is the best TE in the Big Ten, but Kittle outperformed him in 2015 in virtually every category except for pure volume. Kittle’s 3.09 yards per pass route was not only significantly higher than Butt’s 1.87, it was actually the top figure in the country. Kittle also lead the nation in pass blocking efficiency (no pressures allowed all season) and was second in run block grading.
Most Versatile: Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers
Peppers was listed as a safety last year, but out of 789 defensive snaps, 468 came from the slot. In fact, he saw time at every single back seven position, and just 34 snaps were from a traditional safety alignment. He also contributed 55 snaps on offense, and was Michigan’s primary punt returner. This year he is officially listed at linebacker, but is likely to see his reps spread throughout the defense once again, and continue to be a dynamic contributor on offense and special teams.
Most Unlucky: Illinois QB Wes Lunt
In 2015 Lunt became the poster-boy for why completion percentage is such a flawed statistic when trying to measure accuracy, as his lowly percentage of 56.0 was drastically hurt by his own receivers’ inability to catch the ball. Factor out their 42 drops (tied for most in the country with Washington State, which attempted X more passes), as well as five passes batted at the line of scrimmage and 26 throwaways, and Lunt’s adjusted completion percentage catapults up to 69.5 percent, the third-best figure for returning Big Ten QBs.