In our “Big Ten Breakdown” series, we will examine the five best players in the conference at each position. The series continues with a look at the defensive backs in the Big Ten.
There are a handful of immensely talented defensive backs in this conference. Some of them are lockdown corners, while others are tackling machines as the last line of defense.
Here are the five best defensive backs in the Big Ten: ,
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5. Matthew Harris, senior, Northwestern
Harris was quietly one of the best defensive backs in the Big Ten a year ago. He finished tied for third in the conference with four interceptions and was fourth with 17 total pass breakups. Harris also finished seventh on the team with 45 tackles.
Harris has room to improve as a defender and should get ample opportunity as Northwestern’s No. 1 cornerback next season. Harris probably isn’t a household name right now, but could become well-known commodity with a strong senior season.
4. Jabrill Peppers, junior, Michigan
Yes, No. 4 might seem low for a player of Peppers’ caliber. But quite frankly, it’s too tough to tell how much Peppers will line up in the secondary this season. Peppers could move inside the box as an edge rusher or outside linebacker in Don Brown’s new defensive scheme. He also plays offense and has played a role as a return man. Peppers’ versatility is outstanding for his NFL stock, but it also means he might not truly classify as a defensive back.
Peppers was a big factor on Michigan’s defense last season, defending 10 total passes and racking up 45 tackles during his breakout sophomore season. He’s arguably one of the best all-around players in college football and should be a focal point for the Wolverines no matter where he lines up.
3. Jourdan Lewis, senior, Michigan
This isn’t a ranking of the best athletes in the Big Ten, Peppers would win that hands down. But Lewis’ production last season merits him above his versatile teammate.
Lewis picked off two passes and finished second in the Big Ten with 22 passes defended last season. Lewis might have been picked on more often while playing alongside Peppers, but he proved to be up to the task and is now on the Bednarik Award preseason watch list.
With Peppers likely moving around the field quite often, Lewis will line up as Michigan’s No. 1 cover corner. He could greatly improve his NFL draft stock if he can prove he is up to the task of going against the Big Ten’s best wideouts on a weekly basis.
2. Nate Gerry, senior, Nebraska
Gerry was also named to the Bednarik Award watch list, and rightfully so. Gerry pretty much did everything for the Cornhuskers defense. He finished tied for third in the Big Ten with four interceptions, was eighth with 11 passes defended and finished 28th in the conference with 78 tackles.
Gerry is one of the best safeties in the Big Ten and was named third-team All-Big Ten last season. His ability to do just about everything makes him a special commodity along the back-end of Nebraska’s defense.
1. Desmond King, senior, Iowa
Last season’s Jim Thorpe Award recipient is far and away the best defensive back in the Big Ten, and possibly the country.
King shares the Iowa single-season record with eight interceptions and could break it if teams aren’t too afraid of throwing at him this season. King also finished fifth on the team with 72 tackles, which just proves his impact isn’t limited to coverage.
King is a superb professional prospect and could develop into a shutdown cornerback at the NFL level. Barring injury, King should be a front-runner for the Thorpe Award during his final season with the Hawkeyes.
William Likely, senior, Maryland
Joshua Kalu, junior, Nebraska
Rashard Fant, redshirt sophomore, Indiana
Leroy Clark, senior, Purdue
Montae Nicholson, junior, Michigan State