After numerous Group of 5 and FCS conferences announced that they would be canceling college football amid player safety concerns this fall, the first Power 5 conference made it official Tuesday when the Big Ten voted to postpone the 2020 college football season with hopes of playing in the spring, per Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports.
With it goes the last opportunity to see countless top prospects before the 2021 NFL Draft. As it stands right now, 12 of PFF's top 50 draft-eligible prospects reside in the Big Ten, and 20 Big Ten players find themselves in our unreleased top 100.
While three top prospects — Micah Parsons (5th), Rondale Moore (7th) and Rashod Bateman (20th) — from the conference had already declared their intention to opt-out of the 2020 college football season, numerous others have stated publicly they want to play but won't be given a chance to do so this fall. No one summed up what kind of opportunities are being missed more succinctly than Joe Burrow.
I feel for all college athletes right now. I hope their voices are heard by the decision makers. If this happened a year ago I may be looking for a job right now.
— Joey Burrow (@JoeyB) August 10, 2020
Let's take a brief look at what this means and where this leaves some of the top prospects in the Big Ten.
[Editors Note: PFF's customizable NFL Mock Draft Simulator gives you the opportunity to be the GM of any team and is now updated with a select group of 2021 prospects]
Fields didn't need a 2020 season to cement his standing as a top-five pick, but he likely did need the season to make a push to be taken No. 1 overall. Fields showed everything you could want from a performance aspect last season, so we're fairly locked in on him at the No. 2 spot.
If Wade had declared after his redshirt sophomore season, there's a chance he could have snuck his way into the back end of the first round — he was that good in the slot, and he possesses that level of athletic profile. However, Wade came back to Ohio State because he was finally going to get his first crack at playing outside cornerback, and playing lockdown there could have seen him end up in the top 10. Now he'll likely head into the draft with teams evaluating him not only as a cornerback but as a safety, too.
It's rare to see offensive linemen drafted in the first round with only one season of starting experience, and that's likely why we saw Davis return to Ohio State this fall in the first place. There's a good chance he's the notable exception, though, given how good his 2019 tape was. He didn't allow a single sack or hit on the season and is the top interior offensive line prospect on our board.
Freiermuth would have comfortably been the top tight end prospect in last year's class had he declared — his blend of size and athleticism just doesn't come around every year at the position. With everyone looking for an in-line blocker who also comes with dynamic receiving ability, don't expect to see Freiermuth's draft stock take a hit.
As a rising junior, Hutchinson looks like a good bet to return with multiple years of eligibility still left. He doesn't have the type of tools (explosiveness, agility, etc.) that are coveted highly at the position, so he needs to put up lights-out tape to make his way into the first round. While he did give Tristan Wirfs all he could handle in a seven-pressure performance against Iowa last year, Hutchinson wasn't displaying that type of dominance weekly, and that's evidenced by his 82.9 overall grade.
Of all the Big Ten prospects affected by the season cancellation, Paye may very well be the one who potentially lost the most money. He has top-five-type physical tools at the position. He has also put up mid- to late-round tape during his career at Michigan. A dominant 2020 could have seen him be the first edge defender taken off the board.
With not having any tape to go off this fall, I fear we'll see far more weight given to scouting combine performances this year than in any other in recent memory. That doesn't bode too well for Olave's draft stock, as he gets open with crafty route-running and not pure juice. With how loaded 2021 could be, Olave may consider returning to the Buckeyes next fall to fight against a weaker receiver class.
The Big Ten announcement almost certainly means Linderbaum will be returning to Iowa in 2021. Interior offensive line is not a position where you usually see early declarations, and especially not with only one season of college tape. Hopefully, we see a bulkier Linderbaum when he returns to the field.
Oweh is in a similar boat to Paye in that he could have jumped far higher on our board with a 2020 college football season. Even with some prodigious physical gifts that will give him a pretty high floor in the draft, Oweh may be best served by returning to school. He has yet to even be a starter in his time at Penn State, with only 332 snaps played last season and just 397 over his entire career.