Dating back to the first NFL draft in 1936, what we now call the “Power-5” conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) have produced over 77 percent of all first-round picks. These are the conferences and schools that attract the top high-school talent every year and ultimately produce the majority of devy talent for dynasty league owners. This summer, I’ll be taking you on a tour of each of the Power-5 conferences (and maybe even some non-Power-5 schools too) and sharing some of my favorite devy prospects at each position.
The Big Ten is on its way back up in the Power-5 and is expected to have a strong presence in the top-25 throughout the 2018 season. In the 2017 NFL Draft, the conference saw 12 players selected in the first three rounds, good for third among the Power-5 schools. Which Big Ten players make up the next crop of future NFL fantasy stars? Here are 11 names you need to know for devy purposes:
Trace McSorley, Penn State
The prolific dual-threat is among the early frontrunners for the 2018 Heisman Trophy. After losing Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, and DaeSean Hamilton to the 2017 draft, McSorley will have to adapt to a new core of skill position players. Responsible for 39 touchdowns and a conference-leading 3,570 passing yards in 2017, the offense will truly belong to McSorley this season. Due to his size (or, more accurately, lack thereof) he is not mentioned among the top signal-callers eligible for the 2019 draft as of yet. It will likely take otherworldly production and a serious run at the Heisman to vault him up NFL draft boards, but be reminded that we just saw this happen with Baker Mayfield in 2017.
Shea Patterson, Michigan
An incoming transfer student, Patterson is already being heralded as Jim Harbaugh’s best quarterback since taking the job in Ann Arbor. The former five-star recruit will be surrounded by serious receiving talent (as he was in Mississippi) so expectations will be sky high. Everything is in place for a true breakout season and potential to be a top-50 selection in next year’s draft.
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State
Haskins has only seen playing time sporadically thus far in his college career, but his five appearances have been impressive. Though he’s not the runner that long-time starter J.T. Barrett was, Haskins is a talented thrower and should be able to show college football a new side of Urban Meyer’s scheme. He is draft-eligible in 2019 but unless he lights the world on fire he may spend two more years in Columbus.
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Taylor isn’t draft-eligible until 2020, but he should be firmly on your devy radar by now if he somehow hadn’t already made it there after posting 2,000 yards from scrimmage and double-digit touchdowns in his true freshman campaign. Taylor led the Big Ten in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and yards from scrimmage in 2017. He was second in the conference in rushing yards per attempt and rushing touchdowns. The bar has been set high.
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
After averaging nearly eight yards per carry as a freshman, Dobbins should dominate touches in 2018. A ferocious runner for his size, Dobbins may benefit from adding some weight to his 190-pound frame between now and 2020. He is already a consensus top-10 devy asset and the sky is the limit here.
Greg Bell, Nebraska
Bell is a junior college transfer and was widely considered one of the biggest transfer impact players for 2018. Scott Frost will likely build the offense around him and he should produce right away. Bell led all JuCo running backs in rushing yards in 2017 but will need to prove himself against better competition now. He is eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Juwan Johnson, Penn State
Johnson was an effective producer in 2017 but was overshadowed by several players who are now in the NFL. He will almost certainly be the primary weapon in the passing game in 2018. Featuring a good combination of size and speed, Johnson will be catching passes from a Heisman candidate and will show up in plenty of film rooms as result. He’s rising up my own devy board.
Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black, Michigan
The pair of 2020-draft eligible receivers should flourish with new quarterback Shea Patterson. On the strength of their recruiting pedigrees (Peoples-Jones was the No. 1 wide receiver recruit in the country in 2017, Black No. 15) they are both top-12 devy wide receivers overall right now and are in the discussion as top-five 2020 devy wide receivers in my own rankings.
Noah Fant, Iowa
Fant is a devy favorite thanks to his solid size and impressive athleticism and he backs it up with his play. He led the conference with 11 receiving touchdowns in 2017, his first season as the starter in Ames. Fant is a converted defensive end but his quick adjustment to the offensive side of the ball has him being projected by some analysts as a mid/early first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Jeremy Ruckert, Ohio State
Ruckert is an incoming freshman and won’t be draft-eligible until 2021. The 6-foot-5 specimen recorded back-to-back seasons with over 800 receiving yards in high school and ended up the No. 2 tight end recruit in the nation for 2018. Feel free to stash him now in deeper devy formats and enjoy the ride for the next three seasons as Urban Meyer figures out how to best utilize the best tight end he’s recruited in his Ohio State tenure.