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Top 25 Players in the Big Ten for 2017: No’s. 25-21

It is once again that time of year, as we unveil our annual rankings of the Top 25 players in Big Ten Football. For the 3rd year in a row no less.

It is almost time for pads to start popping and helmets to start cracking together…and that means football season is right around the corner. Here at talking10 it also means the release of our annual Big Ten Preseason Top 25 Players list.

The list is compiled by our staff and is a projection of who we think are the best players in the Big Ten.

Let’s just say 2017 will be an interesting year if our polling is any indication. It was an intense battle amongst some 41 total players to receive votes. Only 25 could make the cut, but before we get there we need to kick it off with a look at the five names that just missed out on the Top 25 list.

Here are our Honorable Mention picks for the 2017 season:

  • Jerome Baker, LB (Ohio State)
  • Billy Price, OL (Ohio State)
  • T.J. Edwards, LB (Wisconsin)
  • Simmie Cobbs, WR (Indiana)
  • Sam Hubbard, DE (Ohio State)

That is just how competitive it was to get in to our Top 25 of the poll. So, without further ado, let’s get on with the list. Up first is our group that begins the poll with No’s 25 through 21 and enjoy the eclectic mix of players in our first five spots on the poll.

No. 25 — Tyquan Lewis, DE (Ohio State)

2016 Season Stats: 29 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Best Game: vs. Indiana (5 tackles, 2.0 tfl’s, 1 sack)

The reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year barely made it on to our countdown. Crazy, huh? But as any coach will tell you, this isn’t so much about last year and a lot more about this year. Lewis is likely to be very productive again this season, but Ohio State is so deep at defensive end, it may be that the snaps won’t be there for him to be as productive on paper.

Lewis is one of the most disruptive edge presences in run defense in the Big Ten. He hasn’t been asked to be a great pass rushing threat to date in his career. Will the Buckeyes unleash him in new defensive coordinator Greg Schiano’s scheme? If so, this ranking is likely to change by the end of the season.

No. 24 — Nick Westbrook, WR (Indiana)

2016 Season Stats: 54 receptions, 995 yards, 6 touchdowns
Best Game: vs Wake Forest (6 receptions, 129 yards, 2 touchdowns)

Who is the leading returning receiver in the Big Ten? We’re guessing you didn’t come up with Nick Westbrook right off the top of your head, but he is indeed the No. 1 returning receiver in terms of receptions and yards. He’s also second in returning players with six touchdowns on the year.

All of that is impressive, but imagine what would’ve happened with some consistency from the quarterback position. Westbrook’s ability to be a deep target was taken full advantage of last season, while he also showcased a great ability to win jump balls and stretch defenses thanks to his size. With Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige graduating, Westbrook becomes an even bigger target in the passing game, and it should be an easy 70-receptions, 1,000-yard season in his final year in Bloomington.

No. 23 — Maurice Hurst, DT (Michigan)

2016 Season Stats: 33 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 7 QB hurries
Best Game: vs. Penn State (6 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack)

Michigan losses so much on the defensive side of the football. Lucky for them, they have arguably the most disruptive interior defensive lineman in the Big Ten. Hurst was a menace in opposing backfields last season. It wasn’t just his ability to rush the passer from the middle of the line, but also his ability to smell out plays faster than anyone else that is so impressive.

This season, the cupboard around him is far from bare despite the massive losses from the starting group last year. With the likes of Rashan Gary around, Hurst is likely to still be a disruptive and productive force for the Wolverines. Don’t be surprised to also see his reputation help those around him on the D-Line, with a lot of attention paid to him to free up the rest to attack off the edge.

No. 22 — Rashard Fant , CB (Indiana)

2016 Season Stats: 33 tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss, 3 INT’s, 1 TD, 17 pass break ups
Best Game: vs. Penn State (3 tackles, 1 INT)

Opposing quarterbacks kept throwing at Rashard Fant in 2016, and most of them found out that wasn’t the smartest idea in the world. It was a breakout season, but the question is if he can do it again for his curtain call at the collegiate level.

Some believed he had the skill and the tape to take off for the NFL after last season, but Fant is back. His combination of size and speed is scary at cornerback, where small and fast rule the day. He’s more than capable of winning battles at the line of scrimmage, but he also wins battles mentally and with his eyes in the backfield more than most. Don’t be surprised to see Fant targeted less this season, but also be productive when targeted.

No. 21 — Godwin Igwebuike, S (Northwestern)

2016 Season Stats: 108 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, 2 INT, 7 pass break ups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Best Game: vs. Nebraska (15 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble)

Few positions in the Big Ten return as much talent as the safety position. You would be hard-pressed to find a more versatile safety than Northwestern’s Godwin Igwebuike in my opinion. Last season he showed he was equally dangerous covering deep in the backfield and at the line of scrimmage.

Heading in to 2017, Igwebuike may be the best run-stopping defensive back in the Big Ten, while also being dangerous to throw on. Look for teams to have to gameplan around him, and that is the ultimate compliment of quality for a defensive back.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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