Connor Rogers’ Big Ten Top Ten: Penn State stacked with NFL talent – NBC Sports

There’s no way around it: the Big Ten Conference is loaded with NFL talent this season. In the 2023 NFL Draft, nine of the 31 first-round selections came from Big Ten schools and three of those went in the top 10 picks, a feat that the conference should not only match but potentially top in 2024.

After months of summer scouting, here are my highest-graded NFL Draft prospects out of the Big Ten for the upcoming season.

1. Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State

The 6’4, 205-pound wideout was a dominant force as a true sophomore in 2022, hauling in 77 catches for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Harrison Jr. has a muscular build with long arms, making it very difficult for defensive backs to disrupt him at the line of scrimmage. While physically imposing, he’s also technically advanced from his releases to his routes, constantly keeping defenders in coverage off balance. With strides that quickly eat up a lot of turf, he’s a constant threat to win vertically. Per PFF, he hauled in 18 of his 30 contested catch opportunities while reeling in 36 passes of 15+ yards.

His effort is outstanding, as illustrated in his run blocking all the way down the field on tape. Harrison Jr. isn’t just the best prospect in the Big Ten. You can comfortably make an argument he’s the top player in the 2024 class and an instant difference-maker when he steps on an NFL field.

2. Olu Fashanu, OT, Penn State

If he opted to declare early after last season, Fashanu was a lock to be a top-ten pick. Fortunately for Penn State, the athletic tackle returned to school.

A one-year starter, Fashanu didn’t start playing football until high school. From a traits standpoint, he is a prototype on the offensive line. He’s got size, length, light feet and lateral quickness to mirror rushers on an island. Even when beaten in the initial stage of the rush, his strength and agility allow him to recover flawlessly.

Although he flashes raw striking power in the run game, that is an area of his game he could develop more consistency in. An offensive tackle hasn’t come off the board in the top five selections since Andrew Thomas in 2020. There’s a very good chance Fashanu ends that trend.

3. Kalen King, CB, Penn State

The Big Ten had a slender, feisty and gifted corner talent go in the top five last year in Devon Witherspoon. This year Kalen King will look to pull off the same feat. The Penn State corner is a fluid, easy mover. He’s got feather feet and a high-end change of direction that allows him to stay sticky in coverage.

When the ball is in the air, he’s mastered reading the receiver’s reactions to turn his head and make a play. Despite not being the biggest defensive back, King has highlight reel plays coming downhill against screens. He makes his presence felt throughout the game and has the demeanor to be a special cornerback.

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4. Jer’Zhan ‘Johnny’ Newton, DL, Illinois

A compact force on the interior of the defensive line, Newton finished 2022 with 5.5 sacks, 19 quarterback hits and 36 pressures (per PFF). He’s built like a cannonball and when the defensive scheme puts him into attack mode, he explodes off the snap. Newton plays multiple alignments, but his long-term home is most likely as a 3-tech.

His vision and awareness against the run are excellent. He possesses excellent grip strength to discard blockers and his motor is always running hot. A former high school running back, the 300-pound Newton brings a great blend of athleticism and technique. He should be a first-round pick next April.

5. Chop Robinson, EDGE, Penn State

The 6’3, 255-pound Robinson lived in the opposition’s backfield in 2022 where he had 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. He attacks with excellent pad level, often winning the leverage game by capitalizing off his above-average burst. Robinson packs thunder in his hands, jolting linemen at the point of attack.

His agility allows him to cross the face of blockers to win the inside, but he also can rip and dip his shoulder to turn the corner. There aren’t many college pass rushers that can win in the variety of ways Chop Robinson does, setting him up for a monstrous 2023.

6. Cooper DeJean, CB, Iowa

When writing down DeJean’s position, simply putting ‘defense’ would suffice. In 2022 he played 29 snaps on the defensive line, 89 in the box, 137 in the slot, 543 at outside corner and over 150 on special teams (per PFF). His production was excellent, bringing three of his five interceptions back for touchdowns while also breaking up 13 passes.

DeJean brings a safety’s mindset to the cornerback position, playing a physical brand of football that can frustrate his assignments. He has excellent eyes in zone coverage to jump throws, no matter where he lines up on the field.

7. Emeka Egbuka, WR, Ohio State

If Egbuka didn’t play on the same team as the best receiver in college football, he’d generate more hype. He’s a technician in the intermediate game, with quick feet that devour corners playing both inside and outside. He maximizes his catch radius to bring in off-target throws. A lot of his game and overall build reminds me of Keenan Allen. Forget being my number two receiver in just the Big Ten, I have him only behind Harrison Jr. in the entire wide receiver class.

8. Kris Jenkins, DL, Michigan

Numbers don’t always tell the full story and that’s a fair way to describe Jenkins’ 2022 campaign where he had two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He does a ton of the dirty work in the trenches, driving through blockers and creating space for his teammates to make plays.

Despite weighing under 300 pounds, Jenkins displays the strength at the point of attack to hold his own at nose tackle. He’s an explosive athlete in the trenches. A pro-ready run defender, the development of his pass rush plan will determine his ceiling as a prospect.

9. Tyler Nubin, SAF, Minnesota

A two-year starter, Nubin opted to return to school after a 2022 campaign with four interceptions and three more pass breakups. He has ideal size at 6’2, 210 pounds and has handled a variety of roles in Minnesota’s secondary. Nubin has a quick trigger in the run game and is a violent striker. He loves flying down into the box to wipe out the ball carrier.

In coverage, he’s extremely comfortable dropping in zone and reading where the quarterback is going with the ball. He flashed an impressive catch radius for a safety. Overall, Nubin’s instincts and reliability make him a high-floor prospect.

10. TreVeyon Henderson, RB, Ohio State

After an explosive freshman season where he ran for 1,248 yards and 15 touchdowns, Henderson was slowed down by injury (a broken bone in his foot) in 2022. His third season for the Buckeyes will ultimately dictate his draft stock, but the talent is undeniable. In his 2021 tape, Henderson looks shot out of a cannon as soon as he touches the ball. This level of explosiveness and overall speed forces safeties to take perfect angles coming downhill.

He’s elusive in space and has legitimate breakaway wheels for the big play. On runs in traffic, he showed a violent stiff arm and lowered his shoulder to fall forward. Henderson’s injury in 2022 made him a different player. That season he only forced 14 missed tackles, compared to his freshman year where he forced a whopping 50 (per PFF). Overall, he’s a scheme-proof runner with home run-hitting ability. Henderson has superstar talent but needs to prove he’s healthy and back to top form.

Honorable mentions: J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan; Blake Corum, RB, Michigan; Donovan Edwards, RB, Michigan; Braelon Allen, RB, Wisconsin; Luke Lachey, TE, Iowa; Zak Zinter, OL, Michigan; Jack Sawyer, EDGE, Ohio State; J.T. Tuimoloau, EDGE, Ohio State; Junior Colson, LB, Michigan; Tommy Eichenberg, LB, Ohio State; Curtis Jacobs, LB, Penn State; Rod Moore, SAF, Michigan; Beau Brade, SAF, Maryland

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