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Top 10 players in the Big Ten in 2023: WR Marvin Harrison Jr. is the unquestioned No. 1 overall

On3 imageby:Jesse Simonton08/15/23


Big Ten Conference Champion Prediction

We’re inching ever-so-close to the 2023 season, and with Week 0 just around the corner, I’m unveiling my Top 10 players from each Power 5 conference over the next week. This is a fun, but tough exercise.  Whittling down to just 10 guys in a sport this loaded with stars and All-Americans is hard.

Some real dudes didn’t make the cut.

We kickstarted the series with the SEC, and today we take a look at my Top 10 players in the Big Ten in 2023.  As was the case with the Southeastern Conference, there are no quarterbacks in my preseason 2023 Top 10. J.J. McCarthy didn’t quite make the cut. Neither did Taulia Tagovilola or Drew Allar. All or none could sneak into the rankings by the end of the season, though. 

The same is also true for guys like Ohio State defensive stars J.T. Tuimoloau and Tommy Eichenberg or Michigan offensive lineman Zak Zinter and defensive tackle Kris Jenkins. 

A trio of Nittany Lions did make my rankings and I still felt wrong about leaving off tailback Nick Singleton and pass rusher Chop Robinson. But that’s the game. Spots are tight. 

As a reminder, this is not a list of the 10 best future pros. It’s the Top 10 players in the SEC, right now, heading into the 2023 season. 

Debate away. 

10. DB Will JohnsonMichigan 

Michigan Wolverines football Will Johnson
(Photo by Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports)

For some, ranking Johnson in the Top 10 might be a bit too rich, but that’s how highly I think of the budding sophomore corner. As a freshman, Johnson lived up to his 5-star hype, intercepting three passes despite teams actively avoiding throwing in his direction. 

If the Wolverines are going to beat the Buckeyes for the third-straight season, they need Johnson to lockdown either Marvin Harrison Jr. or Emeka Egbuka to slow down their prolific passing attack.

9. LB Abdul CarterPenn State

Abdul Carter
Scott Taetsch / Stringer PhotoG/Getty

It’s a major honor at Penn State to wear No. 11 as a linebacker, but in a single season, Carter more than justified sporting the “stix” for the Nittany Lions. 

A 6-3, 250-pound missile inside linebacker, Carter had 10.5 tackles for loss, finishing with 56 stops, 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four PBUs.  Carter is the game-changer in Manny Diaz’s havoc-focused defense. He has All-American potential in 2023, especially surrounded by so much other defensive talent.

8. RB Braelon AllenWisconsin

(Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)

Allen has been a workhorse in his first two seasons in Madison (over 400 carries and 2,500 yards), but with the Badgers finally modernizing their offense under Phil Longo, he should have more room to operate in 2023

Allen had eight games over 100 yards in 2022, scoring 11 touchdowns. While he hasn’t been used a ton as a receiver (just 13 catches for 104 yards), that could also change in Wisconsin’s rebranded ‘Dairy Raid’ offense.

7. DB Cooper DeJeanIowa

(Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

DeJean is the Swiss Army knife of Phil Parker’s defense at Iowa, lining up all across the defensive backfield as an impact playmaker. DeJean recorded 75 tackles and five interceptions — including three pick-sixes, which was more touchdowns than Iowa’s entire receiving room combined in 2022. 

DeJean is a ballhawk in coverage, but he also provides real value as a defender on the perimeter in run support. Like Kool Aid McKinstry at Alabama, DeJean is a dynamic punt returner, averaging 16.5 yards per return. 

6. CB Kalen KingPenn State

Penn State cornerback Kalen King
(Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While Joey Porter Jr. was seen as PSU’s star cornerback in 2022, King emerged as one of the best corners in the Big Ten, too. The junior led all Power 5 defensive backs with 21 passes defended, adding three interceptions, too. 

King was the nation’s best corner in single-coverage, per PFF, checking in with a 93.3 grade and a a 18.3 passer rating allowed. 

5. WR Emeka EgbukaOhio State

emeka egbuka-ohio state-ohio state football-buckeyes
(Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

If not for Marvin Harrison Jr., Egbuka would be talked about as the top returning receiver in the country. Among all returning Power 5 wideouts, the 6-1, 200-pound junior ranks only behind his teammate in receptions (74), yards (1,263) and touchdowns (10). 

Egbuka was Ohio State’s home-run hitter in 2022, tallying five catches over 40 yards, second-most in the Big Ten. 

4. DL Jer’Zhan NewtonIllinois

Illinois defensive tackle Jer'Zhan
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The anchor of the Fighting Illini’s ‘Law Firm,’ Newton might be the best player in America the casual fan doesn’t know about. He’s a menacing interior rusher — perhaps the most valuable position on the field sans quarterback. 

Starring on Illinois’ Top 5 defense last season, Newton had a whopping 59 pressures, per PFF — most among all Power 5 defensive linemen (edge or interior). He finished the season with 61 tackles, 14 TFLs and 5.5 sacks.

3. RB Blake CorumMichigan

Michigan Wolverines football Blake Corum
(Photo by Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC)

Before tearing his ACL against Illinois, Corum was the best running back in college football last season. Despite defenses loading up the box to stop the junior tailback, Corum still managed to average nearly 6.0 yards per carry, finishing the season with 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns. 

Thanks to the depreciating value of NFL running backs + NIL, we’re blessed with another season of watching Corum on Saturdays. While the Wolverines have another dynamic tailback in Donovan Edwards, Corum is a first-down machine (96 such carries, second-most in the nation, per PFF), who also can hit explosive plays with 15 runs over 20 yards (sixth-most nationally).  

2. OT Olumuyiwa Fashanu Jr., Penn State

Penn State offensive lineman Olu Fashanu
(Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Fashanu Jr. was projected to be a Top 25 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but he opted to return to school to get his degree and put a full season on tape after missing the final five games last year. 

The 6-5, 320-pound lineman will help open holes for Penn State’s two-headed tailback attack, and he’ll protect Drew Allar’s blindside, where he allowed zero sacks in eight starts in 2022.

1. WR Marvin Harrison Jr.Ohio State

Marvin Harrison Jr. -Ohio State Buckeyes-NIL-Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet
Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Here’s a hunch that Harrison wins the Biletnikoff Award this fall after getting snubbed in 2022. The former 5-star recruit is arguably the best non-QB in the country, leading the Big Ten with 14 touchdowns and 16.4 yards per catch as a sophomore. 

If healthy all season, Harrison could be a dark horse contender for the Heisman Trophy, which has largely become a QB award.