The Big-10 is widely considered the second most talented conference in college football. They’ve won more national championships than any other Power-5 conference, and are consistently producing quality NFL talent. The consensus number one player in the 2020 NFL Draft, Chase Young, hails from the conference up north. So it’s no surprise the Big-10 will be producing more exciting talent in 2021. Both on offense and defense, expect the conference to produce multiple first-rounders. Here are the Top-10 Big-10 prospects you need to know for the 2021 NFL Draft.
#10: Wyatt Davis, iOL, Ohio State
The Ohio State Buckeyes boasted one of the top offensive lines in the country in 2019, and the emergence of redshirt sophomore Wyatt Davis was a major reason why. He was a consensus All-American and first-team All-Big-10. He displayed elite power at the point of attack, as he and Jonah Jackson formed the best run-blocking guard duo in the nation.
Davis will need to clean up his pass protection if he wants to elevate his draft stock and become a Top-50 selection. He’s already a dominant run defender, but his feet can tend to fall behind in him in his pass sets. If Davis can improve his ability in pass protection in the upcoming season, he should be one of the first interior offensive linemen taken in the 2021 NFL Draft.
#9: Thayer Munford, OT, Ohio State
Unlike teammate Wyatt Davis, Munford’s growth wasn’t out of nowhere. It was much more linear. Over the past three seasons, Munford has appeared in 38 games, starting 26 of them. In 2018, he was named an honorable mention for the Big-10 All-Conference team, and last season, he was named to the second-team.
Munford has soft feet in pass protection and provides strong support in the run game. The left side of OSU’s offensive line made up of Munford and Jonah Jackson was one of the top tackle-guard duos in the nation last year. Munford’s ceiling isn’t incredible, but he’s already a strong prospect and should be, at worst, a late second day selection.
#8: Tyler Linderbaum, iOL, Iowa
What’s a Big-10 list without mentioning an Iowa offensive lineman? Alaric Jackson is the best known Iowa lineman eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft, but he isn’t the best prospect. Tyler Linderbaum was a redshirt freshman last season and was one of the nation’s top centers. Starting every game on Iowa’s offensive line in just your second season is a very impressive feat. In a season where Iowa’s interior offensive line was mostly unimpressive, Linderbaum carried the load and was a consistent and dominant player.
Maybe the most powerful interior blocker I’ve ever watched, Linderbaum has already amassed a career’s worth of highlight blocks. He’s constantly moving people, and last season, he had so many pancakes I thought he worked at IHOP. He’s still learning the nuances of playing along the offensive line, as this was his first season playing on the offensive side after he was moved from the defensive side last season. Linderbaum’s Iowa teammate Tristan Wirfs is expected to be a top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and you can see Linderbaum taking Wirfs down in a high school wrestling match here.
#7: Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
Some people on Draft Twitter may disagree with me here, as I was not as infatuated with Shaun Wade as they were. Many viewed Wade as a first-round prospect. Though I did not view Wade as a first-round prospect, I still enjoyed his film and was disappointed when I learned he was returning to school. Wade has the ability to play both on the boundary and in the slot, and that versatility will be paramount, both for OSU’s upcoming season and when Wade plays at the next level. I think Wade has the ability to develop into the top slot cornerback in the NFL. He reminds me of Indianapolis’ Kenny Moore.
#6: Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
Earlier in the year, I wrote about the 2021 NFL Draft tight end class, and who the top players to watch are. Pat Freiermuth was the first player I listed, and rightfully so, as I believe he is currently the favorite to be TE1 in 2020. He’s a dominant blocker who loves to drive defenders into the ground. That tenacity also shows when he has the ball in his hands, as he’s likely to run someone over at all times. Freiermuth should already be considered a potential first-round prospect, and with a strong season, he could boost his stock even more.
#5: Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
OSU has quietly produced some of the best wide receivers in the NFL, and Chris Olave will look to be next in line. Olave was the most productive receiver for the Buckeyes last year, and with the departure of seniors KJ Hill, Binjimen Victor, and Austin Mack, expect Olave to see a massive influx of targets. He’s a sleeper to lead the country in receiving yards as Ohio State loses their leading rusher and second, third, fifth, and sixth leading receivers.
Olave is already a well-refined route runner, thanks to the development system at Ohio State. Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline is arguably the best receivers coach in the nation, and Olave has flourished under him. Olave also possesses elite hands and is a strong 50-50 receiver. I would like to see him produce a bit more after the catch, but there’s a legitimate chance Olave is a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.
#4: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
One of my personal favorite prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, Rashod Bateman is a true alpha receiver. He has elite size and strong athletic ability, great hands, and he’s dominant in 50-50 situations. He’s also a strong route runner and a willing blocker. Bateman registered 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019, the most of any returning Big-10 player. Bateman had to share targets with teammate Tyler Johnson, who led the Big-10 in yards and touchdowns. Now, he’ll look to prove what he can do as a true #1 receiver.
#3: Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
Rondale Moore is currently my WR1 for 2021, despite missing most of last season to injury. Moore is an elite offensive weapon who, despite his short stature, is an elite physical specimen. At 5’9″ and 180 pounds, Moore is maybe the most explosive player in college football, who evades tackles at will, and has some of the best hands in the country. You’d expect a shorter receiver to struggle in contested catch situations and be taken down once defenders get their hands on them, but Moore struggles with neither. He routinely forces his way out of the clutches of defenders, and the ball seemingly sticks to his hands.
The NFL is moving to an era where versatility is king, and offenses are built on separation and yards after catch. Moore is a perfect player for the way teams want to play football, and if he can stay healthy, he will be a coveted piece. Expect him to be a major producer for Purdue, and to be one of the top testers in the 2021 Combine.
#2: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State
Currently my pick to be the top defensive player in the 2021 NFL Draft, Micah Parsons is a rare linebacker prospect. Isaiah Simmons is a coveted draft prospect this season because he provides versatility unlike any other player. Linebackers in the NFL must be able to play the run, be strong in coverage, and rush the passer. Players like Simmons and Parsons can do all these things. The difference is that while Simmons will likely play his career hovering around 235 pounds, Parsons will be pushing 250. Parsons’ instincts for the position are elite, and he’s a monster in the backfield. Parsons is the next great Penn State linebacker.
#1: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Justin Fields will look to establish himself as an elite quarterback prospect in 2020. He has to if he hopes to rival Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Fields has elite physical traits at 6’3″, 228, with supreme athletic ability. He also possesses a rocket arm that can make any throw asked of him. On the move, Fields is a truck that defenders struggle to tackle. Quarterback mobility is becoming more and more vital in the NFL, and Fields has it in spades.
Fields isn’t a perfect prospect by any means, though. He still needs to work on his down-to-down accuracy, and his feet can get away from him. His touch down the field is also hit or miss. However, if Fields can develop as a passer this season, he could be the best quarterback prospect not named Lawrence in quite some time.