Dienhart: My Top 10 Big Ten Offensive Linemen

I’ve been using the offseason to rank a number of units, including running backs and tight ends. You can find all of my ranking posts over here. And now I turn my attention to ranking of the Top 10 Big Ten offensive linemen.

There has been a big talent drain along the offensive line in the Big Ten. Gone are stalwarts like Iowa tackle Riley Reiff (first round/Lions), Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler (first round/Bengals), Illinois tackle Jeff Allen (second round/Chiefs), Wisconsin center Peter Konz (second round/Falcons), and Ohio State tackle Mike Adams (second round/Steelers).

The later rounds of the draft also farmed a lot of Big Ten linemen: Iowa guard Adam Gettis (fifth round/Redskins); Penn State guard Johnnie Troutman (fifth round/Chargers); Purdue tackle Dennis Kelly (fifth round/Eagles); Purdue tackle Nick Mondek (sixth round/Texans); Michigan center David Molk (seventh round/Chargers); Nebraska tackle Marcel Jones (seventh round/Saints).

Add it all up, and that’s 11 linemen—five tackles; four guards; two centers. But some big-time blockers remain. In fact, Wisconsin’s Ricky Wagner and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan may be among the top left tackles in the nation this season.

Here are my top ten offensive linemen heading into the 2012 season.

1. Ricky Wagner, T, 6-6, 322, Sr., Wisconsin. The fifth-year senior might be the top left tackle in college football. In fact, don’t be shocked if he joins former Badger blockers Joe Thomas (2006) and Gabe Carimi (2010) as an Outland Trophy winner. Not bad for a guy who arrived on campus as a tight end. Wagner first emerged at right tackle in 2010 before shifting to his current left tackle spot, where he is a physical and dominating force who garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten honors each of the past two seasons.

2. Taylor Lewan, T, 6-8, 302, Jr. Michigan. The Wolverine front is dotted with several questions—especially at center. But staffers know they have a flat-out stud at left tackle in Lewan, who was second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and honorable mention by the media last season. Lewan has impressed since his redshirt freshman season in 2010, when he started games at left tackle. And the Scottsdale, Ariz., native hasn’t looked back since in his quest to be the next great Wolverine blocker.

3. Jack Mewhort, T, 6-6, 310, Jr., Ohio State. The versatile and mobile Mewhort can play any spot on the line but has settle in at the key left tackle slot. He started at right guard in 2011, probably only because the Buckeyes already had capable tackles in Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts. Now, it’s time for Mewhort to be the star of what could be a very good Buckeye line.

4. Chris McDonald, G, 6-5, 299, Sr., Michigan State. An honorable-mention All-Big Ten pick in 2011, McDonald will be an anchor for what will be the best line of the Mark Dantonio era. At least seven players with starting experience are up front for the Spartans. The fifth-year senior will enter his third season as the starter at right guard. McDonald is a physical blocker who has made 26 career starts (17 in a row) and will pave the way for star running back Le’Veon Bell.

5. Spencer Long, G, 6-4, 305, Jr., Nebraska. A former walk-on, Long emerged last season as one of the Huskers’ key blockers for a front that helped the Cornhuskers rank 15th in the nation in rushing. Now, Long—an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection by the coaches–will be looked upon as a leader for a Cornhusker front that is replacing its center and both tackles.

6. Brian Mulroe, G, 6-4, 295, Sr., Northwestern. After redshirting in 2008, Mulroe has been a factor along the Wildcat front. A shoulder injury limited him in 2009 to four games, but he has been a starting fixture since then. This will be his third season manning the left guard slot, as Mulroe is a dynamic athlete who plays with physicality and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades from the coaches and media in 2011.

7. James Ferentz, C, 6-2, 284, Sr., Iowa. The coach’s son started all 13 games last season en route to being named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the coaches and media. Coaches will look to the intense Ferentz for leadership, as the Hawkeye line lost three key players in guard Adam Gettis and tackles Riley Reiff and Markus Zusevics.

8. Andrew Norwell, G, 6-6, 304, Jr., Ohio State. The versatile and talented Norwell can play a variety of spots, but he has settled in at left guard. In fact, he’s the only Buckeye lineman who is starting at the same spot as he did in 2011, as Norwell and Jack Mewhort are the only returning starters on a Buckeye line that’s replacing both tackles and a center.

9. Travis Frederick, G, 6-4, 328, Jr., Wisconsin. He will take over for Peter Konz, an NFL draft pick who may have been the top center in the Big Ten last season. Frederick started 13 games last season, with 11 coming at left guard and two at center. He played a big role in the Badgers pacing the Big Ten in rushing offense (235.6 ypg) and paving the way for Montee Ball and his national-leading 1,923 yards rushing in 2011.

10. Brandon Scherff, T, 6-5, 310, So., Iowa. This is based on potential, as Scherff steps into the high-profile Hawkeye left tackle spot that has produced the likes of Robert Gallery, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff. Scherff is a good athlete who played quarterback—yes, quarterback—in high school and now has the potential to be a special blocker.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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