Top 5 Big Ten defensive players of BTN era

BTN will celebrate its fifth anniversary later this month. The big day is Aug. 30, to be exact. As a way to celebrate – not to mention kill time before the 2012 season kicks off – I’m spotlighting some of the great careers during our time on the air. I’ll do it in the mold of “Big Ten’s Best,” our popular countdown show that returns this fall for another season of ranking the best in Big Ten history. My sixth and final list ranks the top five defensive careers of the BTN era.

Editor’s note: This list only includes football players who competed during the BTN era, and it ranks the best careers, taking into account overall numbers and team success. Pro success and pro potential have no impact.

Top 5 wide receivers | Top 5 running backs | Top 5 tight ends | Top 5 quarterbacks | Top 5 seasons

1. Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
BTN era stats: 210 tackles, 57 TFLs, 33.5 sacks, 14 forced fumbles
Accolades: Set Big Ten record, matched FBS record with 14 career forced fumbles; 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year; 2010 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year; 2010 unanimous first-team All-America.

2. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
BTN era stats: 251 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, 4 INTs, 1 forced fumble (2005-08 career stats: 375 tackles, 24 TFLs, 13.5 sacks, 9 INTs, 4 forced fumbles)
Accolades: Only Big Ten player to win two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards (2007 and 2008); three-time consensus first-team All-America; 2007 Butkus Award; 2008 Ronnie Lott Trophy.

3. Brandon Graham, Michigan
BTN era stats: 135 tackles, 56 TFLs, 29 sacks, 6 forced fumbles (2006-09 career stats: 138 tackles, 56 TFLs, 29.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles)
Accolades: First defensive player in school history to be voted Bo Schembechler MVP twice (2008, 2009); co-winner of 2009 Chicago Tribune Silver Football; 2009 first-team College Football All-America; 2009 first-team All-Big Ten; 2009 Ted Hendricks Award finalist.

4. Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
BTN era stats: 141 tackles, 37.5 TFLs, 19 sacks, 7 forced fumbles
Accolades: 2009 and 2010 first-team All-Big Ten; 2010 consensus All-America; 2010 Ted Hendricks Award finalist; 2010 Orange Bowl MVP; 2009 National Defensive Performer of the Year by College Football Performance Awards.

5. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
BTN era stats: 104 tackles, 9 TFLs, 7 INTs, 3 forced fumbles (2005-08 career stats: 196 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 11 INTs, 4 forced fumbles)
Accolades: 2008 Jim Thorpe Award; three-time first-team All-Big Ten, including two consensus selections; 2007 Jim Thorpe Award finalist; 2007 first-team All-America (Pro Football Weekly); played in 2006 and 2007 national title games.

And it’s always a touchy topic, however it’s impossible to talk best defensive players during the BTN era without mentioning Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh. No, he didn’t play a down in the Big Ten, but we as a network have made the decision to honor Nebraska’s history. That includes Suh, who needs recognition here.

Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
BTN era stats: 195 tackles, 42.5 TFLs, 20.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 2 TDs, 2 forced fumbles (2006-09 career stats: 214 tackles, 49.5 TFLs, 24 sacks, 4 INTs, 2 TDs, 3 forced fumbles)
Accolades: 2009 Big 12 Championship Game MVP, 2009 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, 2009 Heisman Trophy Finalist, 2009 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, 2009 Lombardi Award, 2009 Chuck Bednarik Award, 2009 Outland Trophy, 2009 AP Player of the Year, the first defensive player ever to win the award.

Next five (in alphabetical order of school): Whitney Mercilus, Illinois; Greg Jones, Michigan State; Dan Connor, Penn State; Jared Odrick, Penn State; J.J. Watt, Wisconsin.

Brent Yarina is a web editor and blogger for Find all of his work here and follow him on twitter at @BTNBrentYarina.


Your Opinion?
Show Comments (14 Comments)
Jameson Draper on 8/22/2012 @ 1:55pm EDT Said:

Greg Jones left out. Rough. I disagree.

Cody on 8/22/2012 @ 2:16pm EDT Said:

No levante david?

Patrick on 8/22/2012 @ 2:38pm EDT Said:

Come on, either Nebraska players are or aren’t eligible for the top 5. Dont make a 5b. Suh is 1 Nebraska player I don’t have a problem with seeing on the list. Would probably be a top 5 in the nation in that time period.

    Brent Yarina, on 8/22/2012 @ 2:51pm EDT Said:

    Patrick – It’s a lose-lose situation, really. I wanted to include Suh because Big Ten inherits Nebraska’s history, but not at the expense of a guy who played every down as a Big Ten player. By mentioning him, I felt I avoided ignoring the best defensive player of the era and I did it without costing a worthy player a spot and the recognition.

Blake on 8/22/2012 @ 2:44pm EDT Said:

Touchy subject indeed. Suh on this list? We might as well throw some SEC players on this list too while we are at it. Makes as much sense as putting someone in who never played a down in the conference, brilliant.

J.P. Scott on 8/22/2012 @ 3:07pm EDT Said:

He’s either top five or honorable mention, not limbo. You had Helu as honorable mention.
What gives?

    Brent Yarina, on 8/22/2012 @ 3:27pm EDT Said:

    J.P. – I did have Helu in the Next five, you’re right. But it would be a HUGE insult to include Suh, arguably the best defensive player in the nation the past five seasons, in the honorable mention category. That’s not the case for Helu – I can make an argument for every RB I put ahead of him. I couldn’t do the same with Suh. I said it earlier, that I did it this way because Suh is clearly in the mix for No. 1. But should his inclusion cost a guy who played his entire career in the Big Ten a spot? I don’t think so. That’s why I decided to include him, recognize his career.

Nathan Walters on 8/22/2012 @ 3:10pm EDT Said:

I think it would have been a lose-lose situation for Big Ten teams had Suh played them…so yea, I think he deserves to be there.
It’s like having Tom Osborne on Big Ten icons. He never coached in the Big Ten (just regularly beat the teams in the conference), but he’s part of Husker tradition. We respect the B1G, and the BTN, for welcoming our team’s tradition with open arms. The Big 12 certainly never did.

Matt Madison on 8/22/2012 @ 3:37pm EDT Said:

Adrian Clayborn blocked a punt and ran it in for a touchdown at Penn State… great moment for one of your top five devensive players of the BTN era!

jon schmalowski on 8/22/2012 @ 4:57pm EDT Said:

not sure what the rules are regarding Nebraska. But JJ Watt was the best Wisconsin D-Lineman, ever.

Mike Tvrdik on 8/23/2012 @ 11:52am EDT Said:

Lavante David needs to be mentioned!

Rich on 8/23/2012 @ 12:15pm EDT Said:

Whoops! Missed one buddy. JJ Watt

Sharp on 8/23/2012 @ 1:42pm EDT Said:

Meh, I don’t care if Suh was mentiond as he did not play in the Big Ten. Yes he was one of the best D players in CFB as a whole, so that is where he needs to be listed and he already was honored in the Big 12. He should not be in the Big Tens data. Does the Big Ten get to claim Nebraska’s National Titles as part of the League records? If so, then forget what I said above, if not, why not? Same principal.

Chris K on 8/23/2012 @ 2:35pm EDT Said:

A little confused on how tackling machine/B1G Defensive PoTY/2-time All American + Freshman team All-American Greg Jones doesn’t make the list…

but I appreciate that you acknowledged he was hardest to leave off. Good list otherwise