Dienhart: Big Ten West defensive backfield unit rankings

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Big Ten West defensive backfield unit rankings

No Big Ten team will have a better DB than Iowa corner Desmond King, who won the Thorpe Award. But instead of turning pro coming off that season of glory, King opted to return to Iowa City. And that’s a big reason why the Hawkeyes top my ranking of Big Ten West defensive backfields.

[ MORE: West offensive lines | West pass-catchers | West backfields | West defensive lines | West linebackers | West predictions ]

See my full ranking below.

1. Iowa. This could be the top secondary in the Big Ten. Senior corner Desmond King eschewed the NFL after winning the Thorpe Award. Fellow senior Greg Mabin is a good complement but is coming off a shoulder injury. Junior strong safety Miles Taylor looks to build on a strong 2015. Sophomore walk-on free safety Brandon Snyder is a nice combination of size and speed. The guy can hit.

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2. Nebraska. This group looks good with three starters back. The corner duo of juniors Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones will be among the Big Ten’s best. They have size and can play the ball. Senior strong safety Nate Gerry is a heavy hitter with nine career picks who is a three-year starter. Sophomore Aaron Williams is penciled in at free safety with Byerson Cockrell gone. Keep an eye on incoming freshman Lamar Jackson, who will push for time.

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3. Northwestern. Junior safety Godwin Igwebuike and senior corner Matthew Harris are good starting points. Igwebuike is a top athlete and one of the Big Ten’s best DBs. Harris excels in man coverage and is a legit star. Junior Keith Watkins has a bright future at the other corner spot. He is aggressive and tough as he takes over for Nick VanHoose. Junior Kyle Queiro should start opposite Igwebuike with Traveon Henry gone.

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4. Minnesota. This was the strongest area on the team in 2015. Now, questions loom with corners Eric Murray and Briean Boddy-Calhoun gone along with safety Antonio Johnson. The Gophers have a good safety in senior Damarius Travis, a captain considered to be the team’s best defender. Junior Adekunle Ayinde looks good at the other safety slot. The corners could be stout with senior Jalen Myrick back to start opposite sophomore KiAnte Hardin. They can play man coverage, which is required in this scheme. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman Ray Buford.

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5. Wisconsin. This area needs a lot of work with three starters gone in safeties Tanner McEvoy and Michael Caputo and corner Darius Hillary. Junior D’Cota Dixon and senior Leo Musso are penciled in at the safety spots. Sophomore Arrington Farrar also is in the hunt. Junior Derrick Tindal is slated to start opposite returning starting corner Sojourn Shelton, who is entering his fourth season as a starter. Other corners to watch are junior Natrell Jamerson and redshirt freshman Titus Booker.

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6. Purdue. Like most areas on this team, the secondary needs work. The safeties are back, with the duo of seniors Robert Gregory and Leroy Clark, the top player in the secondary. Each is solid in run support. The corners are a big concern with Frankie Williams and Anthony Brown gone. Junior Da’Wan Hunte and sophomore Tim Cason are first up on the corners. Hunte looks legit. Junior Myles Norwood, redshirt freshman Mike Little and JC Kamal Hardy are other options.

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7. Illinois. This area is under construction with three starters gone: Corners Eaton Spence and V’Angelo Bentley, along with free safety Clayton Fejedelem. Senior strong safety Taylor Barton is the lone starter back after picking off four passes in 2015. There is potential in junior corner Jaylen Dunlap and senior corner Darius Mosely. Dunlap could be a cut-above. Mosely is a good athlete. Senior Caleb Day is slated to start at free safety for a unit with a lot to prove.

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