Goodbye & hello: Time for football's 'All Big Shoes To Fill' team
Signing Day is a new beginning, a nod toward tomorrow and the potential that looms with the new signees. The possibilities seemingly are limitless in eyes of fans and schools. But as the new talent preps to arrive–and with spring around the corner–some big-time talent is out the door in the Big Ten.
Perhaps one day some of the 2017 signees can replace these guys—maybe as soon as this fall—who are on my 2017 “All Big Shoes To Fill” Team.
WR Austin Carr, Northwestern. He enjoyed a sensational senior season, winning Big Ten Receiver of the Year honors after making 90 catches for 1,247 yards and 12 TDs. All three of those totals led the conference. In fact, Carr’s closest competitor had 74 receptions. The former walk-on entered his senior season with just 23 catches for 402 yards with two TDs. No Big Ten player was more of a surprise in 2016, as Carr and QB Clayton Thorson developed great chemistry.
WR Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska. He will leave Lincoln as an all-time great. Westerkamp was the fourth player in NU history with 2,000 career receiving yards, joining Kenny Bell (2,689), Johnny Rodgers (2,479), and Nate Swift (2,476) in the 2,000-yard club. His 65 catches in 2015 were second most in a season in Husker annals. Westerkamp’s 2016 season failed to live up to expectations because of injury, playing in just 10 games. Still, he led the club with 38 catches for 526 yards and five TDs. Westerkamp leaves campus with 167 career grabs for 2,474 yards and 18 TDs.
TE Jake Butt, Michigan. Has there ever been a better tight end in Michigan annals? Butt capped a big senior season by winning the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end. He also was voted Big Ten Tight End of the Year. Butt caught 46 passes for 546 yards with four TDs. He leaves Ann Arbor with 138 career grabs for 1,646 yards and 11 TDs. It was unfortunate to see him injure a knee in the Orange Bowl.
C Pat Elflein, Ohio State. He was a standout, winning the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center in his first season at the position. Elflein also was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year. He helped the Buckeyes rank No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing (245.2 ypg) and was a quarterback up front who directed traffic for an Ohio State front that at times struggled for consistency.
G Dan Feeney, Indiana. He will leave as an all-time great. The powerful Feeney was an AP first-team All-American and consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection. He played guard and tackle last season and helped the Hoosiers have the No. 3 offense in the Big Ten (426.0 ypg) in 2016.
OT Erik Magnuson, Michigan. A consensus first-team All-Big Ten pick, Magnuson helped the Wolverines rank No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (40.0 ppg) and No. 2 in rushing (212.9 ypg). Magnuson appeared in 46 games while in Ann Arbor, making 37 starts. After last season, he won the Hugh R. Rader Memorial Award, given to the top Michigan offensive lineman.
OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin. A consensus first-team All-Big Ten player who turned pro, Ramczyk helped Wisconsin rank No. 3 in the Big Ten in rushing (203.1 ypg) and No. 5 in scoring (28.4 ypg). He was a force up front for a line that developed into a strength after an inconsistent 2015.
OT Jonah Pirsig, Minnesota. The massive 6-9, 325-pound Pirsig was an anchor up front on a good Gopher offensive line. He started 10 games and missed three with an injury last season. Pirsig blocked for an offense that rushed for 2,387 yards and 34 touchdowns last season en route to earning consensus third-team All-Big Ten accolades.
QB C.J. Beathard, Iowa. Yes, he didn’t have a banner senior season, hitting 56.5 percent of his passes for 1,929 yards with 17 TDs and 10 interceptions to earn honorable mention All-Big Ten from the media. Those numbers were off his spectacular 2015 season. Still, Beathard will leave campus as an all-time great who is ticketed for an NFL career. The guy won a lot of games in Iowa City, guiding the Hawkeyes to 20 victories the last two years with a Rose Bowl berth in the 2015 season. Beathard will leave school with 5,562 passing yards with 40 touchdowns and 19 picks.
RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin. He rebounded from a disappointing junior season to finish his Badger career with a bang. Clement ranked third in the Big Ten in rushing with 1,375 yards (105.8 ypg) and scored 15 TDs with eight 100-yard rushing games. He leaves Madison with 576 career carries for 3,092 yards and 36 TDs.
RB Devine Redding, Indiana. He opted to turn pro after rushing for 1,122 yards, making him the fourth IU back to have back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He also caught 27 passes for 146 yards and two scores in 2016. Redding will leave campus with 508 carries for 2,252 yards and 17 TDs.
K Tyler Durbin, Ohio State. He nailed 17-of-22 field-goal attempts, earning consensus third-team All-Big Ten honors.
DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State. He arrived on campus amid a lot of hype and delivered. Now, McDowell is off a year early to the NFL, where he is projected to be a first-round selection. He led the Spartan defensive line with 34 tackles, including a team-best seven for losses (31 yards), in nine games. He started in eight games (five at nose tackle; three at defensive end) before missing the final three games with an injury. McDowell will leave East Lansing having collected 90 tackles, including 24.5 for losses and 7.5 sacks, in 36 career games. He was a versatile athlete who could start any position on the defensive line.
DE Taco Charlton, Michigan. A consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, Charlton paced the Big Ten with .86 sacks per game (9.5 total). He also was in the top 10 in tackles for loss with 13 and notched 43 tackles. Charlton formed a nice duo off the edge with Chris Wormley, who had 40 tackles with nine TFLs and six sacks and was first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and second-team by the media.
DT Jaleel Johnson, Iowa. A first-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches and second team by the media, Johnson was No. 7 in the Big Ten in sacks last season with 7.5 and also had 10 TFLs and 55 tackles. He was force all season on the interior of the Hawkeye front, helping the team rank fifth in the Big Ten in total defense (351.2 ypg). He will be a big-time NFL player.
DE Dawuane Smoot, Illinois. A big-time NFL talent, Smoot enjoyed a big senior season, ranking No. 5 in the league in tackles for loss (12 solo, six assists). The team captain also had five sacks to go with 56 tackles with 10 QB hurries. He was a consensus third-team All-Big Ten pick and formed a nice duo with Carroll Phillips. Smoot is tied for sixth in Illinois history with 38.5 career TFLs and is eighth in Illinois history with 16.5 career sacks.
LB T.J. Watt, Wisconsin. An inspirational leader and heat-seeking missile, Watt forged a standout career in carrying on the legacy began by older brother J.J. at Wisconsin. T.J. Watt was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten player who ranked third on the team with 63 tackles (38 solo). He led the Badgers with 15.5 TFLs and 11.5 sacks while also picking off a pass. Watt did it all for one of the nation’s top defenses, opting to turn pro early.
LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State. He was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection. McMillan helped the Buckeyes rank No. 2 in the Big Ten in scoring defense (15.5 ppg) and No. 2 in total defense (296.8 ypg). He opted to turn pro after leading Ohio State with 102 tackles, including 49 solo stops. McMillian was a heavy-hitter who could cover a lot of ground.
LB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan. The guy did it all, playing myriad positions and impacting games in all three phases: offense, defense and special teams. He’s a once-in-a-generation talent that will be impossible to replace, as Peppers left early for the NFL after being a Heisman finalist and winning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Linebacker of the Year and Return Specialist of the Year honors. His stats don’t do justice to the impact he had. In a word, Peppers was sensational.
CB Sojourn Shelton, Wisconsin. He notched 31 tackles (23 solo) and picked off four passes while also breaking up 12 passes. He was the team’s top cover man, earning consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors and helping Wisconsin rank sixth in the Big Ten in pass defense (202.6 ypg).
CB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan. There was no better coverman in the Big Ten, as Lewis earned Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year honors and finished fourth in the league with 13 passes broken up. No doubt, he was a major reason why the Wolverines led the Big Ten in pass defense (142.5 ypg), teaming with fellow departed corner Channing Stribling to give Michigan a boffo corner tandem.
CB Desmond King, Iowa. One of the nation’s top corners who earned the Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in the nation in 2015, King opted to return for his senior season and followed up with a strong campaign that saw him earn consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. He broke up seven passes and had three picks last season. And King was a big reason why Iowa was No. 5 in the league in pass defense (200.4 ypg) en route to making 58 tackles. He also doubled as a top return man, averaging 10.2 yards on 26 punt returns and 27.8 yards on 27 kickoff returns.
S Malik Hooker, Ohio State. He was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, pacing the Big Ten with seven interceptions. He ran back three for touchdowns, while also breaking up 11 passes. Hooker helped the Buckeyes rank No. 2 in the Big Ten in pass defense (172.2 ypg). He opted to turn pro early after notching 74 tackles.
P Cameron Johnston, Ohio State. a consensus first-team All-Big Ten pick, the Aussie paced the league with a 46.7-yard average. Twenty-six of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line.
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