Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, July 17, 2013

The 2000s saw plenty of great players in the Big Ten. One, in fact, won the Heisman: Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith (2006), who arguably is the top player from the 2000s. Yesterday, I looked at the best of the best offensive players in the Big Ten since the calendar flipped to 2000. Next up: Defense.

Before I get to the list, I have a couple rules:  1. A player had to play at least two seasons to be considered; 2. Nebraska players prior to 2011 are not eligible.

[ RELATED: See Dienhart's All-Big Ten Offense since 2000 ]


L: Brandon Graham, Michigan (2006-09). He paced the Big Ten with 20 TFLs in 2008 and led the country with 26 in 2009, developing into one of the nation?s top disrupters.

L: Shaun Phillips, Purdue (2000-03). He became one of the Boilermakers? top ends ever, notching 60.5 TFLs with a school-record 33.5 sacks in his career. He helped the 2003 defense rank No. 1 in the Big Ten.

L: Will Smith, Ohio State (2000-03). An All-American in 2003, Smith was a force off the edge with 22 career sacks and 44.5 TFLs.

L: Vernon Gholston, Ohio State (2004-07). Yes, he was a colossal bust in the NFL. But Gholston was a beast in Columbus, collecting 30.5 TFLs and 21.5 sacks.

LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (2005-08). The three-time All-American paced the team in tackles for three seasons and helped push the Buckeyes to the BCS title game in 2006 and 2007.

LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State (2007-10). The tackling machine left East Lansing with 465 stops and was just the second player to pace the Spartans in tackles for three seasons.

LB: Paul Posluszny, Penn State (2003-06). He won the Butkus Award in 2005 and the Bednarik Award in 2005 and ?06 en route to leaving school as the school?s all-time leading tackler. Enough said.

DB: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State (2005-08). A premier cover man, Jenkins won the 2008 Thorpe Award and finished his career with 11 picks and 196 stops.

DB: Bob Sanders, Iowa (2000-03). The quintessential dynamo, Sanders tallied 348 career tackles and paced the country in forced fumbles (six) in 2003. He was a linebacker masquerading as a safety.

DB: Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin (2001-04). The former walk-on notched 21 interceptions, which tied Jamar Fletcher for the most in school history. He also tallied 281 career tackles. A classic overachiever.

DB: Marlin Jackson, Michigan (2001-04). A first-team All-American in 2004, Jackson finished with 195 career tackles, 13 tackles for loss and nine interceptions. And his 34 passes defensed ranked second in school annals.

P: Travis Dorsch, Purdue (1998-2001). The Ray Guy Award winner as a senior, Dorsch set myriad records; among them, career scoring (355 points), career field goals (69), and career punting average (48.4). He became the first Big Ten player to be named as a first-team all-conference selection as a punter and a kicker.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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