Predicting a breakout player for every team is almost an impossible task. Part one covered the SEC, part two covers the breakout players in the Big Ten.
Picking A Breakout Player From Every Big 10 Team
Illinois – Cameron Thomas (QB)
Last year was certainly not the most ideal of freshman seasons for Thomas. He started just two games while playing in a total of four. Thomas completed only 42.4% of his passes for 375 yards and five interceptions along with a whopping zero touchdowns. The good news is he managed to run for 233 yards and a score as well. To be fair, it’s not like the Illini were loaded with amazing skill players.
Thomas is a fantastic athlete, which means making plays on the run will be a strength. The team also has better weapons to go along with the experience Thomas gained last year. He has good size at 6’2″, 200 pounds and will shock people in the Big Ten world with a much better than expected season for Illinois.
Indiana – Marcelino Ball (DB)
Ball seems like too easy of a pick for Indiana. He had a huge freshman year in 2016 with 75 tackles, two picks, eight pass breakups, 4.5 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery. Why is this guy on the list then? Two reasons: the Roswell, GA native is still unknown nationally and he suffered a season-ending injury after just three games last year, thus receiving a medical redshirt. He produced 20 tackles, a half tackle for loss along with a quarterback hurry during his three games. You can already see what he is capable of. With seven of Indiana’s top 11 tacklers gone, Ball is sure to be a breakout player nationally.
Iowa – A.J. Epenesa (DE)
Epenesa is undoubtedly a future star in the B10. The 6’5″ sophomore from Edwardsville HS in Illinois has what it takes to be a flat-out dominant force in Iowa City. Epenesa is a phenomenal athlete who earned four letters in football, basketball and track while in high school. Not only was he proficient at applying pressure to quarterbacks in high school, he also blocked nine kicks during his senior year. He also scored over 1,000 points in basketball. Epenesa was an All-American in track, setting an Illinois state record in the discus as a junior.
Last season in limited action, he recorded 15 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one pass breakup as well as a forced fumble. Expect his numbers to increase exponentially this year as he will be a full time starter for the Hawkeyes.
Maryland – Taivon Jacobs (WR)
Jacobs has been around the Maryland football program since 2013. He redshirted as a freshman, then missed his junior season in 2016 due to injury. Jacobs has not been highly productive thus far in his career. That lack of big time production can be attributed to a handful of factors. During 2014, Stefon Diggs was enjoying his last year in College Park before heading to the NFL. The last couple of years, Jacobs had D.J. Moore ahead of him. Additionally, Maryland has dealt with inconsistent quarterback play, partly due to a multitude of injuries.
The 5’11” Jacobs enters his final season in Maryland as the favorite to be the primary target for whoever wins the QB competition. Last year, he snagged 47 catches for 553 yards and five touchdowns. Jacobs will ascend himself to breakout player status for Maryland this year, going over 1,000 yards receiving.
Michigan – Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR)
Michigan has several intriguing candidates for this coveted list. However, sophomore Peoples-Jones will not only be the Wolverine’s breakout player, he will be an All-American candidate this season. He is incredibly athletic, possesses fantastic hands, is very fast and has great size at 6’2″. When you combine all of that with the fact that Michigan finally has a quarterback who can actually throw in Shea Patterson, all signs point upward.
Peoples-Jones grabbed 22 receptions for 277 yards last season. That does not seem too impressive, but the leading receiver on the team only had 307 yards. At Detroit’s Cass Technical, he caught 60 balls for 1,071 yards plus 17 touchdowns as a senior. In addition to that production, he also made four interceptions on defense. During his junior campaign, he caught 41 passes for 1,012 yards along with 14 TD’s. Donovan Peoples-Jones is about to do some big things for Michigan this season.
Michigan State – Antjuan Simmons – (LB)
Mark Dantonio always finds gems on the defensive side of the ball. That cannot be questioned whatsoever. The next breakout player for the Spartans will be the sophomore linebacker Simmons. Simmons comes to East Lansing from Ann Arbor where he starred at Pioneer High School. When you watch the tape, it becomes quite obvious that Simmons is a special player. Simmons is a great tackler. When he hits you, the play is over. He will disrupt rushing plays in the backfield. He plays sideline to sideline and has the speed to chase a ball carrier down from behind. Last year as a true freshman he accumulated 34 tackles along with 1.5 tackles for loss in just 128 snaps. Simmons is on his way to a dynamic career at Michigan State.
Minnesota – O.J Smith (DT)
2018 is the time for Smith to shine for Minnesota as their breakout player. Smith transferred in from Alabama after three years there and only registered two tackles during his time, struggling to find his way onto the field. The previous statement is understandable considering the number of NFL players on Bama’s defensive line. Smith has worked tremendously hard to improve his game and getting himself into great shape since arriving in Minneapolis preceding the 2017 season.
During his high school career in Louisiana, Smith was simply dominant. When you watch the tape, his ability to fight off blocks with little challenge becomes evident. You see his incredible energy and effort on every play. Smith was simply a man among boys. With a fresh start at Minnesota, expect big things from Smith as he becomes the Golden Gophers breakout player.
Nebraska – Tyjon Lindsey (WR)
The Cornhuskers still need to find their quarterback. Adrian Martinez and Tristan Gebbia are currently battling it out for the starting job in fall camp. Either way, they will have an emerging star at wide receiver. Lindsey became just the fifth Nebraska freshman wide receiver to catch at least a dozen passes last year with 12 exactly. He has blazing speed along with great hands. Lindsey can change directions effortlessly. Another impressive attribute is his ability to run like a running back after the catch.
As part of an absurdly loaded Bishop Gorman High School team in Las Vegas, Lindsey was highly dangerous. His senior season was limited due to injury but his junior season was quite impressive. He snagged 45 passes for 1,117 yards along with 14 TD’s. He added 237 punt return yards plus an interception and two pass breakups on defense. Lindsey also went over 1,000 all purpose yards as a sophomore. Expect big things from Lindsey this year under new head coach Scott Frost.
Northwestern – Jeremy Larkin (RB)
Northwestern’s new all time leading rusher Justin Jackson departed after a stellar career at the end of 2017. That opens up the door for the sophomore Larkin to fill the void this season. Larkin comes in after a phenomenal high school career at La Salle HS in Cincinnati. His final three seasons were flat out ridiculous — rushing for 5,349 yards, while accumulating 6,399 total offensive yards. Overall, he registered 8,326 all purpose yards and 95 total touchdowns during his career.
Larkin ran for 503 yards while averaging six yards per carry as the backup to the aforementioned Jackson. He is a patient runner who reads his blocks well and possesses great balance. Larkin has good speed and knows how to maneuver out of trouble. He will be a breakout player this year for Northwestern because he has every tool needed to torture Big Ten defenses all season long.
Ohio State – Chase Young (DE)
Young is undoubtedly the next defensive line star at Ohio State. He possesses an insane combination of incredible speed, impressive power, unbelievable athleticism and versatility. Young played his last two years of high school ball at famed DeMatha Catholic in Maryland. He was a five star recruit in the 2017 class, along with the top rated player in the state. During his senior campaign, he recorded 118 tackles, 37 tackles for loss, 19 sacks along with five forced fumbles. All of that in 12 games.
Last season, Young found his way into a deep defensive end rotation to register 19 tackles, six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. The 6’5″, 265 lbs end is going to not only be a breakout player in 2018, but a high NFL draft pick in a couple of years.
Penn State – Lamont Wade (S)
Penn State has a handful of players worthy of selection including Miles Sanders, Justin Shorter and Ellis Brooks. Wade is the guy who will step up as Penn State’s biggest impact breakout player this year. As a freshman backup last season, he registered 31 tackles and three pass breakups. He is a straight up missile out of his safety position who will lay guys out. He is strong against the run, but also makes plays in the passing game. His speed is particularly impressive. Do not let Wade’s 5’9″ frame distract you from his abilities on the field. He has all Big Ten talent, which will begin to be demonstrated in 2018.
Purdue – Rondale Moore (WR)
Moore comes to West Lafayette out of Kentucky powerhouse program Louisville Trinity High School. There is a strong likelihood that the true freshman receiver becomes the top target for the Boilermakers right away. Moore is potentially the fastest player in this year’s recruiting class. Additionally he benches a crazy 600 pounds. To accentuate how impressive that last tidbit is, consider that Moore is only 175 pounds.
Need further convincing? Moore recorded the second most catches in state history for a single season with 109 for 1,478 yards plus 16 touchdowns. He also ran 50 times for 537 yards along with seven touchdowns and returned two punts for touchdowns. The former Texas commit will easily become Purdue’s breakout player in 2018.
Rutgers – Blessuan Austin (CB)
Austin is part of an extremely talented defensive backfield for Rutgers. With Saquan Hampton, Tre Avery, Isaiah Wharton and K.J. Gray, it is quite impressive what the Scarlet Knights have assembled. Austin started four games last year before suffering a torn ACL at Nebraska, thus ending his season. He managed to snag an interception as well as break up a pass during his limited time, recording 12 tackles. His sophomore year was strong. He accumulated 14 pass breakups to go along with 41 tackles, one sack, one pick and a fumble recovery. Austin has great ball skills, cover ability and speed. His hands are always active, which leads to a high number of pass breakups. Austin will be a breakout player nationally for Rutgers this season.
Wisconsin – Christian Bell (LB)
Bell comes to Madison via transfer from Alabama. The 6’4″ linebacker out of Hoover High School in Birmingham is an impressive athlete, despite only being a three star recruit. Bell is a proficient pass rushing threat from the linebacking position who can also chase ball carriers down with his speed. When he tackles an offensive player, they typically stop dead in their tracks. Bell’s incredible athleticism is illustrated by not only his success in football, but also the fact he played basketball, indoor track and outdoor track. There are several intriguing possibilities for Wisconsin’s breakout player, but Bell will surely be on top at season’s end.
To be sure, this is an incredible list of players who will all have great seasons in 2018.
All college stats acquired at: http://www.cfbstats.com/
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