Pro Football Focus released its list of the 101 best players in college football Monday, and all the usual suspects were present: Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State — the teams most believe will compete for a Big Ten title.
So when an Illinois player popped up in the top 20, there were plenty of eyebrows shooting up.
Now, just because the Illini likely won't challenge for a conference championship in Lovie Smith's first year at the helm doesn't mean that defensive end Dawuane Smoot isn't the 20th-best player in college football. Pro Football Focus is quite high on Smoot, with their intricate grading system rating him as one of the top-10 pass-rushers in the country last season, when he finished with eight sacks, good for sixth in the Big Ten. He was fifth in the conference with 15 tackles for loss, forced three fumbles and recovered two more. It all would indicate that a big 2016 campaign is on the way, and PFF is expecting that, too, putting him at No. 18 in its 2017 mock draft.
But PFF isn't alone in being high on Smoot. Smith feels the same way, saying earlier this offseason that he believed Smoot would be a first-round draft pick. And he should know after his many years in the NFL.
So is Smoot heading for a monster 2016, All-Big Ten honors and the NFL Draft? It seems like plenty think so, with Smoot placing higher in PFF's rankings than many other Big Ten stars.
Here's a look at who from the conference cracked PFF's top 101, and prepare yourself for a heaping helping of the Michigan defense.
7. Jourdan Lewis, DB, Michigan
9. Desmond King, DB, Iowa
16. Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan
20. Dawuane Smoot, DE, Illinois
23. Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
27. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
29. Pat Elflein, OL, Ohio State
31. Chris Wormley, DE, Michigan
32. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
34. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
43. Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin
63. Jake Replogle, DT, Purdue
72. Ryan Glasgow, DT, Michigan
90. Nate Gerry, DB, Nebraska
99. Darius Hamilton, DT, Rutgers
100. Ed Davis, LB, Michigan State
Notably absent from the list were Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker, who will be among the favorites for conference player of the year honors on their respective sides of the ball.