When I began this series, my initial thought was, "Oh hey, why don't I just make lists of all the best players in the conference. HOW HARD CAN IT BE?" Well, that was a dumb thing to think because, a) it's ridiculously hard to figure out who the best players are when there is incredible turnover and twelve teams to sift through, and b) I realize now that my lack of actually watching football apparently makes knowing the difference between a Defensive Back and a Linebacker much more difficult a process.
Of course, all of that does not deter me. I have three lists left, or so, and I will make sure to get them done. Today we are focusing on the guys defending the pass. Defensive Backs are very often the pretty boys of the defense (note: everyone but our Northwestern friend has a Twitter account easily found), but they also make the plays that make the highlight reels. As we discussed who to put on this list, it became pretty evident that there is quite a bit of talent at DB, but there also isn't that standout guy... yet. With that said, let's take a look at the best of the best DB's in the B1G.
1. Bradley Roby @BradRoby_1
Let's look at Roby's credentials. First team All-B1G? Check. ESPN All-American? Check. Lead the conference in Passes Broken Up and Passes Defended? Check. Have some highlight reel interceptions? Check. So yeah, he should be in this slot. He's a shutdown defender who has a nose for the ball. Did I mention that he is only a Junior and is probably already on his way to the NFL? Yeah, this guy is the best DB in the B1G right now. I think he will be a name that more people know nationally this year.
2. Darqueze Dennard @DDennard_31
Oh hi there Michigan State. It's nice to now you have some guys on defense... and boy do you. Dennard is going to be a star this year. Before I get into my Gruden-esque talk about Dennard, let's throw it over to Graham:
Dennard emerged last season as the Spartans' best cornerback, matching Adams stat for stat. Both finished the year with three interceptions and seven pass breakups, but Dennard was a more consistent force in the defense. He finished 2012 with 52 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, 17 more than Adams' 35 recorded tackles. Now Dennard looks to take the next step and get recognized as maybe the best cornerback in the entire Big Ten conference.
And here's the thing, that 'next step' that everyone is talking about was happening last year. The Coaches and Media both had him All-B1G (first and second team respectively), and he seemed to be everywhere the ball was. If the interception against Nebraska isn't called back due to a penalty, he has another all-star highlight on his reel. He's another DB who will be playing on Sundays soon. I'll be more than happy to see him go.
3. Ricardo Allen @Ricardo21Allen
Ricardo Allen is an interesting pick for 3 as his stats don't always match his impact on the field, but Graham and Chad both had thoughts on why Allen should maybe be considered the best DB in the conference:
Chad: "Roby from OSU probably has to be tops here (he's a 1st round draft hopeful, after all), although I personally would rate Purdue's Ricardo Allen as the best CB in the B1G on the field -- he's a big time player."
Graham: "Loves jumping routes. Very aggressive individual. Learned juggling according to the blogosphere?"
I must admit, Allen was not necessarily my top choice going in, but I would be remiss to point out his impact for the Boilers. He was another shutdown corner and he routinely gave the opportunity to his team to make the quarterback sweat a little bit. Once Allen gets the ball, though, he is instantly a threat to take it to the house. He now holds the Purdue record for INTs returned for TDs at 3 and has another year to make some more magic. Definitely a guy to keep an eye open for.
4. Nick VanHoose
He got hurt, only played ten games, and is one of Chad's picks because he really holds down the fort for the Wildcats. I was hesitant to even give him a spot in the Top 5, but then I thought about his impact in his ten games and looked up the stats. He had three picks in his shortened season and had seven passes defended. For a defensive backfield that was all too willing to give up yards, VanHoose managed to make life difficult for a team's star receiver. In our discussions on these lists, Chad also pointed out that he was only a Freshman. VanHoose has a lot of room for growth obviously, and the fact still remains that Northwestern gave up an incredible amount of yards through the air. Even so, VanHoose has earned his right to be a top flight DB in the B1G. Nothing wrong with that.
5. Ciante Evans @Ciante17
As a Husker fan, it is my job to talk about how ridiculously biased the world is against Nebraska. It is also my job to let you all know that Nebraska has Five National Championships as well as a whole bunch of Academic All-Americans and that Tom Osborne is the best and that... Woah, that got away from me there.
All that aside, Ciante Evans should have been All-B1G last season. ESPN and CBSSports both put Evans as a first team All-B1G DB, but due to his in-between role for the Huskers, he didn't always stand out as any specific position. All that aside, Evans rose to the occasion and minus a really bad game against Georgia, Evans anchored one of the best defenses against the pass in the nation. He had 8 PBU and added an interception. This might be my red-colored glasses, but I think Evans will be a guy who can play on Sundays next year. We're not necessarily calling him a first round pick by any means, but he has the talent and athleticism to ge to the next level.
Next Man Up: Blake Countess @BlakeCo18
If we had done this piece last year, Countess would have been in the top five. His freshman season in 2011 earned him B1G All-Freshman honors and his obvious athleticism and ability to get to the ball made for a lot of hype going into 2012. Then the ACL tear against Alabama happened. From all the articles I read about his recovery, I have a feeling Countess is going to be an absolute beast this year. If his ACL holds up, Countess should move into that Top 5 group really quickly. Like Graham said in our discussions, "he [Countess] will be on that comeback trail." I wouldn't doubt it.