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B1G In The Big League: NFL Week 1

We don’t have Big Ten football (yet), but ‘member all those guys who used to play in the conference? OTE ‘members

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New Orleans Saints
Tom Brady, manifesting 2020 as an emotion
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Unless and until the Big Ten begins play on the field - and, hey, there might be light at the end of the tunnel, whether that’s a good idea or not - you may have noticed tumbleweeds dancing across the pages of this here readin’ blog.

And so, to Scotch tape close the gunshot wound of our teams not playing, we present some of the notable performances of former Big Ten players in the NFL. This feature may or may not become regular, may or may not continue if the conference begins playing...who can really say In These Uncertain Times?

Anyway. This is not a comprehensive list, just a few shoutouts.

Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) - Seahawks QB

Wilson, now in his ninth season in the pros, has gone from a mystifying draft day drop into the 4th round to one of the five best QBs in the pros. Wilson started his season with a bang, completing 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards, 4 TDs, and no turnovers against the Falcons.

Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State) - Jets RB

On the flip side of the coin, Bell’s hellish go of it on the field since leaving the cozy bosom of Pittsburgh for a team named after a type of airplane continues. Although the Jets are paying him well, their offense continues to be a discombobulated mess. Bell managed just 14 yards on 6 carries and 32 receiving yards on 2 catches before leaving with a hamstring injury in the third quarter.

Stefon Diggs (Maryland) - Bills WR

As Bell and the Jets suffered, Stefon Diggs, making his Buffalo debut after his offseason trade from the Vikings, did just fine. He hauled in 8 catches for 86 yards from Josh Allen.

Quintez Cephus (Wisconsin) - Lions WR

Cephus, a rookie 5th round pick by Detroit, was a big part of the Lions’ gameplan with Kenny Golladay injured. Cephus was targeted by Matthew Stafford 10 times, though he only hauled in 3 of those for 43 yards and did have a couple drops.

T.J. Hockenson (Iowa) - Lions TE

Hockenson was the other major beneficiary of Kenny Golladay’s absence, as the second-year tight end brought in all 5 of his targets for 56 yards.

Christian Kirksey (Iowa) - Packers LB

Coming over to Green Bay after several years with the Browns, Kirksey racked up 12 tackles in the Packers’ win over the Vikings.

Corey Linsley (Ohio State) - Packers C

Although there aren’t many readily available counting stats for offensive lineman, Linsley enters his seventh season with the Packers as the signalcaller for a line that blocked for almost 5 yards per carry and allowed zero sacks against the Vikings.

Jerome Baker (Ohio State) - Dolphins LB

Baker gave a fantastic effort in a losing effort for Miami against New England, piling up 16 total tackles including a sack. Until a couple of weeks ago, he had a former Buckeye teammate, Raekwon McMillan, patrolling alongside him with the Dolphins, but McMillan was traded to the Raiders.

Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue) & Chase Young (Ohio State) - Washington DEs

Showcasing the formidable pass rushing punch and depth Washington has built up, both the stalwart veteran Kerrigan (entering his 10th season) and the splashy #2 overall pick Young struck pay dirt pursuing Carson Wentz today. Young counted 1 12 sacks among his four tackles, and Kerrigan’s 2 sacks secured him Washington’s franchise career record.

Anthony Walker (Northwestern) - Indianapolis LB

Walker, though frequently overshadowed by playmaking dynamo Darius Leonard, continued his steady run-stopping for the Colts with 7 tackles.

Joe Schobert (Wisconsin) - Jacksonville LB

One of many former Badger linebackers in the league, Schobert debuted for the Jaguars with 8 tackles. Schobert moved south after 4 years in Cleveland, the last 3 of which featured at least 100 tackles.

J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State) & Gus Edwards (Rutgers) - Baltimore RBs

Dobbins got some value out of his 7 carries in his pro debut, finding the endzone twice even though he only gained 22 yards.

Dobbins being drafted in the second round and barging into the rotation so quickly bodes kind of ill for Edwards, who had worked his way into a supporting role with the Ravens’ offense as a 2018 UDFA.

Tom Brady (Michigan) - Tampa Bay QB & Drew Brees (Purdue) - New Orleans QB

Yeah, yeah, these two guys met as division rivals for the first time. We don’t know how old either of them is - Joe Buck and Troy Aikman stubbornly refused to discuss it - but they’ve both been at it forever and are obvious, immediate Hall of Famers. Neither had an especially illustrious day. Brees went 18/30, 160 yards, 2 TD/0 INT; Brady was 23/36, 239 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs, one of which was a pick six.

Lavonte David (Nebraska), William Gholston (Michigan State), Antoine Winfield Jr. (Minnesota) - Tampa Bay Defense

Whether you care about the Brady storyline or not, though, there’s plenty of reason for Big Ten fans to keep an eye on the Bucs. David (11 tackles, 2 TFL) has been one of the more underappreciated tackling machines in the league for his entire career, Will Gholston (7 tackles, 2 TFL) has likewise lent the Bucs steady play alongside flashier names like Gerald McCoy, and rookie second-round pick Winfield Jr. (6 tackles, PBU) forced his way into a starting role the same way he turned heads in college, according to the broadcast - constant highlight plays in practice.

In addition to being the media’s highlighted game of the week, this is probably also the B1G showcase of the week; there were plenty of other names that could have been brought up here.

Raheem Mostert (Purdue) & Tevin Coleman (Indiana) - San Francisco RBs

Although Coleman had the edge when these two met as collegiate rivals (2-1 record versus Purdue), Mostert has moved into a lead role with the Niners after a few years as a special teamer. Mostert rushed for 56 yards on 15 carries, but also turned 4 catches into 95 more yards, including a 76-yard touchdown. Coleman, nursing an injury, settled for 5 total touches for 24 yards.

Monday Night

Giants vs Steelers

Pittsburgh has a strong Big Ten flavor to it, both from a previous generation of players (Penn State G Stefan Wisniewski, Ohio State DT Cameron Heyward), younger but still-established players (Maryland S Sean Davis, Wisconsin FB Derek Watt, Wisconsin LB T.J. Watt), and a whole mess of young Big Ten products - Michigan LB Devin Bush, Michigan State CB Justin Layne, Maryland RB Anthony McFarland and several others.

The Giants have fewer B1G alumni, but the headliner is a standout, especially for the fantasy-inclined amongst you: Penn State product Saquon Barkley is one of the few workhorse, three-down backs in today’s game. That said, they also roster, among others, well-respected CB Logan Ryan (Rutgers), 12-time Heisman winner Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), and the most special-teamy guy in the league, Nate Ebner (Ohio State), who we are obligated by law to mention was once a cricket player or something.

The Verdict: Loyal Big Ten fans must root for the Steelers.

Titans vs Broncos

Tennessee has an interesting in here, as head coach Mike Vrabel is a recent-enough Buckeye to register with fans young enough to be reading this on a computer or mobile device, unlike most NFL coaches. Even with Jack Conklin leaving in free agency, Tennessee’s robust run game is bolstered by B1G beef - Taylor Lewan (Michigan), Rodger Saffold (Indiana) and reserve Dennis Kelly (Purdue).

Denver, led by front office wizard John Elway, knows that what you really want from B1G country is speeeeeeeeeed - and so the Broncos have stocked up on the skill positions, bringing in former Badger great Melvin Gordon III to go along with Penn State pass-catchers K.J. Hamler and Daesean Hamilton, tight ends Noah Fant (Iowa), Nick Vannett (Ohio State), and Jake Butt (Michigan).

Verdict: Both these teams have multiple defensive players from the conference, but this article got way too long already. We trust our hardworking readership will be sound asleep before this game begins and therefore abstain from taking a position.


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