Since we last checked in on the conference’s pro football alumni, the Big Ten announced a return to play. It’s...still a month away, and even a slim 60-game baseball schedule after 4 months of no sports has managed to lose my interest, so we’ll carry this feature on for now.
Week 2 featured a horrendous string of injuries across the NFL, and unfortunately, Big Ten alumni were not immune to those happenings. There are, of course, positive highlights as well, and we’ll try to keep those in center frame here.
Saquon Barkley (Penn State) Giants RB: As Giants/Bears was the first game in the box score, let’s get this over with: Barkley’s season may be over, as he was carted off the field in the second quarter with what is thought to be an ACL tear.
Zeke Elliott (Ohio State) Cowboys RB: In a college-style shootout that’s becoming more common in the NFL these days, Elliott was a focal point for the Cowboys as usual. His number weren’t eye-popping, but 22/89/1 on the ground and another 6/33 through the air wasn’t bad considering the Cowboys spotted Atlanta 20 points in the first quarter.
Jourdan Lewis (Michigan) Cowboys CB & Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State) Falcons CB: The former Michigan and Michigan State corners (respectively) didn’t overlap much in college (Dennard was a senior when Lewis was a freshmen), but their teams ran into each other in that Dallas/Atlanta game. Dennard tallied 7 tackles, while Lewis notched 4, but in a game with 79 total points, defensive players won’t crow about those kinds of numbers. Having not watched this game, though, it’s hard for me to say how much either of them were really responsible for the gaudy numbers surrendered by their teams.
Jeff Okudah (Ohio State) Lions CB: In that vein, the #3 pick in this year’s draft made his pro debut for the Lions today, and although he gathered 7 tackles, his defense was scorched by the Packers and he personally got a bit of a baptism from Aaron Rodgers. There’s plenty of reason to think he’ll be fine long-term, but after 3 college seasons on a team with an overwhelming talent advantage over just about every opponent, this had to be an eye-opener.
Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin) Colts RB: The former Badger standout, now a second-round pick of the Colts, took advantage of the carries freed up by Marlon Mack’s season-ending injury, and piled up a 26/101/1 rushing line, plus 2 catches for 9 more yards.
Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) Vikings QB: On the opposite sideline from Taylor, though, Michigan State product Kirk Cousins was having a decidedly not good time. Cousins put up a near-Petermanian line of 11/26-113-0-3 (that’s completion rate, yards, touchdowns, interceptions), and one of the three sacks he took was standing in his own endzone for a safety.
One of those three picks did go to Khari Willis, another former MSU player. This certainly isn’t the first time a QB has thrown an INT to a player who went to the same school he did, but it can’t be that common, and no, I didn’t bother researching that, this article’s already going to be too long.
In this same game, though, former Buckeye WR Parris Campbell also suffered some kind of lower leg injury that led to his being carted off the field, as well. There were some signs of a breakthrough season in the offing for Campbell, too, as he looked like the T.Y. Hilton complement the Colts have long searched for in Week 1.
Stefon Diggs (Maryland) Bills WR: I’m trying not to repeat guys too much - it’s fair to assume, for example, that Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Zeke Elliott, if healthy, are going to rack up a lot of stats - but Diggs was again prolific, with 8/153/1 on 13 targets. His arrival in Buffalo has changed the shape of the Bills offense, giving maturing QB Josh Allen a legit #1 threat and letting their other receivers settled into better-suited lesser roles.
Mike Gesicki (Penn State) Dolphins TE: Without checking, it’s probably a fair guess that Gesicki had the best line for a tight end this week, as he rampaged for 8/130/1 on 11 targets.
Raheem Mostert (Purdue) Niners RB & Nick Bosa (Ohio State) Niners DE: Here, again, the faint of heart might want to look away. Although their team romped over the lifeless Jets, Mostert only made it to 8 carries (for 92 yards and a score!) before leaving with a leg injury, though early indications are it’s a knee sprain that might not be that bad.
Bosa is a less fortunate case, as head coach Kyle Shanahan voiced suspicions of an ACL tear.
Miles Sanders (Penn State) Eagles RB: After being a surprise scratch in Week 1, Sanders reclaimed his lead back duties, putting in 20/95/1 on the ground and catching 3 passes for 36 yards.
Michael Ojemudia (Iowa) Broncos CB, Josey Jewell (Iowa) Broncos LB, & Noah Fant (Iowa) Broncos TE: The Broncos came up short against the Steelers, in large part because of an early injury to QB Drew Lock, but Iowa’s contingent did their part. Ojemudia, not even listed as a starting CB, tallied 7 tackles and a PBU; Jewell, moving into a starting LB role this season, added 4 more tackles; and Fant pulled in 4 of 5 targets for 57 yards and a score.
D.J. Moore (Maryland) Panthers WR: Moore’s presumptively unquestioned #1 WR status in Carolina isn’t so clear anymore - Jets import Robby Anderson has quickly staked out a large target share - but even before Christian McCaffrey left with an injury in the 4th quarter, the first two games have made it clear the passing game is going to be more WR-oriented under Matt Rhule. Moore made, well, more of his many targets in Week 2, turning 13 into 8/120/0.
Terry McLaurin (Ohio State) Football Team WR: LOL as though I was going to pass up another opportunity to type “Football Team” and have it be the actual correct name for a team I’m discussing. Anyway.
The collegiate connection with QB Dwayne Haskins Jr. has helped place McLaurin atop the Washington receiver group. His 7/125/1 line is all the more impressive against the backdrop of the rest of the passing effort, who managed 12/98/0.
De’Vondre Campbell (Minnesota) Cardinals LB: Campbell has never gotten a great deal of attention after a few productive but uneventful seasons with the Falcons, but his 2019 campaign - 129 total tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 INT - got him a new deal with a new team out west. His steady-tackling ways continue with 10 tackles (8 solo) and 2 TFLs against Washington.
Gus Edwards (Rutgers) Ravens RB: No sooner did I speculate about his possible erasure from the Ravens tailback group, than did John Harbaugh’s caprice give Gus new life. A week after not registering a carry, Edwards led the Ravens with a 10/73 line, and job-menacing rookie J.K. Dobbins settled for 3 touches. There’s a lot of mouths to feed on this offense, but it’s also a good problem for the team to have.
Ben Niemann/Anthony Hitchens/Desmond King II (EVEN MORE IOWA GUYS) Chiefs LB/Chiefs LB/Chargers CB: OK you know what? We need to go in a different direction here. These guys all had big games - 9 tackles, 9 tackles, 6 tackles respectively, and King continues to be one of the more threatening punt returners in the league - but damn near every box score I looked at has at least a couple of former Iowa players just out there, clogging up run lanes and making sure nobody gets more than 4 YPC in this friggin league.
How on EARTH did Iowa manage just a single division title in the 2010s with an unending stream of linebackers, defensive backs, and offensive linemen going to the league? Yes yes, I know Wisconsin also develops a ton of pro players, but even by accident, there should probably have been at least 3 BTCG appearances for the Hawkeyes.
I’m sure this is an argument/conversation Hawkeyes have been having for 20 years now, but is it a credit to Ferentz that he develops so many middling recruits into quality pros, or is it his greatest failure that, despite molding all these NFLers, he comes up short in so many big games?
New Orleans @ Las Vegas
Seeing “Las Vegas” still makes me wonder if ESPN’s topic has rolled over to the World Series of Poker without me noticing, but regardless, the Raiders’ defense is loaded with Big Ten products - Buckeyes Damon Arnette, Raekwon McMillan, and Johnathan Hankins, Michigan’s Maurice Hurst, Penn State’s Carl Nassib, and a couple of Cornhuskers, DT Maliek Collins.
Grizzled veteran OG Richie Incognito, another Husker, is one of those guys I’ve been sure retired on like 4 different occasions, but is still a helluva mauler in the run game, and thus graces the header of this article.
The Saints have even more of a Buckeye tint to them, powered by stars WR Michael Thomas and CB Marshon Lattimore, plus Tressel-era stalwart S Malcolm Jenkins. For a while there last season, 3/4ths of the Saint secondary was Buckeyes, as S Vonn Bell and CB Eli Apple were also in the starting group at the time.
New Orleans is also, of course, helmed by Purdue’s favorite son Drew Brees. Wisconsin has a couple guys here in RT Ryan Ramczyk and LB Zack Baun. Michigan (G/C Cesar Ruiz), Rutgers (FB Michael Burton), and Illinois (WR/special teamer Justin Hardee) also check in for the Saints.
The Verdict: New Orleans has the larger B1G contingent, and also has more schools present. As their fans are fond of quipping, Whom Are They?