1-Joe Stellmacher, Senior, Wisconsin
2-Miguel Merrick, Senior, Iowa
3-Jamario O’Neal, Sophomore, Ohio State
4-Dominic Jones, Sophomore, Minnesota
5-Kevin Mitchell, Junior, Illinois
6-Troy Grosfield, Senior, Indiana
7-Jamar Adams, Junior, Michigan
8-Brandent Englemon, Junior, Michigan
9-Bryan Heinz, Senior, Northwestern
10-Nehemiah Warrick, Junior, Michigan State
Also Watch For:
Torri Williams, Sophomore, Purdue
Nolan McCready, Senior, Penn State
This list could look much different at the end of the season because of the number of young players stepping into starting roles for the first time this year. There are, however, several returning starters and Wisconsin’s Joe Stellmacher gets the top spot by default. At 6-1,220+ pounds Stellmacher would probably play linebacker in most schemes. Like Iowa’s Miguel Merrick, he doesn’t have great range but he makes his presence felt against the run. Stellmacher collected 90 tackles in 2005.
Ohio State’s Jamario O’Neal is a player who could top this list at season’s end. As predicted before he arrived in Columbus, safety us the position where he can maximize his potential. O’Neal will replace a first round draft pick in Donte Whitner at strong safety for the Buckeyes. O’Neal needs work in coverage but he has outstanding instincts against the run and he hits like a semi.
Minnesota’s Dominic Jones was impressive last year as a true freshman. What he lacks in size (5-9), he makes up for with excellent speed and athletic ability. Jones needs more polish and experience but he is a developing star. Illinois’s Kevin Mitchell isn’t the greatest athlete but his hustle compensates for what he lacks in that department. He collected 78 tackles last year and is the Illini’s best defender.
Indiana’s Troy Grosfield is much in the mold of Mitchell. He isn’t the best cover man but is fearless defending the run. Grosfield had 57 tackles last season.
Michigan’s Jamar Adams is penciled in to start for the Wolverines after a strong spring. Adams started several games last season and showed some promise despite being a passive decision maker. He focused on making sharper decisions this spring and will be counted on heavily in Ron English’s aggressive scheme. Brandent Englemon started last year at safety for the Wolverines and played better than expected. He is limited athletically but his effort allows him to still make plays. Injury caused his production to drop significantly as the season progressed, but when healthy he had a knack for making huge hits.
Northwestern’s Bryan Heinz missed most of last season with injury but is a solid player much in the mold of ex-Wisconsin Badger Jim Leonhard, Heinz is a former walk-on that is a smart, hard-working safety.
A player who could move up this list in a hurry is Michigan State’s Nehemiah Warrick. Warrick is an incoming JUCO All American who is the cousin of former Florida State standout Peter Warrick. He’s already a lock to start for the Spartans after an impressive spring and could be the Green and White’s best defensive back by season’s end.