1-Mark Zalewski, Senior, Wisconsin
2-David Harris, Senior, Michigan
3-Tim Shaw, Senior, Penn State
4-John Kerr, Senior, Ohio State
5-Adam Kadela, Junior, Northwestern
6-Mike D’Andrea, Senior, Ohio State
7-George Hall, Senior, Purdue
8-Mike Sherels, Junior, Minnesota
9-Kaleb Thornhill, Junior, Michigan State
10-J. Leman, Junior, Illinois
Wisconsin’s Mark Zalewski is a player I had ranked very high last season and he comes in at the top spot this year. Zalewski is the model of versatility; he can blitz, cover and play the run well. The Badger senior had 83 tackles last year, with 12 ½ being for loss.
Michigan’s David Harris came on strong last year, tallying 88 tackles (six for loss). The Grand Rapids native showed excellent run stopping ability as a first year starter, but he needs to improve in coverage to be elite.
Not much separates Harris and my #3 middle backer, Tim Shaw. Shaw racked up 76 tackles last year on a stellar Penn State defense despite playing next to stars Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor. He helps make this unit one of the best in the nation.
Ohio State’s John Kerr finally gets his chance to start after waiting several years behind the country's best trio of linebackers. Kerr was a standout for the Indiana Hoosiers as a freshman and was the team's top defender as a freshman. He transferred to OSU at the conclusion of his first year and has been learning the system for two years. He is primed for a fine season.
Northwestern will move Adam Kadela from the strong side to the middle in order to replace tackling machine Tim McGarigle. Kadela doesn’t have great range but his strength is against the run.
Coming in at #6 is the second Ohio State player on the list, Mike D’Andrea. The former five-star recruit has been injured more often than not during his career. Will he stay healthy and find somewhere to play this year?
Purdue’s George Hall and Minnesota’s Mike Sherels are two more examples of backers that are not sideline to sideline type players, but do their best work in short quarters. Sherels in probably the better athlete but doesn’t have Hall's strength. Hall moves like a lineman but hits like a freight train, thus earning his nickname “the hitman”.
Michigan State’s Kaleb Thornhill would probably rate higher if it weren’t for his constant injury issues. He missed much of the spring with shoulder and knee injuries but should be ready to go for the season. He has the potential to move up the list with a productive, healthy season.
Illinois has moved J Leman to the inside in an effort to piece together a defense that was one of the worst in the country last year. Leman chimed in with 67 tackles last season.