Tuesday, November 11, 2014

B1G Breakdown: Top 5 Teams at Each Defensive Position Unit - Week 11

In this post, I will go through the various position units and place the teams I believe are the top 5 in the conference. This will be based on the actual players that have played, so sorry Indiana, the QB position won't just be Sudfeld.


I went back-and-forth on how I wanted to do this. For some position groups (RB/DL) there are more than five groups that deserve recognition. At other position units, there kind of seems to be less than five. Nevertheless, I plan on doing another one of these post-season, as well as look specific players as I break down All-B1G teams after the season. Note that this is purely an eye test and not based on stats, but instead on games that I've watched these guys play.


Offense version here.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America



Defensive Line
  1. Penn St
  2. Nebraska
  3. Michigan
  4. Michigan St
  5. Ohio St
Comments:
PSU's DL is absolutely tremendous with their hands and physicality; they do great controlling the LOS and winning assignments. Nebraska is much the same, but has a more versatile playmaker in Gregory; while their DTs are quite good, they can be a little inconsistent, and the other DE position doesn't make Nebraska as good at PSU. Michigan has the depth and talent across the four positions, but lacks great playmakers along the DL like some of the other units. Michigan State has the best pair of DEs with Calhoun and Rush (Rush is one of the most underrated DEs in the B1G), and is solid but unspectacular at DT. OSU certainly has the talent with Bosa (maybe the best all-around DE) and Bennett, but they need to be more consistent at the other two positions.

This position group is stacked though. In most years, you'd make a case for a team like Iowa or Rutgers or Minnesota. But the top five are incredibly strong this year.




Linebackers
  1. Penn St
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Michigan
  4. Maryland
  5. Michigan St
Comments:
For how good the DLs are, the LBs haven't really impressed, but the top two teams are very good. Penn St LBs benefit from being clean most of the game, but Hull and Wartman are as good as they come (and Bell ain't bad himself). Wisconsin makes up for a bit up a weaker DL with great LB play, particularly at ILB with Landisch, Trotter, and Jacobs; and while a bit more inconsistent at OLB, they can really make some athletic plays with Bielel and Schobert. Michigan has Jake Ryan playing like an All-B1G LB again, and Bolden is as stout between the tackles as you'll find (though he struggles in space); and Michigan has improved their defense as they've gone back to Ross over a NB at the SAM position. Goree and Farrand are solid tacklers for Maryland, while Ngakoue has been a presence rushing the passer. Michigan St had a poor showing a few times this year, but still has good depth and some very fast playing LBs at their disposal.

A team like Nebraska, who really seemed to struggle at the LB position early but have steadily improved, could make a push here by the end of the year. Minnesota is another team that flashes quite a bit, and I'll watch them down the stretch to see if those flashes can become more consistent.


Image: Patrick Mansell
Defensive Backs
  1. Wisconsin
  2. Penn St
  3. Iowa
  4. Minnesota
  5. Michigan St
Comments:
The three teams at the top of this list will nod their head and say yup. Any combination I put at the next two spots would shake their head and say nope. Wisconsin is great in the defensive backfield between Shelton, Hillary, and Gaulden and Caputo is making plays in the run and pass game. Lucas is one of the better all-around DBs in the conference, Amos is a very versatile player, and Williams, Keiser, Allen (as an in-flux of athleticism) make for an all-around good unit. The combination  or King, Mabin, Lomax and Lowdermilk in run support has been very strong for Iowa. 

At Minnesota, they got torched early at TCU, and haven't looked great in games against Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois, though they continue to quietly go about their business and remain solid with uys like Boddy-Calhoun, Murray, and Thompson, and have some other talent with the likes of Travis and Myrick. Then there is the rest. Michigan St probably has the best CB in the league in Waynes, and Drummond flashes greatness with inconsistent play; but Hicks has struggled and the lack of depth behind him hasn't moved him out, and the boundary safety position has been a scary position. 

Nebraska also has a case to make, especially seeing as a lot of their issues in coverage are at LB. But the safeties have struggled at times as well and they've been a little inconsistent with their leverage at the CB position. At Michigan (maybe next up), Lewis has turned into one of the better CBs in the B1G, and Taylor has quietly been very good, and Wilson has been consistent but not spectacular; but Peppers has been injured, Countess has struggled, and Michigan has struggled to get consistent play from their SS role. OSU has the athletes but remains uncomfortable with some of their coverage assignments. Conley isn't ready, Reeves has been alright when healthy, Apple has been inconsistent but more toward good, and Grant is pretty good. The safeties still need work in coverage and angles. 


Wisconsin State Journal photographer M.P. King
Overall Defense
  1. Penn St
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Nebraska
  4. Michigan St
  5. Michigan
Top two are very strong, then there is a little bit of a cluster below that. Nebraska is a team that is great up front and then good everywhere else, so they don't have a glaring weakness, which I think puts them at #3, particularly while playing within the B1G. MSU, Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa all have arguments for the #4 and #5 spot. I think MSU got exposed a little bit by OSU, and at times against some other teams, but I think drive to drive they are still probably the forth best team. Each of the remaining teams have their weaknesses. Minnesota and Iowa are fairly similar in that they are at least good everywhere, but not great up front. OSU is another team that you could lump in there, as I think they can be dominant up front at times, and certainly have the athletes everywhere, but just don't seemed disciplined enough right now to crack the list. Michigan is great up front, but has some liabilities in the back end. This being the B1G conference, I think it's a better bet to be great up front rather than on the backend, as that more forces teams to play to their weakness. So Michigan gets the nod at #5.

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