Ranking The 10 Best Football Players Returning To The Big Ten In 2017

The start of the Big Ten football season is still months away, but it's clear who the very best players in the best conference are. These players are expected dictate the way the conference plays out in 2017, and most figure to be top NFL draft prospects for next year. Here are the top 10 returning players in the Big Ten for next season:

10) L.J. Scott, RB, Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State had a downright awful season in 2016, but Scott was a bright spot, picking up 994 yards and six touchdowns on 184 carries. Scott is definitely not the fastest guy in the world, yet his size (6-foot-1, 230 lbs.) and excellent vision allow him to be effective.

9) Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State Nittany Lions

Gesicki set school records for tight end receptions (48) and receiving yards (679) last season, and he's only going to become a bigger focal point of Penn State's offense with last year's leading receiver Chris Godwin now in the NFL. He's the best tight end in the country.

8) Tegray Scales, LB, Indiana Hoosiers

Scales led the Big Ten in both tackles and tackles for loss last season. He doesn't get a lot of notoriety because of the team he plays on, but Scales is one of the conference's best defenders.

7) Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State Buckeyes

You can flip either Baker or Scales, but Baker gets the nod here. He was thrown into Ohio State's lineup sooner than expected last season due to injury and performed well, recording 83 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. With Raekwon McMillan now gone, Baker is taking over as the leader of this unit.

6) Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa Hawkeyes

Jewell has been one of the best players in the Big Ten each of the last two years, and he will be one of the best linebackers in the country in 2017. He has racked up at least 124 tackles each of the last two years, and if he can improve his tackles for loss numbers (just six last year), he could turn into a superstar. 

5) Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern Wildcats

Justin Jackson has quietly been one of the best running backs in the country ever since he stepped on Northwestern's campus, culminating in a 1,524 yard, 15 touchdown season as a junior last year. He opted to bypass the draft to return for his senior year, and he could threaten to reach the 2,000-yard barrier.

4) Wilton Speight, QB, Michigan Wolverines

Speight had to beat out John O'Korn for the Michigan starting job, then he exceeded expectations last season. In a run-first offense at Michigan, he completed 62.5% of his passes for 2,375 yards, 17 TDs and just six interceptions. He's not the dynamic athlete most of these players are, but he is perfect for Michigan. Another year under Jim Harbaugh should only help Speight. 

3) Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State turned their 2016 season around when McSorley started playing well, and he enters the 2017 season among the second tier of Heisman contenders. He accounted for 36 total touchdowns last year, and his ability and willingness to throw the ball downfield is what makes Penn State's high-powered offense go.

2) J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State Buckeyes

The top three is pretty obvious, although OSU fans might argue Barrett should be higher. He's a better runner (847 yards and nine touchdowns) than thrower (61.9 completion percentage, 2,428 yards, 24 TDs and five interceptions) and while he wasn't as good as he was in 2014, Barrett is a great college QB. He may just lead the Buckeyes to another College Football Playoff berth next year.

1) Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State Nittany Lions

Anyone who watched the Rose Bowl knows how dominant Barkley can be. The 5-foot-11, 223-pounder ran for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns while catching 28 passes for 404 yards and four more scores this season, and routinely showed elite vision and agility. Barkley will enter the 2017 season as one of the top Heisman challengers to Lamar Jackson.

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Related Topics: Michigan Wolverines Football, Penn State Nittany Lions Football, Mike Gesicki, NCAA Football, Big Ten Football, Trace McSorley, Iowa Hawkeyes Football, Tegray Scales, Jerome Baker, Josey Jewell, Michigan State Spartans Football, Northwestern Wildcats Football, Wilton Speight, Saquon Barkley, Ohio State Buckeyes Football, J.T. Barrett, L.J. Scott, Justin Jackson, Indiana Hoosiers Football