Top 20 Big Ten 2018 NFL Draft Prospects To Watch This Season

The Big Ten re-emerged as the premier college football conference in the country last season, and an influx of talent was the centerpiece of that resurgence. Going into the 2017 season it's clear who the very best players and top draft prospects in the best conference are, and these players are expected dictate the way the conference plays out next season. Since the NFL Draft just ended last weekend, here are the top 20 prospects for the 2018 draft:

20) Rodney Smith, RB, Minnesota Golden Gophers
Smith quietly had a great year as a sophomore in 2016, racking up 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns in an offense that didn't quite fit his skills. With new head man P.J. Fleck taking over, Smith's dynamic skillset will be on full display.

19) 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.

18) Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa Hawkeyes
The third in our string of running backs, Wadley showed his dominance in their upset win over Michigan (115 rush yards, 52 rec yards, one TD). After eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark last year, Wadley is expected to have more of a featured role this year - and should dominate.

17) 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.

16) Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State Buckeyes
With all of the departures on Ohio State's roster, Campbell is the next talented game-breaking wideout who is expected to step in and immediately make an impact. Right now, his stock is all based on potential since he hasn't had a major role yet.

15) J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State Buckeyes
Barrett is 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, and if he can get his passing game back on track, NFL teams will be interested.

14) 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.

13) 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.

12) 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.

11) 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. 

10) Godwin Igwebuike, S, Northwestern Wildcats

Igwebuike has the kind of speed and sure tackling ability that has put him on the radar for NFL scouts, but he needs to work on improving his ball skills and playmaking ability.

9) Mason Cole, OC, Michigan Wolverines

Cole thrived after making the switch to center last year, and he enters the 2017 season as one of the best in the country.

8) Damien Prince, OG, Maryland Terrapins

Prince is extremely versatile and can play either tackle or guard. He's not athletic enough to play left tackle at the NFL level, but he is very strong with a good base.

7) Dre'Mont Jones, DL, Ohio State Buckeyes

Dre'Mont Jones has the physical tools of a star (6-foot-3, 280 lbs.) and did well stopping the run, but didn't record a single sack. His role is more of a run stopper anyways, and he's proven he can do that well, but scouts do want to see him apply more pressure on the quarterback.

6) Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State Buckeyes

Ward contributed little last year behind Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, but he's ready to step up and be the next great Ohio State corner. He is on the smaller side (5-foot-10, 185 lbs.), but has all the athleticism in a world.

5) Marcus Allen, S, Penn State Nittany Lions

Looking for an athletic safety who loves to mix it up in the running game? Enter Allen, who was one of the most productive players in the entire country. He had three games with double-digit tackles last year, including an eye-popping 22 against Minnesota, but also really needs to improve his ball skills - he doesn't have a single interception in his entire career.

4) Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State Buckeyes

Baker 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.

3) Tyquan Lewis, EDGE, Ohio State Buckeyes

All Lewis does is get after passer, recording a sack in eight of Ohio State's 13 games last year. However, the athletic 6-foot-4, 266-pounder never recorded two sacks in a game in 2016. More production, especially against better competition, will be key for him in 2017.

2) Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State Buckeyes

Hubbard needs to take a big step forward, but he could have a breakout year that would make him the dynamite player his athletic tools suggest he could be. If he starts to reach that potential, he could be in play for a top 10 pick.

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 - and best player in the Big Ten.

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Related Topics: 2018 NFL Draft, NCAA Football, Big Ten Football