NFL scouts already have their eyes on the Michigan State strong safety after a tremendous junior season. Lewis racked up a career-high 80 tackles while breaking up six passes and recording two interceptions. A Big Ten honorable mention in 2012, Lewis emerged as one of the conference’s best run-stopping safeties, utilizing his muscular stature and quickness to penetrate the would-be running lane.
While Lewis reigns supreme at his position in the conference, he isn’t even his team’s most talented player in the secondary. That title belongs to cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who ranked No. 2 in the Big Red Report position rankings. Between the two, the Spartans boast one of the most dangerous secondaries in the nation. Both players are sure to be highly coveted prospects at the next level, but Lewis could improve his stock the most if he can show consistency and duplicate his statistics from a year ago.
A Philadelphia native, Campbell brings to Northwestern everything that is expected of a player with roots in the City of Brotherly Love. His physical style of play from the safety position has resulted in him being one of the Wildcats’ top defenders, netting 89 tackles his sophomore season, including a team-high 12 pass breakups. His impressive second season, though, wasn’t enough to trump his first season total of 100 tackles.
A safety like Campbell, one who can play effectively in both run and pass defense, is always a highly coveted piece for any defensive coordinator. Entering his junior season, Campbell has the opportunity to make an imprint on the national scene with another 80+ tackle season and double-digit pass breakups. Many experts will rank Ohio State’s Christian Bryant ahead of him, but there isn’t one player in the conference who has as much impact on his team’s defense from the safety position like Campbell does.
3. Christian Bryant, Ohio State
An Ohio native, who attended the same high school as former Buckeye Donte Whitner, Bryant provides the same type of impact to the Ohio State secondary as his fellow Glenville High School alumnus did. During the Buckeyes’ undefeated season in 2012, Bryant notched a career-high 70 tackles, 12 pass deflections, two forced fumbles and one interception.
The Ohio State defense will be relying on Bryant and C.J. Barnett, who starts at the other safety position, to lead a unit that loses the majority of its front seven. The loss of big names up front such as John Simon will hurt the Buckeye defense, but boasting three of the best secondary players in the nation will help alleviate that deficiency. If Urban Meyer hopes to repeat his perfect first season in his second year, he’ll need Bryant to shine on defense and continue doing what he has done throughout his career.
Midway through the season, the Hoosiers decided to convert Heban from a nickel back to safety. It’s safe to say that has turned out to be a good move for both Indiana and the redshirt senior. In 2012, Heban registered a team-high 91 tackles with eight pass breakups and three interceptions. Providing strong interior support, the Indiana native also collected seven tackles for loss, one sack and one fumble recovery.
A Big Ten honorable mention by the media, Heban is the one bright spot on a lackluster Hoosiers defense that ranked dead last in the conference in total defense (463.5). If he was surrounded by players like Darqueze Dennard as Isaiah Lewis is or in a secondary with multiple future NFL draft picks as Christian Bryant is, there’s a legitimate argument to be made that Heban would be the conference’s best safety.
5. C.J. Barnett, Ohio State
Yes, Ohio State features two of the top five safeties in the Big Ten. Barnett, like Bryant, will be counted on heavily in 2013 to produce in the spotlight. The veteran in the secondary, Barnett has started 24 career games while appearing in 32 and he’s proved to be a force in the run game. In 2011, the Dayton product racked up 75 tackles and added 56 more last season.
While aiding against the run, Barnett also is formidable in pass coverage, compiling eight pass breakups and two interceptions in each of the past two seasons.
*** Posted by Josh Harvey***