More and more young talent is making its way to the Big Ten. Here are some names of hyped-and-ready-to-deliver-freshmen to look out for on Illinois’ upcoming conference schedule.
*Note: for this list redshirt-freshmen or freshmen transfers are not considered. Just true freshmen.
Wan’Dale Robinson — Nebraska Cornhuskers (Sept. 21)
Nebraska had an excellent first full recruiting class under head coach Scott Frost, so there were many directions to go with this one.
Kentucky native Wan’Dale Robinson took official visits to Nebraska, Alabama, Purdue, Michigan and Ohio State before signing with the Cornhuskers. He’s a big-time athlete and similar to Purdue’s Rondale Moore, he could theoretically play running back, receiver, wildcat quarterback or be an all-around utility guy.
His highlight film should terrify opponents. Earlier this month, Robinson was cited for marijuana possession. Let’s see what suspension if anything comes of that — just something to keep an eye on leading up to the season.
Mike Brown-Stephens — Minnesota Golden Gophers (Oct. 5)
Multiple different ways to go with this one, especially if incoming freshman kicker Michael Lantz wins the starting job — but for now we’ll go with Mike Brown-Stephens who could emerge as Minnesota’s top slot receiver by mid-season. Tyler Johnson is one of the Big Ten’s best receivers out on the edge, and he will garner a lot of attention from DBs. Minnesota needs more than just Johnson and Rashod Bateman to catch passes, and Brown-Stephens (who had some SEC offers) will have his shot to impress.
Brown-Stephens enrolled early, and PJ Fleck is very good at getting tight ends and slot receivers involved in the passing game.
Zach Charbonnet — Michigan Wolverines (Oct. 12)
Michigan’s running backs from a year ago are gone. Karan Higdon (graduation) and Chris Evans (academic misconduct suspension) are leaving a void for one of the Wolverines’ top recruits to emerge as the leading ball carrier.
Zach Charbonnet from just outside of Los Angeles, California, is a physically strong, multi-faceted back built for the Big Ten. He can absorb hits running through the tackles. He has soft hands to catch the ball out of the backfield and the vision to make breakaway leading cuts. He’s the total package and arrives in Ann Arbor at just the right time — Michigan needs the freshman to step up immediately.
Graham Mertz — Wisconsin Badgers (Oct. 19)
He still has to beat out junior Jack Coan (five touchdown passes in 2018), but it’d be pretty shocking if Graham Mertz does not start at least half of Wisconsin’s games in 2019. Mertz is the highest rated quarterback recruit in Wisconsin’s history, and the Kansas City-area native held offers from the best programs in the country including Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State and dozens of others. He chose the Badgers.
Mertz will be a household name not just in the Big Ten, but on the national stage as well. A quarterback’s best friend is a strong offensive line and elite-level playmakers around him. Jonathan Taylor might just be the best all-around running back in the country, and the Badgers always have strong offensive line play. Mertz is in a situation where he should thrive from Day 1.
David Bell — Purdue Boilermakers (Oct. 26)
Purdue had its best recruiting class in years, and while I was leaning towards selecting edge rusher George Karlaftis, when it comes to Jeff Brohm-coached football teams, it’s all about offense, offense, offense.
There’s not a more talented individual player in the Big Ten Conference than returning sophomore Rondale Moore, and he’ll need some help as opponents key-in on the all-everything utility player who’s a terror with the ball.
David Bell was an important in-state get for Purdue and held offers from Ohio State, Penn State, Auburn, Notre Dame and dozens of others. In a pass-heavy offensive scheme, David Bell will not only start right away, but expect him to be a deep threat and regular touchdown scorer in 2019. The level of talent is rising in West Lafayette — a scary thought for Illini fans and Big Ten fans across the conference.
Cole Snyder or Zamar Wise — Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Nov. 2)
This might be a shot in the dark, as Rutgers lacks depth in other areas aside from quarterback, but with a returning quarterback having thrown a nation-leading 18 interceptions in Art Sitkowski, another quarterback is going to get his shot at some point in the season.
Do we expect Sitkowski to regress from the seemingly unregressable? No, but this is a long season, and injuries and performance will almost ensure that incoming freshmen Cole Snyder and/or Zamar Wise have an opportunity to play in 2019.
Snyder enrolled early and played well in Rutgers’ Spring Game. Wise is just arriving on campus, and he was a highly regarded high school quarterback in the Northeast with offers from Miami, Maryland, Mizzou and others.
Anthony Williams Jr. — Michigan State Spartans (Nov. 9)
Michigan State had higher rated recruits than Williams Jr., especially in the trenches, but considering Michigan State’s rushing offense was horrendous a season ago, some new blood at the running back position will likely be the most noticeable change.
Williams Jr. enrolled in the spring and his potential combined with his steady performance in Michigan State’s Spring Game already has him very much in the mix to lead the Spartans in carries in 2019. His offer-list is not overly impressive as he was a late bloomer. Michigan State is more like Wisconsin and Iowa than it is Michigan and Ohio State when it comes to recruiting and developing talent — Williams should be an example of that.
Jestin Jacobs — Iowa Hawkeyes (Nov. 23)
Iowa’s only four-star recruit, Jestin Jacobs is a linebacker from Ohio who turned down offers from Ohio State, Michigan State, Nebraska and a handful of others to sign and eventually enroll early with the Hawkeyes.
It’s rare for an Ohio kid, especially a linebacker to turn down a Buckeyes offer — but that offer came late, much later than Iowa’s and despite a visit to Columbus for the Michigan/Ohio State game on Thanksgiving weekend, Jacobs held firm with his Iowa commitment.
He’s a big linebacker and one who should see the field right away especially with the departure of last season’s third-leading tackler, Jack Hockaday. Iowa’s front seven should be one of the strongest units in the Big Ten, and Jestin Jacobs will have the opportunity to grow into his role and learn from some upperclassmen along the way.
Bryce Kirtz & Michael Jansey — Northwestern Wildcats (Nov. 30)
Hunter Johnson has a cannon, and Bryce Kirtz is one of two true freshmen expected to receive a ton of targets. Kirtz is on the small side, but many Big Ten teams coveted him as did Notre Dame.
Head coach Pat Fitzgerald loves his linebackers and is great at developing them. Three-star Michael Jansey Jr. is an early enrollee and has a great chance to start games early on.