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2022 Big Ten Football Preview: top-five defensive backs

A plethora of secondary talent made this list incredibly tough to cut down to just five.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 Big Ten Championship Game - Michigan v Iowa Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As we barrel towards the start of the 2022 college football season, let’s take a look at who the top players are in the Big Ten. These lists won’t be biased towards the Badgers in any way although we all know that every player on Wisconsin is better than every player on any other team.

We already took at look at the defensive line and linebacker spots, and now its time to take a look at the secondary.

Honorable Mention

This list was TOUGHHHH to put together with a lot of talent in Big Ten secondaries and I would be remiss to not mention a few players that just missed the cut.

  • DJ Turner, Michigan
  • Joey Porter Jr., Penn State
  • Sydney Brown, Illinois
  • Jaylan Williams, Indiana
  • Avery Young, Rutgers
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Michigan at Penn State Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 5: Ji’Ayir Brown, Safety, Penn State, Senior

You know this league is deep when a player that tied for the lead for interceptions in the FBS comes in at number five, but alas. Last season Ji’Ayir Brown was a player that was all over the field for the Nittany Lions. To go along with his six interceptions Brown also recorded 73 total tackles, a forced fumble and nine passes defended.

Brown played a huge role in sealing multiple games for the Nittany Lions. If you recall the dreadful season opener against Wisconsin Brown he sealed the game with his first career interception. Later in the season against Maryland, Brown recorded an 87-yard pick six to put a dagger in the Terps who were driving and looking to score late in the fourth.

Brown is exactly what you want out of a player at the safety position given his physicality and athleticism. He does a little bit of everything helping in the run game making tackles and helping in the passing game dropping into coverage. With solid secondary running mates around him this season Brown should put up another solid season for Penn State.

No. 4: Xavier Henderson, Safety, Michigan State, Senior

Xavier Henderson will return to Michigan State for a fifth season with an already incredibly impressive resume under his belt. He leads all active Spartans with 235 career tackles and has made 33 consecutive starts for MSU.

Last season Henderson was named a team captain and was a huge part of the Michigan State defense. He recorded 96 total tackles, ten of which were tackles for loss. Henderson is more of a helper in the run game as a sort of hybrid linebacker. This season, he’ll be asked to do more in the passing game as Michigan State ranked dead last in FBS in passing yards allowed, giving up 324.8 yards per game. If Henderson can emerge as more of a helper in that area it should give the Spartan defense a boost it really needs.

Michigan v Indiana Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

No 3. Tiawan Mullen, Cornerback, Indiana, Senior

Tiawan Mullen was limited to just seven games a season ago as he dealt with a nagging ankle injury throughout most of the season, but his previous experience should speak for itself. In 2020, Mullen had a phenomenal season recording 38 tackles, 3.5 tackles, and three interceptions. His performance led the then-sophomore cornerback to be named a first team All-American (FWAA) and All-Big Ten (media).

Mullen didn't have the year he wanted a season ago, but neither did any Hoosier, as Indiana finished just 2-10 in 2021. Mullen returns this season a corner with a ton of experience and hopefully fully healthy. A big 2022 season should really help the Hoosiers bounce back, but also improve his NFL Draft stock should he decide to enter.

No. 2: Denzel Burke, Cornerback, Ohio State, Sophmore

This list, sadly, wouldn’t be complete without an Ohio State cornerback. Denzel Burke is the next in a long line of talented defensive backs that the Buckeyes have produced. As a freshman, Burke recorded 31 tackles and nine pass breakups.

Those numbers might seem low, but that is because opposing offenses generally avoided throwing Burke's direction and picked on other OSU corners most of the season. When in coverage Burke allowed just 344 yards on 429 snaps without allowing a single touchdown. He was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team and third team All-Big Ten. Burke returns to the Buckeyes as just a sophomore and should flourish as the Buckeyes shut down corner in 2022.

No. 1: Riley Moss, Cornerback, Iowa, Senior

The career of Riley Moss has been an incredible story. In high school, Moss was not a heavily recruited player and was ranked as a 2-star player out of Ankeny, Iowa. Moss originally committed to North Dakota State, but later decommitted and ended up at Iowa. What a payoff it was for both parties.

In 2022, Moss is coming off an incredible season that saw him record 39 total tackles, four interceptions, and five passes defended. The highlight of his season came in the season opener as Moss recorded not one, but TWO pick-sixes in their win over Indiana. Despite injuries knocking him out of three games, Moss was still named the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year last season. This year, his running mate Dane Belton is gone, but Moss should still have a strong season in 2022 and likely be a first-team All-Big Ten player once again.