Big Ten Football: Top 5 offensive tackles for 2016


Big Ten football requires strong offensive tackles in run the run game and to be athletic enough in pass protection. These are the five best tackles returning in 2016.

Protecting the quarterback is one of the biggest keys to having a good offense. More times than not, the opposing defense’s best pass rusher is working off the edge. A good pass rush can become the great equalizer against even the best offenses. Look no further than last weekend’s AFC title tilt between the Broncos and the Patriots.

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Outside of the first possession of the game, the Broncos’ offense only had one drive of longer than 45 yards in the entire game. But yet they still led for virtually the whole game in route to a 20-18 victory because of their constant pressuring of Tom Brady. It was the most a quarterback had been hit since the 2006 season. It’s why having stud tackles that can neutralize pass rushers on the outside is so critical.

A number of the Big Ten’s talented tackles from 2015 have departed; including potential first-round draft picks Taylor Decker and Jack Conklin. But there’s still a handful of talented tackles that return to the conference in 2016. Let’s take a look at the five best returning tackles starting with a former walk-on in College Park.

New head coach D.J. Durkin is looking to bring an edge to the Maryland program that his highly ranked defenses at his earlier stops have had. Having one of the conference’s best returning offensive tackles is a good place to start.

Dunn, who came to Maryland as a preferred walk-on, has started 37 of Maryland’s 38 games during his first three years at College Park (he missed last season’s finale against Rutgers with an injury). Dunn has also shown his versatility as a lineman by playing both on the edge and on the interior. He’s played the last two seasons at tackle but began his career by playing at guard for the first nine games of the 2013 season.

Durkin will be looking to establish a culture of toughness and grit in College Park. Having a guy like Dunn who’s worked his way from walk-on to one of the conference’s best tackles will help go a long way in doing so.

If there’s one guy on this list that has the potential to make the biggest jump in 2016 and become a high draft pick in next year’s draft, it’s Cole.

Cole, who was a highly touted prospect in the class of 2014, became the first true freshman offensive lineman in the history of Michigan football to start the opener. With two full seasons of starting along the Wolverine offensive line, Cole will look to continue his trend upwards as one of the conference’s top tackles.

Michigan, who will be starting a new quarterback in 2016, brings back a ton of talent at the skill positions with receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson along with superstar tight end Jake Butt. But the success of the Wolverine offense will ultimately rest on protecting the quarterback, and with Cole protecting the blind side, he’s arguably the most important player on Michigan’s offense heading into next season.

After a 5-7 campaign last season, a bowl appearance is a perfectly reasonable and attainable goal for the Illini in head coach Bill Cubit’s second season. But to get to the postseason, the Illinois offense will have to be more balanced. The Illini finished a respectable sixth in the conference in passing offense but were dead last in rushing.

Simply put, the Illini rushing attack has to be more consistent, and it all starts up front. Schmidt, who made huge strides last season and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors, is not only Illinois’ best returning offensive lineman but is also one of the best returning offensive tackles in the whole conference.

Schmidt was able to keep Lunt reasonably upright last season considering how one-dimensional Illinois’ offense was. The rest of the line has to pick up more slack, but if Schmidt can rise is play even further and push for all-conference honors, it’ll go a long way towards the Illini winning more battles in the trenches.

There isn’t a more intimidating guy on this list than Pirsig. Pirsig, who is a towering presence at 6’9 and 315 pounds, is an absolute behemoth along the Gopher offensive front.

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Minnesota’s offense finally started to get better balance in the latter half of 2015. With quarterback Mitch Leidner going into his third year as a starter, the Gophers have the potential to have one of their best and most balanced offenses in recent memory.

It all starts with Pirsig though. If he can solidify the edge and halt opposing pass rushers from getting to Leidner, the Gophers will absolutely be in the hunt for the west division title next season. Don’t be surprised if Pirsig pushes for first-team All-Big Ten honors by year’s end.

Bringing back just one of the conference’s top offensive tackles is a huge boost for any team heading into the next season. But Michigan has the luxury of bringing back two of the conference top tackles with the aforementioned Cole and Magnuson.

What makes Magnuson not only the best returning tackle but arguably the conference’s best all-around offensive lineman is his impressive combination of versatility and experience.

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He started his career inside at right guard but has since moved to the right tackle spot and helped solidify the much improved Wolverine offensive front in head coach Jim Harbaugh’s first season.

Championships are ultimately won up front. The Big Ten has been dominated by Ohio State and Michigan State recently and both teams have had excellent offensive lines during that stretch. The Wolverines quest for their first conference title since 2004 will ultimately start and end with the play of Magnuson and the rest of the Michigan offensive line.