Big Ten rankings: No. 25, J.J. Watt

They're baaaack. Whether you love them or hate them, everyone has an opinion on my player rankings, one of the blog's most-popular features during the past year.

There are a few changes to point out with the 2010 preseason rankings. I'm only ranking the top 25 players, not the top 30, which makes things significantly more difficult. The smaller pool prevented every Big Ten team from having a representative on the list.

Also, instead of ranking the players based on past performance and NFL potential, I'll rank them based on past performance and potential for the 2010 season. These rankings are all about what these guys have done and can do at the college level. If a player doesn't satisfy both criteria in some way, he's not on this list. If he gave us a taste of bigger things to come last season, he's got a shot.

A few words about expectations. I fully expect there to be some new names in my postseason player rankings. There always are. I hope the top 5-10 is an accurate reflection, but I'm sure there will be some shuffling there as well.

No. 25: J.J. Watt, Jr., DE, Wisconsin, 6-6, 285

2009 numbers: Finished sixth in the league in tackles for loss (15.5). Finished second on the team in pass breakups (5) and fumble recoveries (2) and third in sacks (4.5).

Most recent ranking: Unranked in the 2009 postseason player rankings.

Making the case for Watt: There are several reasons Watt should be a star for Wisconsin this fall. After playing second fiddle to first-team All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield last season, Watt will move into a featured pass-rushing role in 2010. He can play both defensive line positions but has the size, speed and strength to line up on the edge this season. Watt ended the 2009 campaign with a flourish, recording five tackles for loss, three sacks, two quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery in Wisconsin's final two games (at Hawaii, Champs Sports Bowl vs. Miami). Like fellow defender Chris Borland, Watt also makes an impact on special teams, where he blocked a field goal attempt against Michigan. Watt is a name Big Ten fans need to know, and he could very well climb up the player rankings this fall.