All this week, Josh Moyer and I will offer our picks on who will lead the Big Ten in several individual statistical categories this fall. Today's Take Two looks at who will be this year's leader in tackles in 2016.
Take 1: Brian Bennett
Tackle totals can sometimes be misleading. They can signify that a defensive player is always making plays ... or they can result from a weaker defense that often needs a last-gasp measure. For example, two of last year's top tacklers in the Big Ten -- Illinois safety Clayton Fejedelem and Rutgers linebacker Steve Longa -- played for teams that had trouble stopping opponents at times.
As such, this makes predicting who will lead the Big Ten in tackles this season a difficult enterprise. But I'm pretty sure of one guy who will be in contention all season long: Ohio State's Raekwon McMillan.
As a first-year starter last year, McMillan racked up 119 tackles, or 9.2 per game. He had more assisted tackles (62) than solo stops (57) in 2015, but that was with fellow star linebackers Darron Lee and Joshua Perry next to him. Going into this season, McMillan is one of the few returning veterans on the Buckeyes defense and will be counted on to make a lot of plays.
A physical specimen at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, McMillan will be an All-America candidate as a junior and is as sure a bet as any Big Ten player to collect more than 100 tackles. That makes him a wise pick to lead the league in that category.
Take 2: Josh Moyer
In order to lead the Big Ten in tackles, you need a talented player who’s in the right scheme at the right position. Northwestern middle linebacker Anthony Walker checks all those boxes with exclamation marks.
Mike Hankwitz’s defenses tend to free up the middle linebacker, as Damien Proby led the Cats in tackles even before Walker burst onto the scene. And Walker’s ability has been well-documented. Sports On Earth’s Matt Brown recently named him the top linebacker in all of college football, and several publications believe he could be a first-round NFL draft pick if he declares early next year.
The most important opinion here, though, might come from head coach and two-time Bednarik Award winner Pat Fitzgerald, who said that Walker “has got an opportunity to be the best we’ve ever had.” That means something when it comes to the stats. Walker can chase down ball-carriers like few other defenders -- he boasted a 4.48-second 40-yard dash as a freshman -- and his vision and athleticism only make him more dangerous. He posted double-digit tackles in six of his 13 games last season, and he registered 19 stops against Duke.
Only eight Power-5 players registered more tackles than Walker last season (122), and the Wildcats’ junior should be even better this season. Tackles aren’t the easiest stat to project, but there’s really nothing here that makes me hesitate before choosing Walker. He’s already arguably the best in the nation; the tackles should follow.