Big Ten rankings: No. 16, Michael Buchanan

Our countdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for 2012 has reached the Sweet 16.

As a reminder, we're considering past performance and 2012 potential in these rankings. We focus today on a guy who might be about to emerge from someone else's shadow, in a big way ...

No. 16: Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois, senior, 6-foot-6, 240 pounds

2011 postseason rank: Not ranked

2011 numbers: Ranked second on team and fourth in Big Ten with 7.5 sacks, to go along with 64 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Named second-team All-Big Ten.

Why he's here: Teammate Whitney Mercilus got all the pub last year, and rightfully so after leading the nation in sacks and forced fumbles. But Buchanan quietly had a really fine year as well with his 7.5 sacks. Now, you could make the argument that Buchanan got free because offenses were concentrating on the Hendricks Award winner on the other side. But you could also say teams couldn't really load up against Mercilus because of Buchanan.

Truth is, they're both awfully good. Buchanan is a little bit different player, a long and lanky defensive end with a lot of athleticism. He's bulking up in an effort to get to 250 pounds by kickoff on Sept. 1. He could also drop back in coverage a little bit and use those long arms to his advantage. Now fully healed from a scary jaw injury this offseason, Buchanan could be eating up quarterbacks this fall. Don't be surprised if he becomes the new star of the Illini defense.

The countdown

No. 25: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska

No. 24: MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota

No. 23: Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue

No. 22: Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin

No. 21: Jared Abbrederis, WR/KR, Wisconsin

No. 20: Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State

No. 19: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

No. 18: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State

No. 17: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State