Ranking the Big Ten interior defensive linemen

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Several e-mailers have asked me why I left Iowa standout Mitch King off the list of the Big Ten's top defensive ends. Well, it's because King plays defensive tackle, and he's one of the best (see below). King, Michigan's Terrance Taylor and Wisconsin's Mike Newkirk headline this year's crop of interior linemen.

Here's a look at the Top 10:

1. Mitch King, Sr., Iowa -- A rare four-year starter, King earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last season after recording 4.5 sacks, seven pass breakups and five quarterback hurries. He has recorded 11 or more tackles for loss in each of his three seasons with the Hawkeyes.

2. Terrance Taylor, Sr., Michigan -- Second-team All-Big Ten selection last season has started 24 games at nose tackle. Last season Taylor led all Wolverines defensive linemen with 55 tackles (8.5 for loss). How he adjusts to new defensive coordinator Scott Shafer and the 4-3 alignment will be key, but Taylor is consistently around the ball.

3. Mike Newkirk, Sr., Wisconsin -- He's one of several key Badgers defenders coming off an injury (shoulder), but if healthy, Newkirk can be disruptive. As a junior he ranked second on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and had five quarterback hurries. After playing most of the season at end, Newkirk switched to tackle for the Outback Bowl and is projected to start there this fall.

4. Matt Kroul, Sr., Iowa -- Kroul has started more consecutive games than King (37) and gives opposing offensive lines another threat to worry about. Though King makes more big plays, Kroul led Iowa's defensive linemen and ranked fourth on the team with 74 tackles last season. The four-year starter's consistent play and leadership are invaluable for Iowa's defense.

5. David Lindquist, Sr., Illinois -- The former walk-on has solidified a spot in the middle of Illinois' talented line. He recorded 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss as a junior, and should take on a greater role as the Illini try to replace mainstay Chris Norwell.

6. John Gill, Sr., Northwestern -- Haven't heard of Gill? NFL scouts and draft analysts have. The Northwestern senior drew high marks from Mel Kiper Jr. last season and didn't disappoint, recording four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Gill consistently gets into the backfield and should have a strong senior season, especially if his linemates improve.

7. Chris Baker, Jr., Penn State -- Baker remains suspended and his playing status seems to hinge on summer school grades. If cleared, he gives Penn State a legitimate threat in the middle of the line. Baker ranked third on the team in sacks (4.5) and fifth in tackles for loss (8) last season.

8. Alex Magee, Sr., Purdue -- The veteran defensive tackle anchors Purdue's line and forms a strong tandem with Ryan Baker. Magee has recorded eight tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and two forced fumbles in the last two seasons.

9. Jason Chapman, Sr., Wisconsin -- Health is once again the concern here, as Chapman comes off a knee injury that shortened his junior season and kept him out of spring ball. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2006, finishing second on the team with five sacks. If he's at full strength, Wisconsin could rival Iowa for the league's top tackle tandem.

10. Will Johnson, Sr., Michigan -- The switch to the 4-3 provides more opportunity for defensive tackles, and Johnson looks ready to cash in after a strong summer. He started every game last fall and racked up 40 tackles, including 2.5 for loss.