In 2009, Penn State's Jared Odrick impressed Big Ten coaches enough to earn their defensive player of the year award.
Last season, Illinois' Corey Liuget blossomed into a force on the interior line, finishing seventh in the league in tackles for loss and eighth in sacks.
Odrick became a first-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft, and Liuget figures to hear his name called among the first 10-20 selections in April.
Who's next in the Big Ten?
The Big Ten returns several players who could follow the legacies of Odrick and Liuget. Let's take a closer look at the group:
Jared Crick, Nebraska (6-foot-6, 285, Sr.): Second-team AP All-American in 2010; consensus first-team All-Big 12; Rotary Lombardi Award semifinalist; led the Big 12 with 9.5 sacks, same total he recorded in 2009; 16 tackles for loss; 63 total tackles; recorded a tackle for loss in six of final seven games.
Mike Martin, Michigan (6-2, 299, Sr.): Second-team All-Big Ten (coaches); recorded 37 tackles, six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks; has appeared in 36 games with 24 starts; Michigan's top NFL draft prospect for 2012; will be a focal point as Michigan reshapes its defense under new coordinator Greg Mattison.
Kawann Short (6-3, 305, Jr.): Honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2010; finished fourth in the league in both sacks (six) and tackles for loss (12.5); led Purdue with eight pass breakups and added two blocked kicks; as All-American Ryan Kerrigan departs, Purdue hopes Short can anchor the defensive line.
Keep an eye on ...
Mike Daniels, Iowa (6-1, 275, Sr.): Honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2010; finished second on the team in both sacks (four) and tackles for loss (11); started eight games after serving as a reserve in 2008 and 2009; will step into a leading role on a defensive line that loses three starters, including tackle Karl Klug.
Jerel Worthy, Michigan State (6-3, 305, Jr.): Honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2010; led Michigan State defensive linemen with 40 tackles; recorded four sacks, eight tackles for loss, three pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and a blocked kick.
John Simon, Ohio State (6-2, 270, Jr.): Honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2010; recorded 41 tackles, 8.5 for loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two pass breakups; boasts tremendous strength and upside and will be looked to for leadership following the graduation losses of Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore.
Devon Still, Penn State (6-5, 311, Sr.): Led Penn State in both sacks (four) and tackles for loss (10); added 39 tackles and a pass breakup; hampered by injuries early in his career, Still was terrific in the Outback Bowl (3.5 tackles for loss) and could be finally blossoming into an elite defensive lineman.
OTHER NAMES TO WATCH
Baker Steinkuler, Nebraska
Patrick Butrym and Jordan Kohout, Wisconsin
Jack DiNardo, Northwestern
Akeem Spence, Illinois
Adam Replogle, Indiana
Brandon Kirksey, Minnesota