- Josh Moyer, Penn State/Big Ten reporter
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We took a closer look Monday at the five Big Ten players poised for breakout seasons -- and we wanted to stick with that theme while also recognizing the younger players.
Naturally, we came up with a list of the five freshmen who had strong springs and whom fans should keep an eye on. These players could end up becoming big-time stars over the next few years, so you best start memorizing these names now:
1. Michigan DB Jabrill Peppers
There was no shortage of hype surrounding the five-star prospect at this time last season. (He was compared to Heisman winner Charles Woodson while he was still in high school, after all.) And, although he took a medical redshirt, the excitement around Peppers really hasn't subsided. Jim Harbaugh gave him an “A-plus” during the spring, and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin called him a leader who can play just about anywhere. Peppers could be the next big playmaker at Michigan, and no one would really be caught off guard by it. That's why he's an easy pick for the top spot.
2. Wisconsin LB T.J. Edwards
Forget the fact he's a redshirt freshman; he's still one of the B1G favorites to break out this season. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said Edwards is obsessed with watching film, and his big-play ability has been on display at nearly every spring practice. During one memorable day, he recorded two interceptions and two sacks. That's all just a glimpse of what Edwards is capable of. He's smart, athletic and has already wrapped up a starting job. So if you don't know his name yet, don't worry -- you should by the end of 2015.
3. Minnesota RB/WR Jeff Jones
Technically, Jones is still listed on Minnesota's roster as a running back, but he could wind up as the Gophers' top receiving option. Coach Jerry Kill went so far as to say that an argument could even be made that the redshirt freshman was the best receiver in camp. That says something, especially considering he was academically ineligible last fall, meaning these spring workouts were his first-ever in college. He undoubtedly has talent -- he was the Under Armour MVP in high school -- and was an ESPN 300 prospect. He hasn't let up. Said offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover: “He could be a real weapon for us.”
4. Indiana OL Tim Gardner
The beginning of Gardner's story kind of touches on his potential, so let's start there. He initially signed with Ohio State as a coveted recruit in 2013, was then dismissed from the Buckeyes, played for Milford Academy (N.Y.), transferred to Indiana and redshirted last season. In case you had trouble following all that, just know this: He's two years removed from being widely regarded as a four-star prospect, and he currently stands at 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds. He practiced as the starting right tackle during the spring, and he's earned positive reviews from coach Kevin Wilson so far. He's definitely one to watch.
5. Michigan State RB Madre London
London isn't a home run -- not yet -- but he made a lot of positive steps this spring and at least cemented his status as one of the Spartans' top two available running backs. He's quick and shifty and could eventually be tapped as a replacement to Jeremy Langford. Even if he's not, it'd be difficult to envision a scenario where he's not involved in Michigan State's running game in the fall. He had a solid spring and, although coach Mark Dantonio admitted he “played like a freshman in there a little bit, a couple times,” Dantonio also added that: “He's gonna be an exciting back to watch as we go forward.” The B1G blog tends to agree.
Michigan's Jabrill Peppers leads the Big Ten's list of breakout freshman players.