Thomas and Cimino Preview The Big 10: Top Defenses, DPOY Predictions

After releasing our Big 10 offensive player of the year predictions a day ago, myself and Chris Cimino have returned to offer up our predictions for the best defenses in the Big 10, along with DPOY picks. Our offensive previews were very similar, as we both agreed that Ohio State and Penn State are the offenses to watch, while the Tanner Morgan-led Minnesota squad is an intriguing third team to keep an eye on. Does the same story ring true on the defensive side of the ball? Let’s check it out. 

Top Defenses


  1. Ohio State
  2. Penn State
  3. Michigan


  1. Ohio State
  2. Penn State
  3. Wisconsin

Once again, both Cimino and I come up with extremely similar rankings when looking at Big 10 defenses. Ohio State is just a beast on the defensive side of the ball, and although I was a little hesitant about placing them over a Penn State defense that returns a lot more production, the recent opt-out of stud linebacker Micah Persons convinced me to slide the Nittany Lions to #2. Shaun Wade is the latest in a series of elite cornerbacks to come out of Ohio State, and he leads the Buckeyes into action in 2020. 

Cimino agrees with me at 1-2, but we do differ with our third team. I initially slotted Wisconsin in here, and they are undoubtedly a solid pick. The Badgers boast a stout defense year-in and year-out, and they return a lot of production – headlined by Jack Sanborn, who recorded 5.5 sacks and 3 interceptions in 2019. I went with the Michigan Wolverines for my third best defense, but it was a really tight call. The ultimate deciding factor for me was Michigan’s starpower, as I believe they have two of the best players in the conference in defensive lineman Kwity Paye and cornerback Ambry Thomas. Michigan will be strong on defense, but it may not be enough for them to tip the scales in the Big 10. 

Top Defensive Players  

DPOY Prediction

Thomas: Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
Cimino: Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State

Aidan ThomasChris Cimino
Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio StateShaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
Kwity Paye, DL, MichiganKwity Paye, DL, Michigan
Ambry Thomas, CB, MichiganGeorge Karlaftis, DL, Purdue
George Karlaftis, DL, PurduePaddy Fisher, LB, Northwestern
Jack Sanborn, LB, WisconsinCam McGrone, LB, Michigan

This list has at least a little bit of variation after we appeared to agree on much of our initial sets of rankings. We both like Wade to take home DPOY honors. The Ohio State corner broke up eight passes and intercepted one last season, while playing in a secondary that had two first round picks. He also forced a fumble and had two sacks, and his numbers should explode as the star of Ohio State’s defense in 2020. Paye was the consensus #2 player, returning after a breakout 6.5 sack season. He also recorded 50 tackles and recovered a fumble, and he will be a key cog in Michigan’s defensive gameplan, responsible for causing disruption along the defensive line. 

After our top-2, our lists vary slightly. Purdue defensive lineman finds his way into both of our top-5 rankings, sliding in at #3 in Cimino’s list and #4 in my own. I have Michigan cornerback Ambry Thomas checking in as the third best defensive player in the conference, while aforementioned Wisconsin linebacker Jack Sanborn rounds out my list. Cimino goes for a player that may be a slight surprise to some, ranking Paddy Fisher fourth. The Northwestern linebacker will be the anchor of a unit that doesn’t quite look ready for Big 10 contention after a 1-7 record in Big 10 play last season. Cimino also goes with a second Michigan player, opting for linebacker Cam McGrone to fill out his top 5.