2024 Big Ten SAF Rankings: Caleb Downs Solidifies the No. 2 Defense in the Conference

    Caleb Downs isn't the only name to know from the 2024 Big Ten SAF Rankings. In fact, their are several players worthy of All-American recognition.

    Much has been made of Caleb Downs transferring from Alabama to Ohio State, but the Big Ten already had elite talent at the safety position. As the 2024 Big Ten SAF Rankings show, it will be difficult for offenses to take the top off the conference’s defenses this season.

    Big Ten 2024 SAF Rankings

    10) Lathan Ransom, Ohio State Buckeyes

    With three seasons of starting reps under his belt, we know who Lathan Ransom is. He’s a reliable defender who will suffer some lapses in coverage and as a tackler. Yet, he was less volatile in 2023 before a Lisfranc injury sidelined him after Week 9. When healthy, he has the size (6’1″, 210 pounds) and athleticism to be a versatile chess piece.

    9) Makari Paige, Michigan Wolverines

    With Rod Moore presumably out for the year, much of the secondary’s success rests on veteran Makari Paige’s shoulders. That’s just fine for the safety with a massive 6’4″ frame. Being that tall certainly limits his fluidity in space and when flipping his hips, but Paige works to stay in position and has the long strides and length to dissuade QBs from throwing passes in his vicinity.

    8) Glendon Miller, Maryland Terrapins

    It took time for Glendon Miller to find his place in the secondary, but he made his home in the slot last season, nabbing four INTs and four more PBUs. He allowed multiple receptions in just two games, highlighting his coverage ability. But Miller is no one-trick pony, as he also made his presence felt coming downhill against the run and short passes to the outside.

    7) Quinn Schulte, Iowa Hawkeyes

    Sebastian Castro and Xavier Nwankpa (who we’ll discuss shortly) aren’t the only Iowa DBs worth your attention. Quinn Schulte recorded 136 tackles, two picks, and 10 PBUs over the last two seasons as the Hawkeyes’ primary free safety.

    MORE: 2024 Big Ten QB Rankings

    A former zero-star cornerback, Schulte has become one of the most reliable defenders in the country. His athletic upside isn’t the same as those at the top of the 2024 Big Ten SAF Rankings, but he makes up for it with consistency in all facets.

    6) Rod Moore, Michigan Wolverines

    Unfortunately, Rod Moore tore his ACL in spring practices and will likely miss much — if not all — of the 2024 season. Due to his inability to see the field, he’ll be off the final 2024 Big Ten SAF Rankings, but he deserves a spot on the preseason list.

    Moore often saw plays unfold quicker than most on Michigan’s national title-winning defense, and he had the closing speed and lower-body twitch to act on his premonitory vision.

    5) Kevin Winston Jr., Penn State Nittany Lions

    Ladies and gentlemen, meet the next secondary member fresh off the Penn State-to-NFL conveyor belt. The 2023 season was Kevin Winston Jr.’s first as a stater, but you couldn’t tell based on his tape.

    He led the team with 60 tackles and added two fumbles recoveries, an interception, and five pass breakups to his résumé. But KWJ offers much more than what can be shown on the stat sheet, as he is a constant communicator, immaculate tackler, and heat-seeking missile from the second and third levels of the defense.

    4) Hunter Wohler, Wisconsin Badgers

    Hunter Wohler is the embodiment of Wisconsin football. Last year, he racked up the second-most tackles (120) in the Big Ten and earned first-team all-conference honors for his efforts.

    Spending most of his time in the box certainly helped, but Wohler also spent significant time in the slot and at deep safety. He’s best deployed near the line of scrimmage, as he shoots out of a cannon downhill and has the range to chase down RBs from the backside of the play.

    3) Dillon Thieneman, Purdue Boilermakers

    Dillon Thieneman hauled in all the accolades last season, including Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a spot on the AP All-American team. He had QBs throwing tablets on the sidelines, snatching six interceptions from his free safety alignment.

    But what really pops off the screen is Thieneman’s trigger downhill in the run game, obliterating unknowing ball carriers careening toward open space.

    2) Xavier Nwankpa, Iowa Hawkeyes

    We all know about Iowa’s offensive woes last season, but the defense was brimming with talents who kept the score closer than it ever should’ve been. One such defender was Xavier Nwankpa, who is a complete safety at 6’2″ and 210 pounds.

    KEEP READING: 2024 Big Ten Weekly Football Schedule

    Line him up in the box, in the slot, single-high, two-high, it doesn’t matter — Nwankpa can do it all. With the range and physicality that coaches covet, he could be participating in an NFL rookie minicamp this time next year.

    1) Caleb Downs, Ohio State Buckeyes

    Caleb Downs became the first Alabama freshman to lead the team in tackles (107) and also recorded two INTs, three PBUs, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. What more could you ask from a first-year collegiate starter, let alone a first-year collegiate player?

    His addition to an Ohio State defense already loaded with front-seven talent should translate to dominance not only in the Big Ten but also in the new 12-team College Football Playoff.

    2024 Big Ten SAF Rankings | 11-20

    11) Kamari Ramsey and Akili Arnold, USC
    12) Miles Scott, Illinois
    13) Jaylen Reed and Zakee Wheatley, Penn State
    14) Shawn Asbury II, Indiana
    15) Kamren Fabiculanan, Washington
    16) Shaquan Loyal and Flip Dixon, Rutgers
    17) Tysheem Johnson and Kobe Savage, Oregon
    18) Isaac Gifford, Nebraska
    19) Dante Trader Jr., Maryland
    20) Malik Spencer, Michigan State

    College Football Network has you covered with the latest news and analysis, rankings, transfer portal information, top 10 returning players, the 2024 college football season schedule, and much more!

    College Football Transfer Portal Tracker

    Never miss a beat with the CFN-exclusive College Football Transfer Portal Tracker, listing the student-athletes entering and exiting the transfer portal.

    Related Articles