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Ranking the Big Ten: Safety

After a 2020 season that allowed players to transfer with instant eligibility, sit out a season, and return for another, it's hard to keep track of who all will be playing this season in the Big Ten Conference. More importantly, who will be putting on the most impressive performances?

We continue our annual Ranking the Big Ten series today with the safeties, a group represented by the class of 2019, a JUCO transfer and a former walk-on.

Rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | OG | OT | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB

Northwestern Safety Brandon Joseph
Northwestern Safety Brandon Joseph (Getty Images)

1. Brandon Joseph, Northwestern

For the college football fans out there, it shouldn't be a surprise to see Northwestern's Brandon Joseph as the top returning safety in the Big Ten.

The AP 2020 Big Ten Newcomer of the Year has been racking up awards like he was interceptions during the 2020 season.

Joseph had six interceptions, the most of all the defensive backs in the Power Five conferences. He was named to the AFCA All-America First Team, Associated Press First Team, Sporting News First Team and AP All-Big Ten First Team.

His sophomore season in 2020 earned Joseph the No. 1 defense grade of the Big Ten safeties with an 83.4 and the No. 1 coverage grade with an 88.5. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound defensive back also had a 33.3 reception percentage, the third-best of the Big Ten safeties.

Joseph will be storming into his third season, determined to prove that he's one of the best defensive backs In the country.

Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker
Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker (Getty Images)

2. Jaquan Brisker, Penn State

Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker, who transferred from Lackawanna CC in 2019, was named an All-American first-team by PFF in part because of how many statistically categories he led in the Big Ten.

Brisker led the Big Ten safeties in tackles (49), stops (19) and tied Indiana's Devon Matthews for the most pass breakups with five.

He earned the top grades in run defense with an 86.7 and tackling with a 91.8. His defense grade was the second-highest (82.8), his pass-rush grade was the third-highest (71.7) and his coverage grade ranked No. 4 (77.8).

In the 22 games Brisker has played in for Penn State with a total of 958 snaps, he has not allowed a single touchdown under his watch. Based on his track record, good luck to the wide receivers and quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

Maryland safety Nick Cross
Maryland safety Nick Cross (Getty Images)

3. Nick Cross, Maryland

Maryland safety Nick Cross doesn't have as much experience as the others on his list however, he has just as much potential. The 2020 All-Big Ten honorable mention has started eight games for the Terps and played in a total of 16 games.

In Cross's 287 snaps of 2020, he had one sack, 18 tackles, three stops, one forced fumble, an interception and two pass breakups. The 2021 Athlon Sports Preseason All-Big Ten selection played his best game of the season against Penn State where he forced a fumble and caught an interception.

Cross had the second-highest pass-rush grade (77.6) of the safeties in the Big Ten and the highest of the returning safeties. His defense grade of 77.7 and his coverage grade of 79.8 both came in third.

In his third season, Cross is expected to have a breakout season.

Michigan safety Daxton Hill
Michigan safety Daxton Hill (Getty Images)

4. Daxton Hill, Michigan

Hill started six games at safety for Michigan in 2020 and finished second on the team with 46 tackles and five pass break-ups.

In 2019, he started three games at safety, appearing in 13 total. Hill will be one of the leaders of the Wolverines defense this year and is one of the better tackling safeties in the conference.

Iowa safety Jack Koerner
Iowa safety Jack Koerner (Getty Images)

5. Jack Koerner, Iowa

The senior enters 2021 as a preseason second-team All-Big Ten safety selection by Phil Steele and Athlon.

Koerner was also a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2020, after having three interceptions. He had a pick in three straight games last year and was sixth in the Big Ten with three interceptions.

Koerner came to Iowa as a walk-on and was put on scholarship in the spring of 2020.