Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell named Big Ten's top defensive player

Chad Leistikow
Des Moines Register

Three of the catalysts of a top-five national defense were honored with first-team all-Big Ten Conference status on Tuesday, with senior linebacker Jack Campbell earning top billing as the league’s Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year.

Campbell is the third Hawkeye ever to be named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, joining Daviyon Nixon (2020) and Josey Jewell (2017) in an award that began in 1990. What made the accomplishment more impressive is that he was the league's preseason defensive player of the year (as voted on by the media) and lived up to the billing.

Campbell was a first-team pick for the second straight year by coaches and media and, unsurprisingly, was named the league’s linebacker of the year. Campbell ranks second in the Big Ten with 118 tackles and is one of five finalists for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker. He’s got a great chance at becoming the Hawkeyes’ latest consensus All-American, but those honors will be revealed in the coming weeks.

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Iowa middle linebacker Jack Campbell ranked second in the Big Ten in tackles and had two interceptions and fumble recovery for the Hawkeyes in 2022. He also posted a safety against South Dakota State.

Iowa tied with Illinois and Ohio State for the most first-team all-Big Ten selections on defense, with three.

Senior cornerback Riley Moss also became a two-time, first-team choice when he was named to the coaches’ all-Big Ten lineup. While Moss only had one interception, the 2021 Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year garnered a lot of league-wide respect from opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators. Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon won the league’s top defensive back honor for 2022.

Sophomore cornerback Cooper DeJean was named to the first-team media ballot after a four-interception season, in which he scored twice on pick-six returns (one against Rutgers, another against Wisconsin). DeJean was Iowa’s best all-around player, also ranking fourth on the team in tackles (68) and emerging as a game-breaking punt returner (17.6 average) in the second half of the Hawkeyes’ 7-5 season. DeJean’s injury just four snaps into Iowa’s 24-17 loss to Nebraska revealed his importance, as the Cornhuskers scored all three touchdowns on passes against DeJean’s replacements.

Three Hawkeyes were named to the all-Big Ten second team: defensive linemen Lukas Van Ness (coaches/media) and Joe Evans (media) and linebacker Seth Benson (coaches/media). Van Ness was an essential rotational piece as an end or tackle and tied Evans for the team lead in sacks with six. Benson was relentless on defense as Campbell’s sidekick, racking up 88 tackles and alternating between weak-side and outside linebacker after Jestin Jacobs’ season-ending injury.

Defensive linemen Logan Lee and Noah Shannon and safety Kaevon Merriweather earned honorable mention status.

Additionally, Iowa's Tory Taylor was named a first-team all-Big Ten punter for the second time. He was the league’s punter of the year as a freshman in 2020 and was voted by the media to the first team in 2022 (and third team by coaches) after averaging 45.1 yards a punt with 32 downed inside the 20-yard line. True freshman Drew Stevens was a second-team choice as placekicker by the media and third team by coaches after connecting on 16-of-18 field-goal tries and all 21 PATs. Stevens took over Iowa's placements after Week 2 and was fantastic, with a long of 54 yards.

All-Big Ten offensive awards will be announced Wednesday, but Iowa’s best offensive player didn’t have to wait to get a major honor. Senior Sam LaPorta on Tuesday was named one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. LaPorta missed the Nebraska game with a leg injury but still leads the team (by far) with 53 receptions and 601 receiving yards. Georgia’s Brock Bowers and Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer are the other finalists.