Big Ten loaded with top-shelf talent's Mel Kiper says the top talent in the Big Ten is spread around on both sides of the ball.

Originally Published: July 7, 2004
By Mel Kiper Jr. | Special to ESPN Insider
Editor's note:'s Mel Kiper Jr. kicks off his look at the best players in each conference by examining the top five players on the roster of every Big Ten team (schools listed in alphabetical order).

Illinois Fighting Illini
1. E.B. Halsey, RB, so. -- A versatile back who rushed for 525 yards and could have been the Big Ten Freshman of the Year had he not injured his knee late in the season against Michigan.
2. Matt Sinclair, ILB, sr. -- A sideline-to-sideline player who led the Illini with 129 tackles last season.
3. Mike O'Brien, DE, sr. -- A sixth-year senior, O'Brien was the best defensive player for the Illini in their 2003 opener against Missouri but tore his ACL in practice the following week. Should boost a unit that could not stop the run last year because of depth problems.
4. Kelvin Hayden, CB, fr. -- A former JUCO all-american who led the Illini in receiving last year, Hayden has moved to cornerback in an effort to make Illinois more athletic on that side of the ball. At 6-0, 200 pound he has a chance to give the defense a shot in the arm.
5. Jon Beutjer, QB, sr. -- Another sixth-year player, Beutjer underwent back surgery last November and is back and ready to go. He will bring leadership and experience to the offense and will be counted on to provide consistency and stability.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst
Mel Kiper has served as an NFL draft analyst for ESPN since 1984. He is a regular contributor on SportsCenter and ESPN Radio and writes weekly for ESPN Insider.