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Kenny Willekes was arguably the top player on one of the nation's top defenses last season at Michigan State.

He should be one of the top players in the country next season.

The Sporting News unveiled its top 40 college football players for the 2019 season this week, ranking Willekes No. 22 and Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson No. 31.

Willekes, a former walk-on, collected 20.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season for a defense that led the nation in rushing defense, allowing only 77.9 yards a game on the ground. The Spartans also ranked No. 8 in scoring defense (17.2 points per game) and 10th in total defense (303.2 yards per game).

"Willekes earned Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year honors last year," writes Bill Bender, the national college football writer for the Sporting News, "and that says something knowing the competition he had against Chase Young, Chase Winovich, A.J. Epenesa and others.

"He'll be up against tough competition again this year, but if he has the same production, then a repeat performance shouldn't be an issue."

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Patterson, meanwhile, enjoyed a strong first season in Ann Arbor after transferring from Ole Miss. He completed 210-of-326 passes (64.4 percent) for 2,600 yards, with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in helping to lead the Wolverines to a 10-3 record.

There was speculation Patterson would jump to the NFL, but he announced in December he planned to return to Michigan for his final season of eligibility.

"Patterson steadied the quarterback position at Michigan last season," Bender writes, "and the addition of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis should translate to even more production after his ... season in 2018.

"Jim Harbaugh must let Patterson improvise with a group of talented receivers; if he does, Patterson can prove this ranking right by leading the Wolverines to their first Big Ten championship since 2004."

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