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Big Ten Players to Know for the Draft: Part One

Posted by Jordan Finley on May 15, 2011 – 7:33 pm in: NFL Draft

Who’s the new family down the block? Oh, that would be Bo Pelini and his Nebraska Cornhuskers who are beginning their Big Ten stint in 2011 as they continue their search for a BCS National Championship.  With the addition of the former Big 12 contenders, the Big Ten has decided to align their teams in to two divisions, the Legends and the Leaders.  Regardless of how horrible these names are, it’s still a very good aspect to add to a conference that has had a single team be the champion for so many straight years, that due to the fact that Ohio State has been a “Co-Champion” for four of  their six straight Big Ten titles going back to 2005.  Why does the phrase “Co-Champion” even exist?


Even though we’re almost four months away from the start of the college football season and nearly a year away from the 2012 NFL Draft, it’s never too early to take a look at the players who will be regarded as the best “draftable” prospects.  This blog entry (as well as the next one) will be an alone focus on the Big Ten teams that are offering some of the better available players in the draft.  I don’t want to leave out the fans of Notre Dame, Cincinnati or West Virginia though so those teams will also be mentioned.

Michigan's Denard Robinson has NFL potential but not at quarterback.

The first edition will be an emphasis on the Legends Division which includes the aforementioned Corhuskers as well as the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans, Iowa Hawkeyes, Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Northwestern Wildcats.  I’ll also be talking about the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in this article who may just offer the best players of all the mentioned teams.

Just to keeps things simple, I’m going to list each team and explain who’s the best offensive player and defensive player that the team is offering to the NFL next April.  So let’s get things rolling with the new guys in Lincoln!

–          Nebraska Cornhuskers

Best Offensive Player:  Jermarcus Hardrick // Offensive Tackle // Senior – – The team lost perhaps their best offensive player last year in Roy Helu who was drafted by the Redskins less than a month ago and to call him their best offensive player doesn’t say much.  Not to say that Hardrick isn’t a good player, it’s just that he’s most likely a mid round selection at best.  The former JUCO transfer has excellent size and strength but lacks the lateral ability and footwork to be considered an early round choice.  Projection: Late Round Pick/Undrafted

Best Defensive Player:  Jared Crick // Defensive Tackle // Senior – – Crick decided to return for his senior year after the bowl game loss to Washington.  He has imposing size and will make a lot of NFL teams interested in his versatility alone as he’ll be able to play in any defensive scheme at the next level.  He’s not nearly as talented as 2010 #2 overall pick Ndamukong Suh but if he can keep his game up during this upcoming season, he’s a first round selection.  Projection: Late 1st/Mid 2nd Round Pick

Other Notable Players: OLB Lavonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard and DE Cameron Meredith, DL Baker Steinkuhler

–          Michigan Wolverines

Best Offensive Player:  Denard Robinson // Wide Receiver // Junior – – This choice is absolutely by default because at this point, the Wolverines do not have a real offensive threat to offer to the NFL.  Although Robinson is undoubtedly one of the most electrifying players in the college game today, he will not be a quarterback at the next level.  He’s simply too short and raw for his game to translate.  However, stick him in the slot and he has the potential to be a consistent game breaker and I don’t doubt that for a single second.  He may take time but his potential is certainly worth it.  There’s a big chance that he may not even declare though, which is saying something about Michigan’s senior offensive talent.  Projection: Mid 3rd/Mid 4th Round Pick

Best Defensive Player:  Mike Martin // Defensive Tackle // Senior – – It seems that Martin has his own army of fans and most of them reside in Ann Arbor.  Martin doesn’t have the ideal size of a stud 1st round defensive tackle, but that may be the only thing he lacks.  He’s as strong as they come, his motor is near elite while his ability to disrupt the backfield has been proven time and time again.  He might be able to sneak in the first round with a phenomenal senior campaign because teams will love his attitude and passion for the game.  Projection: Mid 2nd/Early 3rd Round Pick

Other Notable Players: DL Ryan Van Bergen, DL William Campbell, LB Craig Roh, TE Kevin Koger and C David Molk

–          Michigan State Spartans

Best Offensive Player:  Kirk Cousins // Quarterback // Senior – – One of the easier choices of this entry as Cousins may have the underrated ability to be a starting quarterback at the next level.  He has excellent experience in Mark Dantonio’s pro-style offense and has shown tremendous improvement since he stepped foot in East Lansing.  His arm strength isn’t a question at all and neither is his accuracy as he finished last year with a  2-1 TD-INT ratio.  If he continues at the rate he’s played at the last two years, I have no problem calling him a 1st round caliber quarterback.  Projection: Late 1st/Early 2nd Round Pick

Best Defensive Player:  Jerel Worthy // Defensive Tackle // Junior – – The Spartans may have the easiest selections of the entry cause Worthy is another no-brainer.  Not only is Worthy the best defensive player in the Big Ten but he is one of the Top 3 defensive players in the nation.  A kid his size shouldn’t be as quick or agile as he displays.  His first step is near elite for the position and he simply knows how to use his body at the line of scrimmage.  He should be a Top 10 pick next April.  Projection: Top 10 Pick

Other Notable Players: TE Dion Sims, OG Joel Foreman

–          Iowa Hawkeyes

Best Offensive Player:  Riley Rieff // Offensive Tackle // Junior – – Rieff isn’t quite the prospect that former teammate and first round pick Bryan Bulaga was but he is well on his way.  Like Bulaga, Rieff excels in the run blocking aspect of his game and finishes his blocks extremely well.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone though to see Rieff going before Bulaga’s draft slot of 23rd though if he can improve his lateral ability and overall pass protection abilities.  Projection: 1st Round 

Iowa's Mike Daniels definitely has the potential to be a 1st Round pick next April.

Best Defensive Player:  Mike Daniels // Defensive Tackle // Senior – – This one is a toss-up between Daniels and cornerback Shaun Prater but I’m more favorable to Daniels immense first step and violent attitude on the field.  He’s one of the more passionate players in the Big Ten and has proven his ability to get the ball carrier more consistently than some of the premier defenders in the nation.  If you’re looking for a player to watch, it’s definitely Daniels.  Projection: 2nd Round 

Other Notable Players: WR Marvin McNutt, CB Shaun Prater, DL Broderick Binns

–          Minnesota Golden Gophers

Best Offensive Player: De’Leon Eskridge // Running Back // Senior – – It’s going to be tough for any player in Minnesota to get any good publicity because the team has simply been awful the past couple seasons but Eskridge may be the guy to remember.  He’s part of a dual back system with teammate Duane Bennett and to some it’s a common thought that Bennett is the better player but I think otherwise.  Eskridge’s combination of speed and compact size make him at best a decent rotational guy in the NFL.  He shows he can run good angles and is a home run threat.  He has to improve his inside abilities though or else he’s going to slip.  Projection: 5th/6th Round Pick

Best Defensive Player:  Gary Tinsley // Inside Linebacker // Senior – – The defensive side of the ball is where the Gophers struggle the most and it’s evident by the talent and play they show on the field.  On the other side of the argument though, Tinsley is a pretty decent player.  He’s the leader of the squad and came on strong during his junior year in Minneapolis.  If he can put up another stellar season, he may be drafted.  Projection: Late Round Pick/Undrafted

Other Notable Players: RB Duane Bennett, TE Eric Lair

–          Northwestern Wildcats

Best Offensive Player: Al Netter // Offensive Tackle // Senior – – The Wildcats have been an underrated team since Pat Fitzgerald began taking control and he’s been doing that with talent that is nothing to write home about.  Not to take anything away from Netter who is a stud offensive lineman and has sleeper potential written all over him as a future NFL left tackle.  He needs to improve his overall strength some and his technique because he’s not taking full control of the players across from him.  However, I would have no problem taking him in the middle rounds of the draft.  Projection: 4th/5th Round

Best Defensive Player:  Vince Browne // Defensive End // Senior – – One of the more unsung players early on in the 2012 draft class, Browne has not stopped improving year after year.  He may also offer some versatility as he shows potential to eventually play each position along the defensive line.  He most likely won’t be the guy who registers ten or more sacks a season but he seems to be one of the guys who you can rely on to be a rotational player to notch up at least five sacks a year.  Projection: Late 4th/Late 5th Round

Other Notable Players: QB Dan Persa, TE Drake Dunsmore, C Ben Burkett

***BONUS***

–          Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Best Offensive Player: Michael Floyd // Wide Receiver // Senior – – Not only was Floyd thought of as one of the best receivers of the 2011 draft during the pre-season but he was thought of as one of the best overall players.  Even after a very productive year where he could have been a first round pick a month ago, Floyd decided to return for his senior season.  So far, that decision has looked like a bad one as Floyd was arrested during the off-season for his third alcohol related incident.  He’s still a true force and a good deep threat in Brian Kelly’s spread offense.  He creates great separation and is as strong as they come at the position.  Projection: Late 1st/Early 2nd Round Pick

Best Defensive Player: Manti Te’o // Inside Linebacker // Junior – – Te’o, who committed to the Irish out of Hawaii, has been a very reliable player since stepping foot in South Bend.  He runs the field exceptionally well and hits like a ton of bricks.  Not to mention the fact that his coverage abilities and versatility have severely increased in the last two years which will make him a very intriguing prospect to NFL teams.  Projection: Mid 1st/ Early 2nd Round Pick

Other Notable Players: OG Trevor Robinson, DT Ethan Johnson, OLB Darius Fleming

As you can tell, there’s a bit more defensive than offensive threats from the Big Ten but that’s typically how it goes for the conference.  Worthy out of Michigan State is hands down the conference’s best player at this point in the 2012 draft process and has the potential to be a force at the next level if he can prove to be a bit more consistent.  Part two of this article, which includes the best players out of Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana, Penn State, West Virginia and Cincinnati, will come out within the next couple of days.  Keep an eye out!

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