As a conference producing NFL prospects, the Big Ten is down. The first Big Ten player taken in the draft this year was Travis Frederick, whom the Cowboys overdrafted No. 31 overall. The conference had just five players picked in the first two rounds.
For the 2014 draft, things should be better, but only slightly so. Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan leads the group, but Ohio State junior cornerback Bradley Roby could be the first Big Ten player drafted. Of course, there is x-factor of quarterbacks Devin Gardner of Michigan and Braxton Miller of Ohio State. Both are toolsy prospects with plenty of work to do.
1. Taylor Lewan | 6'7, 310 pounds | Offensive tackle | Michigan
It came as a surprise to many that Lewan decided to return for his senior season at Michigan. Much of last season, he was in discussion as being at the top of offensive tackle rankings. His place in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft is secure. It's just a matter of how high he'll get picked. Lewan has some work to do, namely in foot quickness and picking up pressure to the inside. If he can fix those two things, he's a lock for the top five.
2. Bradley Roby | 5'11, 190 pounds | Cornerback | Ohio State *
Roby's current legal issues should have no negative impact on his draft stock. He goes into his junior season as the top cornerback in the nation. He's a top athlete who can turn and run with any wide receiver in the nation.
3. Ryan Shazier | 6'2, 222 pounds | Outside linebacker | Ohio State *
What Shazier may lack in power and stack and shed ability, he makes up for in pure athleticism and speed. Shazier flies around the field and is a true sidell\ine-to-sideline player. He moves efficiently around the field to make a tackle and is an underrated pass rusher.
4. Devin Gardner | 6'4, 210 pounds | Quarterback | Michigan *
By the end of the season, it may not be a shock for Gardner to top this list. Or to see him slide down it. At the moment, Gardner's praise is based largely on potential. Filling in for an injured Denard Robinson, Gardner showed off a nice arm and playmaking ability. But he often liked to throw into double coverage and needs get better ball placement.
5. C.J. Barnett | 6'0, 202 pounds | Safety | Ohio State
Ohio State's success on defense will depend on the secondary being good while the front seven works in several new starters. Because of that, Barnett will be relied on heavily to play the run and the pass. Barnnett is in his third years as a starter and is a good all-around player. He's not a ballhawking safety, and may not lay a lot of highlight reel hits. But he's a dependable, smart player.
6. Darqueze Dennard | 5'11, 197 pounds | Cornerback | Michigan State
Dennard is a true press coverage specialist. He's physical at the line of scrimmage, despite a somewhat small frame. When work was to be done on Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams a season ago, it was Dennard who stuck out. He has solid hands and can tackle.
7. Ra'Shede Hageman | 6'6, 311 pounds | Defensive tackle | Minnesota
Hageman considered entering the draft this year, and probably would have been picked higher than most think. He has an NFL frame and athleticism and just needs to continue fine tuning his technique. While he did have just 35 tackles and six sacks last seasons, Hageman can occupy multiple blockers and has the quickness to split gaps when asked.
8. Jack Mewhort | 6'7, 308 pounds | Offensive tackle | Ohio State
After playing both guard spots in 2011, Mewhort moved out to left tackle last season. His progression went as expected. He was a little rocky to start, but by the end of the season he looked comfortable. He's not a highly athletic left tackle, but he can mirror fairly well and has good power blocking moves. His has the length and should only get better in his second season starting at left tackle.
9. Max Bullough | 6'3, 242 pounds | Middle linebacker | Michigan State
Bullough enters his third season as Michigan State's starting middle linebacker. While he's nowhere near someone like Luke Kuechly in this regard, Bullough's specialty is knowing where a play is developing and getting a quick jump. He is a sure tackler and knows how to manage the front seven.
10. Spencer Long | 6'4, 315 pounds | Guard | Nebraska
Coming off a first-team All-Big Ten selection, Long is one of the most experienced linemen in the conference. Long didn't actually have a scholarship until before last season. He's a powerful right guard in the run game and hard to move off the line.
11. Jonathan Brown | 6'1, 235 pounds | Outside linebacker | Illinois
Brown wasn't quite the player in 2012 that he was in 2011. That was due in part to a shoulder injury that kept him out of the final three games of the season, and hampered him in others. Now healthy, Brown will be relied upon to be the best player on a down Illinois team. Working straight forward is Brown's specialty. His lateral quickness isn't quite there yet.
12. Braxton Miller | 6'2, 215 pounds | Quarterback | Ohio State
It's difficult to find a placement for Miller in the preseason. Reports are that Miller has been working hard this offseason to improve himself as a passer. How far along he's developed is an unknown. Last season, Miller was largely a run-first quarterback with a strong arm. The tools are there, but Miller has to display better pocket presence and how to read the field.
13. Allen Robinson | 6'3, 211 pounds | Wide receiver | Penn State *
A season ago, Robinson came out of nowhere to catch 77 passes for 1,013 yard and 11 touchdowns. But Robinson is a perfect fit for Bill O'Brien's passing offense. He has nice size and solid hands to play the outside. He can high point the ball and is hard for defensive backs to move around.
14. James White | 5'10, 197 pounds | Running back | Wisconsin
Although he was Montee Ball's backup a season ago, White still stood out at times. He averaged more than six yards per carry last season and had 12 touchdowns. White only had more than 10 carries five times last season, but he fared well each time (save for a 15-carry, 65-yard game against UTEP). Against Minnesota he really made a mark with 15 carries for 175 yards. White has the speed to break a big play, but he's a surprisingly strong runner as well.
15. Chris Borland | 5'11, 248 pounds | Middle linebacker | Wisconsin
The first thing most tend to point out when talking about Borland is his height. He may be short, but he doesn't play small. Borland is the leader of Wisconsin's defense and is coming off two consecutive seasons of more than 100 tackles. But it's Borland's ability to get into the backfield that is really underscored. He has 41.5 career tackles for loss, largely because of his ability to read a play quickly.
16. C.J. Fiedorowicz | 6'7, 265 pounds | Tight end | Iowa
Iowa has a small, recent history of solid producing NFL tight ends – Scott Chandler, Tony Moeaki and Dallas Clark a decade ago. Fiedorowicz is much more Chandler than he is Clark. He's a powerful receiving target with above-average hands and speed.
17. Ryan Groy | 6'5, 320 pounds | Offensive tackle | Wisconsin
Speaking of a school that produces at one position, Wisconsin certainly has a growing history of producing NFL offensive linemen. Groy may not be a high-round draft pick, but he offers some versatility with the ability to play tackle and guard. The expectation this season is that he'll shift from left guard to left tackle.
17. Denicos Allen | 5'11, 215 pounds | Outside linebacker | Michigan State
Allen's 2012 wasn't a massive disappointment, but it's not what everyone expected to see. His sack numbers dropped from 11 to three, and his tackles for loss went from 18.5 to 10. Although Allen isn't an NFL pass rusher, he wasn't quite as active a season ago. As a prospect, he's hard to peg because of his size. Allen may have to make his mark as a special teamer and backup in the NFL.
19. Carlos Hyde | 6'0, 242 pounds | Running back | Ohio State
Hyde's suspension of "at least" three games by Ohio State should have no impact on his draft stock. Before the suspension he was a fifth- or sixth-round player. He'll remain so after the suspension. He's a one-trick power runner, but at least that one trick is a good one. If a team needs a short yardage back, which is sort of a luxury, Hyde fits.
20. Venric Mark | 5'8, 175 pounds | Running back | Northwestern
The Big Ten's top returning rusher from a season ago, Mark obviously doesn't have optimal size. But he's a crafty runner and knows how to make a defender miss. He's solid as a pass catcher as well.
More Big Ten players to watch
Ameer Abdullah | 5'9, 190 pounds | Running back | Nebraska *
Jared Abbrederis | 6'2, 188 pounds | Wide receiver | Wisconsin
Kenny Bell | 6'1, 185 pounds | Wide receiver | Nebraska *
Ted Bolser | 6'6, 254 pounds | Tight end | Indiana
Corey Brown | 5'11, 187 pounds | Wide receiver | Ohio State
Ibraheim Campbell | 5'11, 205 pounds | Safety | Northwestern *
Ciante Evans | 5'11, 190 pounds | Cornerback | Nebraska
Jeremy Gallon | 5'8, 187 pounds | Wide receiver | Michigan
DaQuan Jones | 6'3, 318 pounds | Defensive tackle | Penn State
Cody Latimer | 6'3, 215 pounds | Wide receiver | Indiana *
Andrew Norwell | 6'6, 319 pounds | Guard | Ohio State
Jacob Pedersen | 6'4, 241 pounds | Tight end | Wisconsin
Jeremiah Sirles | 6'6, 310 pounds | Offensive tackle | Nebraska
Devin Smith | 6'1, 198 pounds | Wide receiver | Ohio State *
John Urschel | 6'3, 307 pounds | Guard | Penn State
Redshirt sophomores to watch
Melvin Gordon | Running back | Wisconsin **
If last year's Big Ten Championship game is any indication White might be hard-pressed to keep Gordon on the bench. Against Nebraska, Gordon had just nine carries, but ran for 216 yards and a touchdown. Gordon has a nice combination of size and speed to be a factor going forward.
Deion Barnes | 6'4, 249 pounds | Defensive end | Penn State **
Barnes is poised for a breakout season after being named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Barnes is fast off the line of scrimmage and will only get better as he adds more strength to his frame. He finished last season with just 26 tackles but had 10 tackles for loss and six sacks.
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