The college football season is quickly approaching as well as another year of the NFL. With that, the NFL Draft process begins to quicken in pace and more attention is paid to future NFL players. To give you an idea of who to look out for, there will be a series of these conference previews, organized like All American Teams, to paint a picture of the draft landscape in each region of college football.
There is a lot to love about the Big 10; Punting, fullbacks, punting, and Iowa (punting), but the conference also has a host of very good prospects who are likely to hear their name very early in next year's class. The reigning National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes have enough NFL talent on their roster for the entire conference, but even beyond that, there is plenty of talent up north.
Quarterback: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
The beleaguered Nittany Lion signal caller has received a lot of critique for his underwhelming sophomore year. Yes, he had head scratching moments, but there is still a lot to like about the 6-4, 220 pound quarterback. He has one of the best arms to come out of college in recent memory to go along with great size, pocket presence and accuracy. A lot of issues manifest themselves in a poorly constructed offense and middling, at best, surrounding talent. While Hackenberg could improve consistency, it is more than fair to call him the best QB in this upcoming class.
Second Team: JT Barrett, Ohio State
Running Back: Ezekiel Elliot, Ohio State and Paul James, Rutgers
The highlight of the Buckeye's national title run was an astounding string of games by second year runner, Ezekiel Elliot. The six foot, 225 pound runner is as well balanced as they come. He has great burst, agility and speed, but can also run through defenders at will. He carries himself with great pad level and has phenomenal instincts in the open field. He can improve as a third down option, both as a blocker and a receiver, but he is as good a pure runner as I have seen the last few years.
James does not get the national recognition as other productive running backs, but there is absolutely a spot for him in the NFL. He has good size at six feet and 205 pounds and uses every single one of those pounds when he is running. He does not have great long speed, but he possesses very good vision and will hit each run with power. He has tremendous leg drive on contact and it takes a defender's full effort to bring him down. While he is not flashy or dynamic, his consistency as a runner will make him an asset in the NFL. His biggest hurdle to overcome is to prove he can stay healthy.
Second Team: Corey Clement, Wisconsin and Josh Ferguson, Illinois
Wide Receiver: Leonte Caroo, Rutgers, and Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Caroo did an outstanding job during his first season in the Big 10 from a statistical perspective and did so with horrid quarterback play. While he will not blow anyone away with great size (6, 205) or speed, Caroo is a technician at the receiver position that allows him to create production. He is a very savvy route runner, getting in and out of breaks with ease and he also does a good job attacking soft spots in coverage. With the ball in his hands, Caroo is a strong runner with good open field vision and agility. Where he needs to improve is catching the ball. While his hands are dependable in space, he often gets into trouble while trying to make plays in traffic due to his stature. His success is predicated on keeping himself clean and making plays after the catch. He will need to improve his physicality in order to be viewed in a higher tier.
Similar to Caroo, Michael Thomas gets by on savvy rather than athletic ability. While he does possess much better size than Caroo at 6-3, 210, he also lacks the extra gear to be viewed as "dynamic". However, he is dependable. Thomas not only gets open with polished route running and quickness, but he is very dependable at the catch point as well. He has soft hands, great concentration and good ball skills to bring passes in. He has a much higher ceiling than Caroo due to his size and could see his numbers explode this year now that he is not sharing targets with former second round pick, Devin Smith.
Second Team: Jordan Westercamp, Nebraska, and Alex Erickson, Wisconsin
Tight End: Kyle Carter, Penn State
Among a bleak group of Big 10 tight ends, Kyle Carter shines the brightest. After showing potential during his freshman year, Carter's production tailored off as he had to split targets with former Nittany Lion, Jesse James and was also dealing with injuries and inconsistency. However, Carter has an intriguing athletic skill set and has displayed an ability to make good plays with the ball in the air. If he can consistently play to his potential and stay healthy, Carter has a chance to hear his name next spring.
Second Team: Dan Vitale, Northwestern
Offensive Tackle: Jason Spriggs, Indiana and Taylor Decker, Ohio State
A former tight end, Jason Spriggs is as quick footed as a 6-6, 305 pound tackle could be. He does a great job moving on the edge and in space while he is run blocking. He has great footwork and plays with a nasty demeanor. He needs to improve his hand placement, but his ability to play like he has given how new to the position he is is encouraging. We could be talking about Spriggs as a top tackle less than a year from now.
A big part of Ohio State's success came from stellar offensive line play which, in part, can be attributed to Taylor Decker's play on the edge. He is incredibly physical, with strong hands, great length and a mean playing style. He runs into issues with leverage as his height (6-7) lends itself too. He will come too high out of his stance and leave too much of his body open to defenders to get into. When he can clean that up, he has a chance to be one of the best in the country next year.
Second Team: Jack Conklin, Michigan State and David Hedelin, Purdue
Offensive Guards: Pat Elflein, Ohio State and Ben Braden, Michigan
Elflein was another big part of the success in Columbus last season. He has decent size (6-3, 300), but his best trait is smooth technique and a high motor playing style that makes him dependable in the interior of an offensive line. He would be a good player to take in the mid rounds for his dependability.
Braden is a hulking guard, standing at six foot three and 331 pounds. He has long arms and a nasty punch. However, he plods on the move and his hand technique is a mess. If he were to be drafted, he would need to clean up most of his game in order to maximize his size and strength.
Second Team: Andrew Zeller, Maryland and Donovan Clark, Michigan State
Center: Austin Blythe, Iowa
Another year and another steady offensive line prospect from the Hawkeyes. Blythe has outstanding drive, leverage and a nasty punch at center. He is incredibly intelligent, consistent and does a great job blocking in space. He is not an outstanding athlete, but takes great angles on blocks to compensate. I am not sure how high he gets drafted due to athletic ability and perceived positional value, but Blythe will have a long NFL career.
Second Team: Jack Allen, Michigan State
Defensive Edge: Joey Bosa, Ohio State and Kemoko Turray, Rutgers
Regarded by many as the top player in the country, there is a lot to love about Ohio State's Joey Bosa. He has great size at six foot four and 275 pounds, but even more impressive is his burst at that size. Bosa explodes off the line like a bull getting let out of its pen and can run through any offensive lineman in the country. He has tremendous lower body strength and violent hands to match. He has some bend to his game, but he wins consistently in a more linear way. His size allows him to line up all over the defense and create disruption wherever he is. He could stand to improve his instincts in space, but it is likely Bosa will hear his name very early in a year.
Remember the Tasmanian Devil cartoon? Just spinning around and wrecking everything in site, even if it seemed chaotic and unknowing? That is Kemoko Turray. He may not get the national press because he is doing his spinning in New Brunswick, but Turray has as much potential as any defender in recent memory. He has great burst off the line to pair with great natural power and size (6-6, 240). He is very raw from a technical standpoint, but he has only been playing football for under four years. With a bit of polish, Turray could be a star.
Second Team: Drew Ott, Iowa and Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
Interior Defensive Linemen: Anthony Zettel, Penn State and Aldophus Washington, Ohio State
The Nittany Lions fielded one of the best defenses in the country last year and that was in big part to defensive lineman, Anthony Zettel. He is a bit undersized to be playing defensive tackle (6-4, 275), but he has dominant athletic ability that helps him transcends his build, much like 2014 draft pick, Aaron Donald. Zettel has great burst off the line and has a strong base to help him hold up against the run. Penn State moved him around throughout the year and his athletic ability allowed him to excel and disrupt anywhere he was. He is an ideal penetrating three-technique in the NFL and is bound to have a successful NFL career.
Second Team: Darius Hamilton, Rutgers and Maliek Collins, Nebraska
Linebackers: Darron Lee/Joshua Perry, Ohio State and Steve Longa, Rutgers
Among this group, no one stands out more than Darron Lee. He may get hit with the undersized label (6-1, 235) but he does not let that keep him from dominating. He has excellent athletic ability, range and instincts in space and is a strong tackler. He is at his best in coverage and does a good job attacking runs from the weak side. He is not dissimilar to former Buckeye and first round pick, Ryan Shazier, but he has much better instincts. Lee looks like a future star at weak side linebacker in the NFL and teams will be smart to spend an early pick on him.
Where Lee is a some kind of laser at linebacker, teammate Joshua Perry is a sledgehammer. While he does not have Lee's sideline to sideline speed, he has size (6-3, 254) and an authoritarian playing style. he attacks the line of scrimmage without hesitation, doing a great job taking on and disengaging blocks to make plays in traffic. He is a punishing tackler and a true defensive fullback. He is a great fit inside a 3-4 defense and, while he may not get his name called early, should have a productive NFL career.
Another unheralded Scarlett Knight, Longa is undersized (6-1, 225), but has been very productive for Rutgers. He does a very good diagnosing plays and using his range to get to the ball. He is a smart, athletic player, but his size limits what he is able to do on the field, from taking on blocks to taking down bigger ball carriers. If he can carry more weight without losing his burst, he could be an asset at the next level.
Second Team: James Ross, Michigan and Ed Harris/ Darian Harris, Michigan State
Cornerback: Wayne Lyons, Michigan and Will Likely, Maryland
Recruited by Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, Lyons transferred to play his redshirt senior year with his old coach at Michigan. The former Cardinal has prototypical size and arm length for the modern NFL corner. Lyons is very physical at the line of scrimmage and does his best when he is able to force the receiver to play at his speed and work in press man coverage. His athletic ability is not any more than average, but his savvy and technique for a press corner makes him very effective. His success is very scheme dependent, so hopefully teams will see his press ability and let him work like that in the NFL.
Will Likely is the complete opposite of Lyons. While he barely stands at five foot seven (175 pounds) likely possesses great ball skills, athletic ability and physicality. He may be small, but his play is anything but. He is constantly around the ball and is absolutely relentless in the open field. He is very similar to Steeler's draft pick Senquez Golson and if he is able to replicate his production (83 Tackles, 15 PDs, 6 INTs, 2 TDs) and play, a team would probably spend a reasonably high pick to let him work in the slot.
Second Team: Eric Murray/Desmond King, Iowa.
Safety: Vonn Bell, Ohio State and Jordan Lucas, Penn State
A former five star recruit, Bell was the staple of the Buckeye secondary last season. While he is a bit small for a safety (5-11, 205), he incredibly reliable on the back end of a defense. He has great recognition ability, ball skills and closing speed to help him function in coverage. Near the line of scrimmage, he can diagnose and attack a play with ease. He is as well rounded of a safety as you will find and could go very high in the draft, even in what looks like a very talented safety class.
A former cornerback, Jordan Lucas has an intriguing skill set that could help him excel in his transition to safety. Lucas has great footwork and does a good job keying on a quarterback's eyes to make a play. On top of that, he plays very physical for his size (6, 199) and attacks downhill very willingly. He needs to improve his tackling, but it will be interesting to see how his move to safety will boost his draft stock.
Second Team: Ty Powell, Ohio State and Nate Gerry, Nebraska
The Big 10 has a host of talented players, many of whom will be drafted early in a few months, but there is also a lot of talent that is not getting talked about...
Next week, the ACC!