Top Eligible Draft Prospect For Each SEC School
This week I will take a look at each program's top draft eligible prospect for 2016 in the Power Five conferences. Today I examine the Big Ten. Of course the Buckeyes and Urban Meyer should have multiple first round picks.
1) Ohio State
Joey Bosa may have been the first defensive player off the board in 2015 draft. He's a flat out dominating player who has all the tools - size (6-6/275), good speed, and athleticism. He can play defensive end or tackle but probably best suited as a 3-4 defensive end. Bosa posted 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss as a true sophomore. He plays the game so hard and is so tenacious. Bosa just may be the best player in college football in 2015. He certainly has the ability to be that guy and dominate.
Connor Cook is your classic NFL prospect at this position with good size and a good arm. He has been highly productive and efficient the past two seasons at Michigan State, throwing 45 touchdown passes and close to 5,800 passing yards. When he's tight with his mechanics and steps into his throws Cook's as accurate as they come.
3) Penn State
I knew a few years ago when I saw Christian Hackenberg in high school that he had the physical traits to one day soon be a high level pro prospect. He has prototype size at 6-4/236. Hackenberg has arm talent and can make all the throws. Hackenberg is football smart and plays with a sense of calmness and poise. He's a pocket passer all the way but has shown the ability to throw on the run. In two seasons as the Penn State starter he has throws for 5,932 and 32 touchdown passes. On the flip side he has thrown way too many interceptions (25) and has struggled with consistency. Hackenberg had a bumpy 2014 season, caused in part by a poor Nittany Lion offensive front. He needs to clean things up and work on ball security. There's no doubt a big '15 campaign will make him very coveted by the NFL.
Maliek Collins is one of the top defensive tackles from the Big Ten. He played in 12 games as a freshman and really came on this past season as a starter on the Blackshirt defensive front. Collins finished with 45 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hurries. He’s a true junior from Kansas City that’s 6-foot-2, 300-pounds. Collins made 2nd Team All-Big Ten in 2014. For a 300-pounder he’s athletic, strong and uses his hands well. With another good season Collins will have a chance to sneak into the first round.
The Hoosiers are led by an outstanding QB prospect in Nate Sudfield. This player is technically as sound as they come. He has a beautiful and quick release and nice mechanics. In this area of the position he's further along than most. He can make all the passes, throw with velocity or change speeds. Sudfield has also shown the ability to throw with anticipation and to spots. He has completed 60% of his passes for 4,306 yards and 34 touchdowns. Sudfield has 14 career starts.
There was a good reason why Yannick Ngakoue was highly sought after a few years ago. He elected to stay close to home and play for the Terrapins. He did well in 2014 but his play took off this spring, where he excelled playing in the new Maryland 4-3 defense at the ‘Bandit’ position. Before he was an outside ‘backer and now he plays with his hand in the dirt. He has a chance to become one of the top pass rushers in the Big Ten. Ngakoue, 6-foot-2, 250-pounds, recorded 13.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks in 2014. He looks like he could be a defensive end, strong-side ‘backer or outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL.
Right now I would go with Tyler Marz over Corey Clement but that could change this fall. Nothing against Marz whatsoever, as he’s another very good Badger offensive lineman. But I believe Clement should have a monster season ahead. Marz, 6-foot-7, 318-pounds, has had a terrific three-year career in Madison. He has 27 consecutive starts at left tackle and earned All-Big Ten Academic honors each season. Marz has anchored one of college football’s top offensive fronts. He’s stout in the run game and may be better suited to play right tackle in the NFL. Outside linebacker Vince Biegel is another Badger to keep a close eye on this fall.
Eric Murray is going to sneak up on a lot of people in the coming months. Murray, 6-foot-0, 196-pounds, is a senior and two year starter for the Gophers as a cornerback. He’s been highly productive as a starter, recording 121 tackles, 17 pass breakups and one interception. Murray is a shut down corner with good size and one of the Big Ten’s best. Murray can play man, can play off, and excels in zone. He’s also good against the run and a sound tackler.
Rutgers is home to one of the most athletic big men of the Big Ten, Kemoko Turay. He’s a 6-foot-6, 235-pound red-shirt sophomore defensive end. He’s far from a finished product and didn’t even start for the Scarlet Knights in 2014. But he finished as their sack leader (7.5) and showed flashes of his elite athleticism and edge rushing skills. The goal this season is for Turay to emerge as a dominant every down player. If that happens he should have a fantastic season this fall. Remember, this is a young man that only played one year of varsity football.
Drew Ott is a senior defensive line prospect from Iowa that has been a good, productive starter for the Hawkeyes from 2012 through 2014. He’s 6-foot-4, 272-pounds and plays hard and with a terrific motor. Ott has 10.5 career sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss. He’s got a veteran presence about him and is athletic. This is a kid that played on the offensive line, defensive line, tight end, quarterback and linebacker for his high school team. Ott’s strong and durable and brings a toughness to the defense. His game will transition well to the NFL.
Jihad Ward is the best defensive linemen for the Illini. He’s coming off of a foot injury that required surgery after spring ball. Last season Ward recorded 51 tackles, three sacks, five quarterback hurries and four fumble recoveries. That’s not a bad first season after transitioning from the junior college ranks. Ward, 6-foot-6, 295-pounds, is an ideal five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense. Ward did show a much better understanding of his role for the Illinois defense and improvement this spring before the foot injury.
This will be an interesting season in Ann Arbor as Jim Harbaugh returns to Michigan coaching a pretty young Wolverine team. There are a handful of talented juniors that haven’t quite lived up to their recruiting hype. Will one of those players emerge? That answer is a probable yes. In the meantime, I will play it safe and go with junior tight end Jake Butt. He’s an ideal player for today’s NFL that stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 248-pounds. He’s played a lot over the last two seasons, starting 23 times. Butt made the All-Big Ten Freshman Team in 2013. He has 41 career receptions. Tight ends are a big part of Harbaughs’s scheme so Butt will have a chance to shine in 2015.
Nick VanHoose or Dan Vitale get the call here for Northwestern. I would lean more towards Vitale because I think his versatility suits well for the pro-style schemes of the NFL. Offensively, the Wildcats have a ‘Superback’ position which essentially is the combination of fullback and tight end and manning both those spots. That’s what Vitale has starred in since he was a true freshman. In fact the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Vitale has three dozen starts and is now a senior. Vitale has 102 receptions for over 1,000 yards and seven scores over his three year playing career.
Purdue veteran defensive back Frankie Williams is recovering from surgery from bone spurs this spring. This senior cornerback should be fine for the Boilermakers this fall. Purdue will need his outstanding leadership. Williams is also a smart and fearless player in the secondary that can attack the run game and plays well in coverage. Last year Williams recorded 74 tackles, three interceptions, seven pass breakups and six tackles for a loss. Only 5-foot-9, 190-pounds, this is a secondary standout that has gotten more productive with every season.
2016 Top 50 NFL Draft Eligible Prospects
Top Eligible Draft Prospect For Each SEC School