In the 2012 NFL draft this past April, the Big Ten had to suffer the mild humiliation of not seeing a player drafted until the 23rd pick, when Detroit took Iowa tackle Riley Reiff.
That quickly turned into four first-round picks for the Big Ten, as Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus, Wisconsin G Kevin Zeitler and Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins were all scooped up before the end of the day's proceedings, but it still hammered home the notion that the Big Ten had lost its elite status. Seven conferences (and Notre Dame) saw their top draft prospect go before a single Big Ten player was chosen.
Fortunately for the Big Ten, that's a scenario that's not likely to play out again this year. The Big Ten has multiple elite prospects, ones likely to go well before anyone from the Mountain West or Big East this time around. Still, it's not only possible but probable that the conference won't be able to match 2012's mark of sending as many players to the NFL in the first round.
So here's to whom we'll be wishing a fond farewell come the evening of April 25, the first day of the 2013 NFL draft.
OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Lewan hasn't officially declared for the 2013 NFL draft, but he's a strong candidate to get selected in the top 10 or 15 picks or so—as WalterFootball.com notes, Miami's sitting at No. 11 and will likely need to replace tackle (and fellow Michigan product) Jake Long for next season. Lewan is a perfect candidate to fill that role.
Of course, Lewan's performance against South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney will be instructive for many GMs getting their last look at Lewan in a game situation before the draft, so his performance in the Outback Bowl may push his stock significantly higher or lower. Rest assured that it's very high right now, at the very least.
DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
"Big Hank" is declaring for the NFL draft for a simple reason: He's going to go very, very high in the draft. CBSSports.com has him at No. 13 and No. 19 in its two mock drafts, and his ceiling is higher than that.
Hankins will have to prove that he's capable of staying in shape over the long haul, but since his focus now is going to be on draft preparation, odds are he's going to show up for the combine in the closest thing to ideal shape that he's ever been in.
On the Outside Looking in
DT Kawann Short, Purdue
Barring some magical revelation over the next few months, Kawann Short is not in the top tier of defensive tackles in this year's NFL draft class. He's at the top of the next tier, though, and one thing that's evident in most 2013 mock drafts is how defensive tackles dominate the first half of the first round, then basically disappear during the second half.
With Short grading out to a high second-round pick at this point, it's entirely within the realm of plausibility that one team in the bottom half of the draft—especially one that landed there by way of trade—evaluates its needs, sees DT as the biggest hole and plugs it with a beast like Short.
DE John Simon, Ohio State
Simon is probably too small to convince an NFL team to make a pick happen in the first round. He's listed at 6'2" and 263 pounds, and it's entirely possible that 6'2" doesn't hold up in the combine. But make no mistake: If Simon works his way into the first round, it'll be because of that same combine.
Simon's production at Ohio State speaks for itself, but there are hundreds of productive college linemen who never made it at the next level because they weren't physically up to the task. Simon is the type of guy who's going to excel at any workout NFL teams put him through, though, and his freakish strength and agility numbers may yet convince an NFL team that he's capable of doing anything a first-round DE should do.
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