Generally, the Big Ten Blog is in agreement with Michael Felder's stance that going to the NFL is a more positive thing for talented juniors (and redshirt sophomores), since it's generally not worth it to undergo another year of the physical toll of football in exchange for the relative peanuts that college offers compared to pro football.
So to folks like departing Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, we bid a fond farewell; to returning Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan, we ask what in the world he's thinking. "Get that money" is a fitting mantra and one that generally represents the athletes' best interests.
That being said, we were a little disappointed to see Michigan State William Gholston announce his departure for the 2013 NFL Draft. We weren't surprised, mind you; we called it a month ago. But it's still disappointing.
Gholston has first round physical potential. He was a 5-star recruit for the Spartans (and showed it early). Coming into the season it looked as if he could turn it into first round draft stock. Instead, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper (via the Detroit Free Press' Joe Rexrode), Gholston's more of a mid-draft prospect at this point:
Quick Mel Kiper update off his teleconference: Has Bell 2-3 range, Sims and Gholston 3-4 and Adams 5.— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) January 16, 2013
What's William Gholston's ideal NFL position?
Again, this isn't a matter of physical ability; Gholston is a terrormonster at 6'7" and 278 pounds. He's got the athleticism to play linebacker, according to Michigan State coaches, and he's got the build of the second coming of Julius Peppers. He was even pretty productive in his two seasons as a starter, recording 29 tackles-for-loss and 9.5 sacks in the past two years. More importantly, he racked up 129 tackles in those two years, showing a strong pursuit ability, which will be crucial at the next level.
So why's Gholston in danger of dropping to the third day of the NFL Draft? The same reason he would be well-served to come back for another year of college ball: He hasn't established himself as disciplined enough to be trustworthy at the next level.
We'll leave aside the low point of his sophomore year when he collected a pair of personal fouls against Michigan and got himself suspended; that was all the way back in 2011, and that's an eternity in the maturation process for a lot of these guys. Gholston committed a few dumb penalties in 2012, but he doesn't look like much of a liability in terms of picking up penalty yardage.
The bigger knock on Gholston is that he never took practice seriously, to the point where defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi told the Detroit Free Press Gholston was in danger of losing his starting spot before the 2012 season:
Narduzzi raved about Gholston's bowl performance and December practices but warned that the defensive end's practice habits overall need to be better and that if he's focused on reading his press clippings "he could end up getting beat out by somebody."
"He's a game-day player," Narduzzi said. "He has a love for the game and plays with a lot of passion. He's a super kid. But he's not a great practice player. ... I have told him that the last couple of years and will continue to harp on that. You have to have those work habits of the great players. If he does, his potential is unlimited."
Well, instead of making that next leap, Gholston's productivity dropped, going from 70 tackles to 59, from 16 tackles-for-loss to 13 and from five sacks to 4.5. Not huge drops, but ones a coach wouldn't like to see from a guy who was already struggling with consistency.
There's basically no room in the NFL for a defensive lineman who doesn't bring it hard on every snap. Albert Haynesworth was at least a two-time Pro Bowler, which is why his joke of a stint with Washington lasted as long as it did (a year and a half). A third- or fourth-round rookie isn't going to get that kind of leeway from coaches and teammates—and that's not exactly a lot of leeway to begin with.
So when we say we want Gholston to play another year, it's not just so he can raise his draft profile, though he certainly would with the right improvements. It's that unlike the vast majority of underclassmen declaring early for the draft, Gholston still needs to demonstrate that he's got the right mindset to compete at the highest level. The frame and potential are both there; the low draft status indicates that NFL teams know that's not enough.