Penn State vs. Wisconsin: Power Ranking the Top 5 Draft-Eligible Players
On Saturday, Penn State will travel to Wisconsin as both teams play their final regular-season games.
For Wisconsin, a win would send them to 10-2. While Michigan State has already locked up the Legends division and is headed to the Big Ten title game against Ohio State, the Badgers still have an outside chance at an at-large BCS bid. If Michigan State loses, they'll fall out of contention, with Wisconsin likely sliding up in the polls. A conference can be represented in BCS games by as many as two of its teams.
Penn State will look to pull off the upset and avoid moving to 6-6 on the year. After going 8-4 last year under first-year head coach Bill O'Brien, his team's second go-around hasn't produced similar results.
Despite there being two teams at two different ends of the spectrum, there will be plenty of players on both sides of the ball who could be playing on Sundays in the future.
Here is a list of the five best prospects for the 2014 NFL draft in this year's Penn State-Wisconsin game.
5. Chris Borland, Inside Linebacker
A 2-star recruit according to Scout.com, Borland's only offer out of high school was from Wisconsin. The Badgers seemed to be taking a chance on the undersized linebacker, and it's clearly paid off.
Borland was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2009 and followed that up by being named first-team All-Big Ten in 2011 and 2012. In both of those years, he had more than 100 tackles.
Despite being slightly undersized—he's only 5'11"—Borland makes up for it with instincts. Rob Rang of CBS Sports recently profiled Borland, and he had rave reviews for the senior's football IQ:
Borland might not be an elite athlete but he possesses extraordinary instincts, light feet and is a sure and physical hitter. He diagnoses plays quickly and attacks blockers, often literally beating them to the punch or simply zipping around them.
Borland's diagnosis skills, vision and burst make it arguably even tougher to run against him. If he sees a clear lane, he is quick and sure of himself, consistently shooting gaps in an attempt to make a big play. While aggressive, he isn't reckless, showing the patience to wait in the hole and force the back to commit.
Borland has consistently shown that size doesn't matter, as he's been among the Big Ten's best the past few years. CBSSports.com ranks him as the fifth-best inside linebacker in the 2014 draft.
4. DaQuan Jones, Defensive Tackle
Jones was a top defensive line prospect entering the season, but he has been shaky since starting the year hot. Regardless, he'll hear his name called by an NFL team come April.
He's an intriguing prospect. At 6'3", 318 pounds, Jones could theoretically play either defensive tackle in a 4-3 or nose tackle in a 3-4 at the next level. Here's a quick synopsis of his skill set from Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com:
Playing next to the more explosive Jordan Hill at defensive tackle, it was easy to overlook Jones last season, but he brings a different and almost as valuable skill-set to the field. He has a wide base and broad shoulders and wins with his brute strength and power to take on multiple blocks and overwhelm blockers.
The senior has 56 tackles and three sacks in 11 games so far this season. He's been the most impressive Nittany Lion on coach Larry Johnson's defensive line. Jones will look to follow in the footsteps of former Penn State players like Jared Odrick, Devon Still and Jordan Hill—all former defensive tackles, all coached by Johnson, all playing in the NFL.
CBSSports.com ranks Jones as their 59th-best prospect and seventh-best defensive tackle. He'll have to impress at the combine to improve his stock, especially with a defensive tackle class as talented as this one.
3. Jared Abbrederis, Wide Receiver
After walking on to the team in 2009 and being the Badgers' scout team quarterback, Abbrederis has been one of the Big Ten's more productive receivers over the past three years. That production eventually earned him a scholarship, and it's about to earn him a spot on an NFL roster, too.
A first-team All-Big Ten selection last year, Abbrederis is just 84 receiving yards away from reaching the 1,000-yard mark in 2013. He also has seen considerable time in the return game during his career at Wisconsin.
In the Ohio State game this year, Abbrederis caught 10 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown. As NFL.com's Charles Davis points out, most of that was done against Ohio State's Bradley Roby, considered by some to be the top cornerback in the draft:
He runs excellent routes and has better long speed than people think. He's as tough as nails, as he showed again Saturday, hanging on to make a touchdown catch after taking a hard hit and suffering a chest injury on the play. Don't forget -- Abbrederis raised questions about highly touted Ohio State CB Bradley Roby when the two matched up earlier this season. People are still talking about what Abbrederis showed in that one.
He is ranked by CBSSports.com as the 94th-best prospect in the draft. With a deep crop of wide receivers this year, Abbrederis will likely be a mid-round selection. That, however, won't take away from anything he's accomplished since walking on at Wisconsin.
2. Allen Robinson, Wide Receiver
Allen Robinson has had quite the career at Penn State. He's already set school records for catches and receiving yards in a season, so there's not many other records to rewrite at this point.
After practically coming out of nowhere last year, Robinson has firmly established himself as one of the top wide receiver prospects in the 2014 NFL draft. This season, he has caught 89 passes for 1,310 yards and six scores, all the while being the only legitimate receiving threat for a freshman quarterback.
Robinson barely saw the field during his freshman season. But when Bill O'Brien took over, the coach knew he had inherited a special player.
Robinson is a very good route-runner, has good hands and is always a threat to make plays in space. At 6'3" and 210 pounds, he has the ideal frame for the next level. His lack of elite speed is what might be holding him back a bit, but that is really the only knock on him up until this point.
He is ranked as the 33rd-best prospect by CBSSports.com and the fourth-best wide receiver in the draft.
The gap between him and the No. 1 prospect in this year's Penn State-Wisconsin game is very small. Nevertheless, Robinson will make an NFL general manager very happy in 2014 if he enters the draft.
1. Melvin Gordon, Running Back
A big-bodied guy at 6'1", 207 pounds, Melvin Gordon has burst onto the scene in 2013.
After only rushing for 621 yards in 2012, Gordon has gone off this season. He has more than doubled his output from last season, rushing for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns in 11 games. What might be more impressive is his 8.2 yards per carry.
From a prospect standpoint, Gordon's game should translate well to the next level. In a recent article from NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks, he points out the strengths of the redshirt sophomore's game:
In Gordon, the Badgers trot out a dynamic runner with exceptional speed, quickness and burst. He excels at turning the corner on fly sweeps and perimeter runs, while also displaying the grit, power and toughness to pick up tough yards between the tackles. In addition, Gordon flashes a bit of pitter-pat and elusiveness that makes him difficult to corral in the hole.
CBSSports.com currently has Gordon ranked as their 42nd overall prospect in the draft and the No. 1 running back prospect.
Gordon will have an important decision to make after the Badgers' bowl game. There are reports out there that he could choose to forgo the NFL for another year in Madison.