The Big Ten prospects who've already declared for April's draft include an unusually high amount of underclassmen.
It also includes three wide receivers and a couple offensive lineman. However, the true cream of this years' crop will spend Sunday's lining up on defense.
These rankings include performances in all postseason games and pending any best-in-class, or careless, showings at the Combine shouldn't vary too much come April. One notable prospect left off this list that at least deserves mention is Iowa cornerback, Amari Spievey. The Junior defender would be wise to stick around one more year but he definitely has the swagger part down pat to play in the NFL.
White is a smart, tough, dependable receiver who earned every bit of his eventual scholarship after earning a spot as a walk-on. His hard work led to his status as the team’s recipient of the Biggie Munn award—given annually to the most inspirational player.
White does not receive much attention, but he has arguably been the Big Ten's best receiver the last two years.
White is a heady player and was presented with the Big Ten’s Distinguished Scholar Award and was named to the Academic All-Big Ten team three years in a row.
He's a grinder who runs crisp routes and catches everything thrown his way. Fast-forward three or four years, and I think Blair White will have carved a niche for himself in this league somewhere between a Kevin Walter and Wes Welker.
One thing’s for certain, should he fail to make a mark on Sunday’s—it won’t be for a lack of passion.
Prediction—Late fifth round.
Ok, so this isn’t technically a “Top 10” list but it’s hard for any list to include one of these guys without the other. Actually, it’s eerie just how similar the two Big Ten receivers are in terms of play on—and actions off—the field.
The most prolific receiver in the Big 10 the last two years is also a heck of a baseball prospect, Decker was chosen in the later rounds of the 2008 and 2009 MLB amateur draft—with the latter going about 15 rounds higher.
Decker has sticky hands, sneaky speed and toughness—like a bigger, stronger version of Mike Furrey. That description alone basically describes Decker. Quickly grasping an NFL offense should be of little concern to coaches and fans of the 2009 Biletnikoff finalist is a stellar student as proven by his numerous All-American academic awards.
Prediction—Early fourth round.
Very strong and could likely start from day one his rookie year. Asamoah was a key reason former teammate Rashard Mendenhall led the conference in rushing and for the Illini’s stunning upset over the number one ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
Although they once-again struggled under Ron Zook, the Illini were a Top-20 rushing team this year. Asamoah continues the trend of excelling academically with several others on this list. If he’s going to contribute right away, his intelligence will only help grasp assignments and schemes.
Guards rarely hear their names called early on draft day. However, Asamoah has almost every physical measurable and intangibles to make future coaches job much easier.
Prediction—Late second round.
Another early-entry prospect, seems like most are in this class, Warren is a very athletic defensive back who classifies as a true cover-corner.
He makes most tackles despite not being known as a physical player but he won’t be a liability against the run. Only six picks in his three-year career in Ann Arbor he’s blessed with excellent speed (4.42) and agility.
Warren doesn’t get beat deep and can twist and turn to cover the shifty receivers at the next level like Steve Smith (CAR) and Percy Harvin.
Had he waited to turn pro until next January, a top-15 pick would be in the cards. Despite the depth of talent of his fellow corners, I have Warren as the fourth best cornerback behind Joe Haden (Florida), Kyle Wilson (Boise State), and his RV mural and Patrick Robinson (Florida State), respectively.
Prediction—Mid second round.
Former Big 10 Freshman of the Year has the frame and route-running skill to be a force over the middle in the NFL. Benn’s also as able to stretch the field with his 4.4 speed but uses that more in spurts with quickness than anything else. He won’t gain noticeable separation on pure footraces to the end zone against pro defensive backs.
Big things were expected for Benn, one of Ron Zook’s most highly-anticipated recruits. He didn’t have eye-catching stats but that was more of an indictment of the regressive play of Coach Zook’s most heralded player, Juice Williams.
One question mark scouts and General Managers will undoubtedly have is the lack of touchdowns Benn produced for the Fighting Illini, grabbing only two and three his first two years respectively. Again, that is likely more of a testament to the lousy play from his quarterbacks.
Benn has excellent hands and will recreate the lost art of the possession receiver for some team looking for a reliable slot receiver.
Prediction—Mid second round.
Bowman’s perhaps the next great player at his position, from a long list at Linebacker U. Solid against the run or switching over into coverage duties. He would have been placed two or three spots higher if not for his, pages-long list of, off-field incidents.
Bowman is a bit undersized but don’t tell him that. He has speed to burn and may be the most dependable tackler in this year’s crop of linebackers. Roaming the entire field, he seems to play with a fiery rage and usually sprinkles in a few “de-cleaters” in those hits.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to turn off the intensity after the games. Bowman will instantly add a mix of swagger and intensity to any vanilla NFL defense in need of a jolt.
Prediction—Mid second round.
One of three Penn State players to make this list. This may seem low for Lee but it's not a negative ranking by any stretch considering the four players ahead of will go in the first and second round.
He's going to be closely watched at the combine for any signs of knee trouble that plagued him in the past. He missed three games this season with a sprained knee and had an ACL tear costing him a season two years ago.
Lee is a dependable, hard-nosed linebacker with the speed and smarts to line up in the middle, strong or weakside positions.
Because of his injury history he may slip lower than this predicition. If he's still on the board as the latter half of round two progress, Lee's a big-time value pick.
Prediction: Early-to-Mid 2nd round
Some may question this high of a ranking for the Wildcat big man. However, he still has a considerable ceiling and under the right tutelage of a motivating defensive line coach his name recognition will skyrocket.
A very muscular 280 pounds filling out his 6′7" frame makes Wootton one of the more physically imposing prospects in the 2010 draft. He’s rarely contained one-on-one and is a run-stuffing, passing-lane blocking machine.
Most mock drafts and experts think he’ll fit best in a 3-4 scheme next year.
He doesn’t have a crafty arsenal of pass-rush moves to pick from but with the right coaching he could be a dominating defensive end for several years.
Prediction—Early second round.
The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year will be a first-day draft pick. Odrick is an intense competitor and surprisingly quick, shifty athlete with an impressive array of moves.
Odrick is very quick and consistently penetrated backfields in a conference known for having solid, if not spectacular, offensive lines. He won’t come in and immediately collapse pockets on a consistent basis.
Odrick is actually a light 305 pounds, stretched out on his lanky 6’5" frame. However, he’ll bat down his fair share of passes or at least be a hindrance in quarterback’s line of vision.
Prediction—Early second round.
Nobody expected the Hawkeyes to accomplish so much in 2009. Even when they manhandled Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl their No. 10 ranking was still somewhat under the radar. That’s because they had good, not great, players at the skill positions.
Instead, they would just grind times away with solid defense, responsible—if not conservative—play out of the quarterback position and excellent production in the running game. Bryan Bulaga, and to a lesser extent Kyle Calloway, were the main reasons Iowa was able to achieve such success this season.
Bulaga would benefit to add about 10-15 pounds but he has the ability to start from day one. Most rookie lineman excels in one aspect of their game over the other. But this Second Team All-American is quick and agile enough in pass protection yet can simply maul defenders creating gaping holes for his running back.
Prediction—Late first round.
Naysayers of the explosive Wolverine player will love to pin him with the 'tweener tag. Well to them I recall the names of other players pegged with the same title—notably Demarcus Ware and Dwight Freeney.
Graham is deserving of the number one spot for a variety of reasons.
There’s not another player in this class with the initial burst or explosion with their first step. With that anticipatory quickness he’s not just a sack-artist but a disruptive force against the run. Against in-state rival Michigan State this season, Graham was literally mask-to-mask with the running back as Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins was handing off.
He combines productivity with a few inherent traits Coaches absolutely cherish. His Junior and Senior seasons were textbook examples of consistency. Two years ago Graham piled up 10 sacks and 20 TFL followed by 10.5 sacks, two blocked punts and an astonishing 26 TFL. Graham has a relentless motor and is a high-character presence in the locker-room from every report I’ve read.
I’m not certain where he will ultimately line up in the NFL but he will produce at a high level whether as an end or linebacker. In fact, I’m confident we’re quite possibly looking at the 2010 NFL Defensive rookie of the Year.
Disclosure: There’s no reason to believe I’m guilty of gushing or overvaluing Brandon Graham. Let it be known, I’m never one to sing the praises of any Michigan Wolverine, as a bleed-green Michigan State fan and alum. But Graham is a rare talent and will often be compared to Freeney during his soon-to-be illustrious career.
Prediction—Mid first round.