In our second week of conference previews, we take a look at the Big Ten conference. Known for its offensive and defensive linemen, the top-10 seniors this year feature those two positions, with the top four prospects. However, it’s the team’s that intrigue, with Iowa and Nebraska taking up four of the top five spots.
Get used to Carl Davis as being a first-round option, as he has tremendous upside to be a high draft pick if he can finish off his career on a high note and emerge as feature playmaker on a defense that isn’t expected to be among the best in the conference.
1. Carl Davis, DT, Iowa – 1st-2nd Round
The Hawkeyes are known for producing NFL-level linemen, but Carl Davis is a unique, massive interior presence that has proven to be a dominating force in the Big Ten. With plus length and a thick body type across his frame, Davis has controlled the interior with great natural strength and active hands that, along with a sturdy base and lower body control, has allowed him to hold strong against double teams. While he’s a bit limited laterally as a pass rusher, it’s Davis strength, body type and active hands that could make him a first-rounder with a strong senior campaign.
2. Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa – 1st-2nd Round
As the team’s left tackle, Brandon Schreff fits the general stereo-type of a classic top-tier offensive lineman from the Big Ten: thick, powerful and with some limitations as a pass blocker. He plays with a mean streak, frequently finishing to the ground as a run blocker and using his strong, well-positioned hands to drive upfield. He does have a tendency to play a bit high in his kick slide, and can be beaten by lower, quicker edge players. His lack of great length and struggles on the edge will limit him, but he can provide instant run blocking strength to a team in need, and can be sufficient (if not more with additional time) as a quick passing offense pass blocker.
3. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State – 2nd-3rd Round
Ohio State’s defensive leader this upcoming season, Michael Bennett is the driving force for the Ohio State defense line, playing the nose tackle, 3-technique and 5-technique for their defense. Bennett possesses a plus step off the line and uses his upper half to rip and adjust to a blocker’s initial contact. He does flash a speed rush and some quicker rush maneuvers, he leans too often if he doesn’t win initially, and can be pushed around with too much frequency, particularly against double teams. Still, his ability as a hole-clogging interior presence could give both 3-4 and 4-3 teams interest if he has a plus senior season.
4. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska – 3rd Round
While running backs like Abdullah, who doesn’t have top-end speed or a powerful body type, rarely go in the top-50 picks, he has a chance to be one of the first running backs taken. With remarkable patience and vision on both interior and outside runs, Abdullah combines his control as a runner with plus-lateral movement and controlled steps to consistently pick up big chunks of yards initially. A hard-running, decisive threat, Abdullah looks the part of a future NFL starter, if not a key rotational piece.
5. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State – 3rd-4th Round
In a modern day NFL where a sub-6’0 quarterback who relies on elusiveness and athleticism can go in the first round (Johnny Manziel), the athletic and creative yet unpolished Miller has a chance to be viewed as a long-term quarterback option. While he improved during his junior season as a vertical passer as well as making natural half-field processions, he still has plenty of pocket control, ball placement and overall confidence as a passer before he’ll be viewed as a top-64 worthy quarterback.
6. Taiwan Jones, OLB, Michigan State – 4th Round
After playing the “Star” position last season as a hybrid linebacker-safety prospect, Jones will be moving to a more natural linebacker position this year. The 6’3, 230+ pound linebacker has displayed plus coverage ability, utilizing fluid hips and overall athletic balance to work in space as well as adjust upfield in the run game. His explosiveness as a pass rusher and when translating upfield as well as his capabilities in coverage, alogng with his length, could see Jones quickly rise up in the minds of NFL teams looking for a versatile plus-athlete at linebacker.
7. Kurtis Drummond, SAF, Michigan State – 4th Round
After Darqueze Dennard, Drummond was the team’s best secondary player, filling the role of strong safety with force as a run threat and proving to be capable as a vertical coverage defensive back. He breaks down well as a tackler, albeit being a bit over-aggressive and taking poor angles at times. His run capabilities along with his ability to turn and run in vertical coverage make him a solid safety prospect coming into the season.
8. Darius Kilgo, DT, Maryland – 4th Round
After being in a consistent rotation in 2013, Darius Kilgo will look to be the full-time starter as a nose tackle with some versatility to play other spots on the interior. With a solid step initially and plus lower body strength, Kilgo can fill team’s void as a plus interior run stopper with potential starter-level nose tackle upside in the NFL if he can show full-time capabilities.
9. Doran Grant, CB, Ohio State – 5th-6th Round
Playing the off-coverage cornerback opposite Bradley Roby last year, Grant will now be asked to shoulder more of the load as the feature cornerback in the Buckeye secondary. With great closing speed in off-coverage and efficient timing and adjustments, Grant will be asked to step up as a senior. He has the talent to be a top-100 pick, but he’ll need to prove it as a senior.
10a. Sal Conaboy, OC, Maryland – 5th-6th Round
It’ll be Conaboy’s second year as the full-time starter, and the All-Academic member will work to lead this offensive line unit into the Big Ten conference. A bit still latearlly and struggling with more polished interior rushers with his hand placement, Conaboy has the athleticism and lower body control to take the next step as a complete blocker along with his leadership duties. With plus size and flashes of athleticism, Conaboy is expected to take the next step and earn his draftable grade.
10b. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan – 5th-6th Round
Coming into last season, I couldn’t have been more optimistic about what Devin Gardner could develop into. With clear running capabilities, ample arm strength and flashes of playmaking ability once the pocket breaks down, Gardner fits what NFL teams would love to develop. But his erratic inconsistency as a passer and lack of develop as the starter last year will give teams pause as to whether he’s an NFL quarterback or receiver.