While none of the players likely to be taken in the top five picks this evening will hail from the Big Ten, the conference will be well-represented tonight at the Music City Concert Hall. I’m going to err on the side of including everybody that could possibly be taken in the first 32 picks in this, partly because it will make my job easier tomorrow when I look at the next two rounds.
Corey Liuget, DT: In a draft less stocked with interior defensive line players (Nick Fairley and Marcel Dareus, for starters), there’s a good chance that Liuget could have been the first player at his position off the board. Even with the deep defensive line stock this year, Liuget is almost certain to go somewhere in the first round, with a range anywhere from the St. Louis Rams at 14 to the Chicago Bears at 30.
Martez Wilson, LB: A stretch for the first round, but possible after an impressive showing at the combine. There’s still some question as to whether Wilson will play in the middle or on the outside, mostly focusing on his ability to cover and fall backwards into a deep Tampa 2 zone. This is a very weak draft for linebackers, especially in the middle, so a team with a serious need (San Diego, perhaps) could reach, but Wilson is probably a late-second to third round pick.
Mikel LeShoure, RB: LeShoure has neither hurt nor helped himself greatly during the pre-draft workout process, showing reasonable speed for his size. Concerns about reliability (he had some poor games against awful defenses like Indiana and Purdue) and receiving skills have dampened his stock. The first round might be a stretch, but LeShoure is a lock to be gone by the second round, and he may be the second running back taken off the board (behind Alabama’s Mark Ingram).
James Brewer, OT: If Brewer played for Illinois or Wisconsin I’d probably just wait until tomorrow to write him up, but he is Indiana’s only hope of sneaking into the first round, so here you go, Hoosier fans! He’s probably a better bet for the third or fourth, though he could go as high as the mid-second round, with some whispers that Brewer might be higher than anticipated on a few teams’ draft boards.
Adrian Clayborn, DE: That Clayborn is still considered a possible first round pick is a testament to his fantastic junior year, because (in my opinion) Clayborn may have been the most disappointing player in the Big Ten last year. The potential is still there, and every now and again the ability snuck through, but despite claims to the contrary, Clayborn wasn’t even drawing double teams by the end of last season. Add in that two other Iowa defensive linemen will be drafted this weekend, suggesting that he had quite a bit of help in creating pressure, and Clayborn looks like a huge risk. That being said, he’s unlikely to fall lower than the mid-second round, and a mid-first round pick is still possible.
No potential first round picks.
No potential first round picks
No potential first round picks.
Prince Amukamara, CB: The Big Ten’s likely first draft pick this evening, depending upon how you look at things (he never played a single Big Ten game, nor is Nebraska a conference member yet, but why let silly little details like that get in the way?) Most people have Amukamara going with the 7th pick to the San Francisco 49ers; he’ll almost definitely be the second cornerback taken, after Patrick Peterson.
No potential first round draft picks
Cameron Heyward, DE/DT: It’s a little crazy that so much of the Big Ten’s elite talent last year was on the defensive line. It’s also a little crazy that Ohio State and Michigan have only one player combined that could possibly go in the first round tonight (add Penn State to that list as well if you think Stefen Wisniewski has no chance of going in the first). Heyward is probably a lock for the first round, but I think he’s no better than the fourth-best defensive line prospect from the Big Ten, behind Ryan Kerrigan, JJ Watt, and Corey Liuget. Part of Heyward’s value comes from his versatility, as he could play the interior or exterior in a 4-3 defense or play defensive end in a 3-4, so he could go to any team with a need anywhere on the defensive line.
Stefen Wisniewski, OG/C: A stretch for the first round if only because of his position (interior offensive lineman are usually seen as later picks), Wisniewski will nevertheless be one of the first guards taken off the board, whether today or (more likely) tomorrow. He is probably a lock for the second round, though it’s more likely a team with a need for line help at the end of the first round (Chicago, perhaps) would reach for him than that he’ll fall all the way to the third round.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE: The Big Ten’s best NFL prospect this season, if you don’t count Nebraska’s Amukamara. What Kerrigan did last season for Purdue was downright heroic, considering how little talent he had to support him on defense and how long the defense stayed on the field. Unlike Clayborn, Kerrigan was facing double and even triple teams all season, yet his numbers remained solid. The one question mark for Kerrigan is where he will play; a defensive end in college, NFL teams may see him as more of a 3-4 OLB. That limits his potential draft locations, but it shouldn’t keep him from falling out of the first round.
JJ Watt, DE: Competitor with Kerrigan for first non-Nebraska Big Ten player taken tonight. I like Kerrigan a little bit more, but that’s quibbling; Watt was a fantastic player last season on a defensive line that, while talented, did not give opposing offenses nightmares (besides from Watt, that is). Like Kerrigan, he may be seen as a better fit for the 3-4; unlike Kerrigan, he would still play defensive end. It’s not impossible that he’ll be drafted as an interior lineman either, but unlikely. Watt is a lock for the first round.
Gabe Carimi: The latest in a long line of great Wisconsin linemen, Carimi isn’t quite the prospect of Joe Thomas but isn’t all that far off. Indianapolis looks like an extremely strong possibility for Carimi with the 22nd pick; if he doesn’t get taken there, he probably won’t fall much further.