The Where And Why For B1G Draftees
By Joe Coughlin
This year's crop of Big Ten talent drafted into the NFL was extraordinary — but not in the way it wants to be, at least not yet.
A Big Ten player was not drafted until the 31st pick. It was the first time in the NFL draft's history a player from a Big Ten school was not drafted in the top 30. Quite a dubious honor for one of the nation's "power" conferences. Illinois led the way with four draftees. Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State boasted three each, while Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska had two apiece and Purdue and Iowa one each. No players were taken from Indiana, Northwestern or Minnesota.
Nevertheless, there was plenty to be excited about. The future of many of these prospects is bright. Just how bright? Take a brief look at the situation of all 21 draftees.
• Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin (Round 1, Pick 31: Dallas Cowboys)
Thoughts: Dallas needs plenty of help on the O-line, but Frederick wasn’t an expected pick. Many had Frederick as a second- and third-round talent and view him as a prospect. He’s a thick body — 6-foot-4, 338 pounds. That doesn’t always play well in the middle of an NFL line. He’s tough and strong. Let’s hope that’s enough.
• Kawann Short, DT, Purdue (Round 2, Pick 44: Carolina Panthers)
Thoughts: He’s a producer and has the tools to start in the NFL. At Purdue, he finished with 19.5 sacks and 48 tackles for loss. Short is slippery in the trenches. He’s 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, but his top measurable goes to his arms. Injuries and tendency to disappear in games dropped him to Round 2.
• Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State (Round 2, Pick 48: Pittsburgh Steelers)
Thoughts: Tremendous talent was the second running back off the board. While the Steelers lost Rashard Mendenhall to Arizona, its backfield is still crowded with Jonathon Dwyer, Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens Howling. All three have had chances to win starting gigs — none have. Bell is a big (230 pounds), three-down back. That’s Pittsburgh’s style.
• Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State (Round 2, Pick 49: New York Giants)
Thoughts: Once rich on the D-Line, the Giants have become thin. If Hankins can shape up and get better on his pass rush, he could start right away. He’s a manchild, but plays the run well with plenty of athleticism. Good spot for him.
• Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin (Round 2, Pick 58: Denver Broncos)
Thoughts: Ball should have no complaints going to play in Denver. He’ll be part of a Peyton Manning-run offense that lacks a consistent running game. Ball has proven himself over and over, and will play behind a great O-line, like in Madison. Willis McGahee’s career is in jeopardy after another leg injury. Knowshon Moreno had a scope on his knee and Ronnie Hillman isn’t the answer. The seas could part for Ball.
• Hugh Thornton, G, Illinois (Round 3, Pick 86: Indianapolis Colts)
Thoughts: Big, strong lineman who is tenacious on the block. Does work in the pass and run game and doesn’t take a play off. Lacks some of the pure talent to be elite, but could work on technique and crack a lineup.
• Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State (Round 3 Pick 87: Seattle Seahawks)
Thoughts: At only 6-foot-1 and under 300 pounds, Hill isn’t the ideal size for an interior lineman. Get him in space, however, and he’s a monster, using his speed and leverage to gain advantage. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said he noticed Hill’s ability to create that necessary space and it looks like he’ll start as a rotation guy with potential for more.
• Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois (Round 4, Pick 100: Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Thoughts: The fourth Big Ten defensive tackle taken, Spence specialized in stopping the run; however, Bucs GM Mark Dominik told 98.7 The Fan that Spence is slated to start at nose tackle, replacing Roy Miller, who went to Jacksonville. Not bad for a fourth-rounder and Honorable Mention All-Big Ten pick.
• Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State (Round 4, Pick 106: Miami Dolphins)
Thoughts: An intimidating presence, Sims is 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, but he caught just 36 balls and scored twice. Much of that can be attributed to the Spartans’ anemic offense. The tools are there. Sims has a 35-inch vertical and can be split out wide. The Dolphins picked up veteran Dustin Keller in the offseason, so he’s in for a challenge.
• Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State (Round 4, Pick 120: Minnesota Vikings)
Thoughts: Hodges was once a quarterback before being transformed into a safety to begin his career at Penn State. He moved down a level to linebacker because of injuries. He acclimated well, piling up 215 tackles in his final two years. He’s what you expect from a convert — plenty of quickness and ability to cover, but a lack of girth to survive an NFL season. Hodges is ready to begin as a backup.
• William Gholston, DE, Michigan State (Round 4, Pick 126: Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Thoughts: The Bucs have star Gerald McCoy on one side, but had the third-worst pass rush in 2012. They added Spence at pick 100 and Gholston here. The D end is a presence at 6-foot-7, but needs to add bulk to play on this line.
• John Simon, LB, Ohio State (Round 4, Pick 129: Baltimore Ravens)
Thoughts: The B1G Defensive Player of the Year lasted 129 picks and could be a steal for the Ravens. Simon is a physical freak whose power-lifting legend has sparked story ledes all over the country. He puts in the work and could start quickly.
• Denard Robinson, QB/RB, Michigan (Round 5, Pick 135: Jacksonville Jaguars)
Thoughts: The Jags list the NCAA’s leading running quarterback as a running back, but that’s not entirely accurate. Robinson will get looks on special teams, in the backfield and out wide. He has the skills to make it work. It’s not impossible; think Antwaan Randle El and Brad Smith. So far, so good as reports say Robinson killed it at minicamp. He’s a bona fide playmaker and is dedicated to proving it. He’ll get his shots.
• Terry Hawthorne, CB, Illinois (Round 5, Pick 150: Pittsburgh Steelers)
Thoughts: Hawthorne was expected to improve his stock his senior year, but that didn’t happen as you can see by the fifth-round pick. It’s probably because of the NFL’s newest trend of imposing cornerbacks. Hawthorne is 6 feet tall and less than 200 pounds. He could use bulk and better discipline. He's a good athlete, though, and could be a special teams asset.
• Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa (Round 5, Pick 159: Green Bay Packers)
Thoughts: Green Bay’s secondary is full of versatile athletes, and Hyde will be just another one. He could be pushed to a safety slot, but could fill in as nickel or dime guy. Hyde could also succeed as a return man.
• Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin (Round 5, Pick 168: Baltimore Ravens)
Thoughts: Ho hum, another Badgers’ O-lineman was taken. That makes 14 since 2000. Wagner has already signed with the Ravens, and he could be used at tackle or guard. Very big and experienced, but struggles with speed rushers.
• William Campbell, DT, Michigan (Round 6, Pick 178: New York Jets)
Thoughts: The big man was a mainstay on the Wolverines’ D-line, playing in 51 straight games. According to some reports, the Jets may move him to the O-line, where Campbell dabbled in 2010.
• Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska (Round 6, Pick 190: Cincinnati Bengals)
Thoughts: Burkhead is an under-the-radar athlete. He has a 40-inch vertical and scored 30 times in his college career. He’s a slasher who lacks the quickness to survive as an every-down back. A 100-percent effort guy with great hands, he could be used a third-down option or return specialist.
• Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State (Round 7, Pick 213: Minnesota Vikings)
Thoughts: Mauti and Hodges will join forces once again, but this time not in the starting lineup — at least not right away. Three ACL injuries defined much of Mauti’s college career. His talent may rate higher than Hodges, but the injuries make him a risk. The kid can flat-out play. He stays healthy and he’s a steal.
• Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois (Round 7, Pick 226: New England Patriots)
Thoughts: Buchanan had his best season in 2011 playing on the same line with Whitney Merciless, who picked up 16 sacks and now starts for the Houston Texas. He got in a fight in the offseason before 2012 and had his jaw wired shut. Buchanan is long, physical and fast, but doesn’t play within his game. Needs work.
• Daimion Stafford, S, Nebraska (Round 7, Pick 248: Tennessee Titans)
Thoughts: Stafford joins a packed secondary, which got busier thanks to the draft. Stafford was the third DB taken by the Titans. Aggressive, strong and tough, he could be a big pick for Tennessee. DBs go in and out of lineups as much as any position and pro football and if Stafford can harness his abilities, he can be a nice player in this league.