Big Ten poised for big first round

As annarbor.com's Pete Bigelow detailed earlier this week, the Big Ten has struggled to produce top-10 NFL draft picks during the past decade. The league has gone without a top-10 pick in each of the past two drafts, and the trend could continue tonight at Radio City Music Hall.

Now here's the good news: while the Big Ten's top-10 drought might continue, the league is poised for a strong first round.

(Note to Nebraska fans: Since cornerback Prince Amukamara played his entire career in the Big 12, I can't include him among the Big Ten's contingent.)

The Big Ten should have at least five first-round picks and possibly six or seven.

Colleague Mel Kiper Jr.'s final mock draft (Insider) contains five Big Ten players: Illinois DT Corey Liuget (No. 14 overall), Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan (No. 16), Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt (No. 18), Wisconsin LT Gabe Carimi (No. 21) and Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn (No. 27).

Colleague Todd McShay's final mock draft includes six Big Ten players: Watt (No. 9), Liuget (No. 14), Kerrigan (No. 16), Carimi (No. 22), Clayborn (No. 26), Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward (No. 31).

Most mock drafts I've seen include Watt, Liuget, Kerrigan, Carimi and Clayborn in the first round. Heyward is projected to be on the cusp of the first round and second round, while Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure and Iowa DL Christian Ballard could sneak into the first round. And there might be a surprise or two before the night ends.

Bottom line: the Big Ten is poised for its biggest first round since 2007.

Here's how the league has fared in the first round in the past decade:

If things go as planned tonight, the Big Ten should have a first round contingent more like 2003-04 or 2006-07 than 2010 or 2003.

Nebraska, by the way, produced the No. 2 overall pick in 2010 (DT Ndamukong Suh) and will have another first-round pick this year in Amukamara. But the Huskers produced only three first-round picks -- Suh, NT Adam Carriker (2007) and CB Fabian Washington (2005) -- in the past decade. Nebraska had eight first-rounders between 1991-2000.