The 2012 NFL draft is right around the corner, and a group of Big Ten defenders will be in the spotlight next week in New York.
The Big Ten boasts a group of defenders who could be selected anywhere in the first three rounds. ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have produced their latest mock drafts, which show some disagreement about the Big Ten's top defensive players.
In McShay's newest top 32 prospects, he has Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy at No. 22, a jump of 10 spots from his previous ranking. But Worthy is the lone Big Ten defender in McShay's rundown (offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Mike Adams are Nos. 18 and 32, respectively).
Kiper's latest Big Board has Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus at No. 18 and Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David at No. 24. Worthy doesn't appear in Kiper's top 25, and Kiper pegs him as an early-second-round selection. Kiper lists Reiff and Wisconsin offensive linemen Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler as first-round picks (outside the top 25).
While projections of the late-first round typically vary a lot, it's interesting to see McShay so high on Worthy but not so high on Mercilus and David, while Kiper favors the latter two. Other potentially high draft picks such as Penn State DT Devon Still, Michigan DT Mike Martin, Nebraska DL Jared Crick and Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard don't appear on either list.
Kiper also projects the first three rounds for both the AFC and NFC teams, based on what the teams need the most and which players they value more than others. Some notable Big Ten mentions include Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins (third round, Philadelphia), Devon Still (third round, Chicago), Iowa WR Marvin McNutt (third round, Minnesota), Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins (second round, New York Jets), Wisconsin G Kevin Zeitler (first round, San Francisco) and Michigan State WR Keshawn Martin (third round, Seattle).