Did B1G juniors make right call with draft?

May, 1, 2012
5/01/12
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The Big Ten had five underclassmen enter the NFL draft, and now that the selections are complete, it's time to re-evaluate those decisions.

Hindsight is always 20-20, and each player had his own specific reasons for entering the draft, some of which can be personal (family issues, financial needs, etc.). But most players make the jump because they expect to hear their name called early in the process. Several of the Big Ten's early entries ended up waiting a little longer than they expected.

Let's look back at the group.

Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State

Class: Junior
Drafted: Seventh round, No. 250 overall, San Diego Chargers
What I wrote in January: "Baker's departure was the biggest surprise in the group, as his production dropped off in 2011. Then again, he plays a position that has a short NFL shelf-life, and with Le'Veon Bell back in the fold for 2012, his opportunities at Michigan State could have been limited."
Decision assessment: A head-scratcher. It's understandable why running backs must make the jump earlier than others, and Bell's emergence as a potential featured back for MSU might have hurt Baker had he returned to East Lansing. Still, you don't see many underclassmen make the jump and get drafted in the seventh round. Michigan State will be a much more run-focused offense in 2012, and Baker could have seen his numbers increase as a senior. Sure, he would be competing with Bell for carries, but Baker, not Bell, is the one with the 1,200-yard season (2010). Another year in the Big Ten puts more tread on the tires, but it also could have boosted Baker's draft stock.

Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

Class: Junior
Drafted: Second round, No. 55 overall, Atlanta Falcons
What I wrote in January: "He had an excellent season at center and has the ability to play multiple positions at the next level. Konz should hear his name called on the second day of the draft, if not sooner."
Decision assessment: Sensible, yet slightly disappointing. The big question regarding Konz is whether he'd be a late first-round pick or slide into the second round. It seemed like NFL teams weren't blown away by this year's crop of centers, as Michigan's David Molk slipped to the seventh round and Ohio State's Mike Brewster went undrafted. Even Konz heard his name called a little later than expected. While he should be a good pro, you have to wonder whether another year in Madison would have solidified him in the first round.

Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

Class: Junior
Drafted: First round, No. 26 overall, Houston Texans
What I wrote in January: "An All-America season in 2011 made Mercilus' decision rather easy. The fact that Illinois made a coaching change and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning departed for North Carolina further cemented Mercilus' choice."
Decision assessment: A smart choice despite a bit of a wait. There was little doubt Mercilus would go in the first round after a breakout season that featured 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles. The question: whether he'd go in the middle of the round or toward the end. Although No. 26 seems a bit low for Mercilus, he had to make this move after such a huge season and with the uncertainty surrounding Illinois at the time.

Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

Class: Junior
Drafted: First round, No. 23 overall, Detroit Lions
What I wrote in January: "He's widely projected as a top-10 or top-15 draft choice, making his decision to leave Iowa rather easy."
Decision assessment: Still the right call. Like Mercilus, Reiff had to wait a little longer than expected to be drafted in the first round. But there was little doubt he'd hear his name called on Thursday night. I'm not sure if another season in Iowa City would have done much to boost Reiff's draft stock, as the book on him (strong run blocker, good in pass protection, not a superstar but solid) seemed fairly set.

Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State

Class: Junior
Drafted: Second round, No. 51 overall, Green Bay Packers
What I wrote in January: "While there have been some concerns about him taking off a play or two, his explosiveness and ability to dominate for stretches make him a very appealing prospect. A strong pre-draft season should cement Worthy as a first-round pick."
Decision assessment: Questionable. The concern about taking plays off seemed to be the main reason why Worthy slipped from the first round into the middle of the second. He could have eased those concerns in the predraft events but couldn't do so. Another All-America type season at Michigan State certainly could have put the talent evaluators at ease. While Worthy seemed keen on making the jump since the middle part of last season, it's fair to wonder how he would have fared as the centerpiece of the Big Ten's best defense in 2012.

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