- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Montee Ball's decision to return to Wisconsin for his senior season raised an eyebrow or two after the running back turned in a record-setting junior season in 2011. Ball returned in large part because he received a third-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee.
If ESPN's Mel Kiper turns out to be right, Ball's decision will be labeled a wise one.
Kiper came out with his first mock draft for 2013 on Wednesday, and Ball is listed as a first-round pick, going No. 21 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals. Ball didn't appear on Kiper's Big Board this season, but made a strong push late in Big Ten play. Kiper writes that Ball would be an excellent fit for the Bengals' system.
Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is the only other Big Ten player in the mock draft, going at No. 15 to the New Orleans Saints. Kiper likes Hankins' ability to beat interior blockers to the backfield and eat up double teams.
It would have been interesting to see where Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan would have ended up on Kiper's list if he decided to skip his final season with the Wolverines. Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, a projected first-rounder for much of the season, reportedly just missed the cut.
The deadline for early entries to the NFL draft has come and gone, and Kiper has issued his top 5 prospects at each position.
Here's who made it from the Big Ten:
Wisconsin's Ball is the No. 2 running back
Ohio State's Zach Boren is the No. 3 fullback
Michigan State's Dion Sims, who will skip his senior season, is the No. 4 tight end
Wisconsin's Travis Frederick, who will skip his senior season, is the No. 1 center
Hankins is the No. 3 defensive tackle
Nebraska's Brett Maher is the No. 4 kicker
3dDan Murphy and Austin Ward