Big Ten juniors facing NFL decisions

December, 17, 2009
12/17/09
2:30
PM ET
Illinois wide receiver Arrelious Benn on Wednesday became the first Big Ten junior to officially declare for the NFL draft. Odds are, he won't be the last.

We'll almost certainly see more Big Ten juniors put their names in the NFL mix before the Jan. 15 draft deadline.

Which teams should be on alert? I can think of three -- Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State -- though other squads could be impacted as well. Wisconsin's John Clay reiterated to me Tuesday that he'll be back in 2010, so cross him off your list.

Here's a look at the teams and some of the juniors with big decisions to make.

MICHIGAN

CB Donovan Warren: The first-team All-Big Ten selection has said he's "heavily" leaning toward turning pro. Warren could end up as a first- or second-round selection, and is projected as the nation's No. 2 junior cornerback by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.

IOWA

CB Amari Spievey: Spievey certainly has a decision to make after another solid season for the Hawkeyes. Kiper ranks him as the nation's No. 4 junior cornerback. Don't be surprised if Spievey bolts.

LT Bryan Bulaga: Bulaga certainly was on the draft radar entering the fall, and despite some ups and downs this season, he continues to receive tremendous accolades. Bulaga has been named to multiple All-America teams and earned Big Ten offensive lineman of the year honors. Kiper ranks Bulaga as the nation's No. 2 junior tackle prospect.

[+] EnlargeNavorro Bowman
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesNavorro Bowman could be a first-round draft pick if he leaves school early.
DE Adrian Clayborn: Clayborn seems to be the least likely to leave Iowa, though he certainly turned heads with his play this season. He was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection. Clayborn doesn't appear on Kiper's list of top 5 junior defensive ends.

OHIO STATE

DE/DT Cameron Heyward: Head coach Jim Tressel said Monday that he asked the NFL Draft Advisory Board to evaluate about 10 players. Heyward certainly is at the top of the list after dominating the line of scrimmage against Penn State and USC. A source close to the program tells me Heyward is leaning toward staying for 2010.

DE Thaddeus Gibson: Gibson generated less buzz than Heyward this fall, but the same source tells me it's much more likely he declares for the draft than Heyward. Gibson earned second-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 11 tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.

LG Justin Boren: You can bet Boren's name appeared on Tressel's list. He was Ohio State's best lineman this fall and arguably the best lineman in the league. Kiper ranks Boren as the nation's No. 2 junior guard, and a good draft analysis could push him out the door. I bet he stays, though.

CB Chimdi Chekwa: Chekwa quietly turned in a very nice season and has a decision to make before Jan. 15. He said he's "leaning toward coming back" to Ohio State but hasn't made up his mind.

PENN STATE

LB Navorro Bowman: Bowman has been simply dominant since claiming a starting role in September 2008, and I'd be stunned if he's back in State College next fall. The two-time All-Big Ten selection ranks as the nation's No. 1 junior outside linebacker, according to Kiper. There's a great chance Bowman goes in the first round if he comes out.

RB Evan Royster: When I spoke with Royster this spring, I got the sense he wanted to come out after the season. And while his numbers this fall have been good, not great, there's still a chance the first-team All-Big Ten selection bolts. Reports out of Pennsylvania suggest as much.

C Stefen Wisniewski: I'd be surprised if Wisniewski leaves Penn State early, given his dedication to academics and his family's legacy at the school. But the consensus first-team All-Big Ten center certainly is on the draft radar. Kiper ranks him as the nation's No. 3 junior center.

MICHIGAN STATE

LB Greg Jones: This will be a very interesting situation. Jones has been dominant at Michigan State for three years, winning Big Ten co-defensive player of the year honors this fall. But his size (6-foot-1, 228) could be a concern for NFL teams. The All-American ranks third on Kiper's list of top junior inside linebackers.

There certainly could be some surprise departures along the way -- I was pretty shocked when Wisconsin's P.J. Hill bolted last year -- but this is a good starting point.

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