Thursday, January 20, 2011
The Big Ten's draft-bound underclassmen
By ESPN.com staff
A record 56 underclassmen declared for the 2011 NFL draft, and now that the list of departures is official, let's look at who the Big Ten will lose.
Only seven Big Ten underclassmen opted to forgo their senior seasons and enter the draft. For the first time since 2003, no Ohio State players are leaving early. Traditional powers Michigan and Penn State also aren't losing any underclassmen to the draft.
Here's the rundown:
Illinois is undoubtedly most affected by the departures, as it loses three first-team All-Big Ten selections. Colleague Bruce Feldman, in detailing the winners and losers of the early entry sweepstakes, writes of the Illini: "All will be very tough to replace for a program still trying to gain momentum and move up in the Big Ten power structure."
Aside from Illinois, the single-biggest loss is Watt from Wisconsin. The mammoth defensive end blossomed into the Big Ten's top playmaking defender this fall and would have anchored the Badgers' defensive line in 2011. Wisconsin will have a tough time replacing Watt's production up front.
Clay and Doss both will be missed, but Wisconsin and Indiana both boast depth at their respective positions.
Sash is a significant loss because Iowa now says goodbye to two multiyear starters at safety. The good news is the Hawkeyes should be very strong at the cornerback spot in 2011.