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Monday, December 12, 2011
Recruiting rewind: All-Big Ten D, specialists

By Adam Rittenberg

We've already taken a look at where the All-Big Ten offensive players stacked up as recruits. Now it's time to look at how ESPN Recruiting evaluated the eventual All-Big Ten defenders and specialists.

In case you missed it, here's our 2011 All-Big-Ten team.

Rewind time ...

DEFENSE

DL: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois, Class of 2008 -- Scout Grade of 78, rated as nation's 37th best defensive end. Analysis: "As a pass-rusher he will flash the ability to get to the shoulder and get his hips turned to work past. He can get under a blocker's pads and bull his way upfield. He needs use his hands more and develop some pass -rush moves. ... He has good size and brings versatility to the table. He could be a prospect to keep an eye on his senior year."

DL: Devon Still, Penn State, Class of 2007 -- ESPNU 150 selection, rated as nation's 138th best overall prospect, Scout Grade of 79, rated as 11th best offensive tackle. Analysis: "He plays defensive end and offensive tackle in high school but will project as a defensive tackle or offensive tackle/guard in college. He has a good frame and looks bigger than his listed weight on film. You have to figure that as he continues to grow, he will develop into a good-sized player who can successfully make the move to defensive tackle or offensive line in college."

DL: Jerel Worthy, Michigan State, Class of 2008 -- Scout Grade of 69, rated as nation's 101st best defensive tackle. Analysis: "He is not a typical gap-control defender nor is he a one-gap penetrator. He is a little bit in between. He flashes a good get-off that allows him to quickly get in the gap. ... He is mainly a between-the-tackles guys and is a solid wrap-up tackler. He can get some upfield push as a pass-rusher but looks to be his most productive versus the run."

DL: John Simon, Ohio State, Class of 2009 -- Scout Grade of 80, rated as nation's 16th best defensive tackle. Analysis: "Simon is a high-motor defender who makes opponents work. He works until the whistle and frequently gets in on plays even after he seems blocked. Has a lean, athletic build that resembles an oversized defensive end more than a defensive tackle. Needs to add bulk to his frame to hold up in the trenches in college. Could take some reps at end, but his skill set makes him better suited for playing inside."

LB: Lavonte David, Nebraska, Class of 2010 (spent two years at junior college) -- Ratings and evaluation not available as he went the juco route.

LB: Gerald Hodges, Penn State, Class of 2009 -- Scout Grade of 80, rated as nation's 17th best safety and 33rd best player in Atlantic region. Analysis: "Hodges is Mr Versatility playing safety, quarterback and return specialist. He has great size especially for a safety and is a tall and impressive football player. A real standout in terms of pass defense. Great anticipation and instincts when breaking on the pass; takes a direct angle to the ball. ... Hodges is a player that is multi-dimensional and could play several positions at the next level but can probably excel on defense. He has all the physical tools to be a great one."

LB: Mike Taylor, Wisconsin, Class of 2008 -- Scout Grade of 72, rated as nation's 58th best inside linebacker. Analysis: "He may not possess the ideal size and speed measurables, but he plays fast and is very productive. He is tall and lean but his frame should fill out nicely once he hits a college weight-training program. ... Bottom line, Taylor is a productive football player with some good intangibles -- we think he will excel at the next level if a program is patient with his physical development. Might be better in a scheme that covers him up."

CB: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska, Class of 2008: Scout Grade of 77, rated as nation's 44th best cornerback and 269th best player in the southeast region. Analysis: "Lacks ideal height but is a tapered athlete with a long, powerful stride. Versatile pass defender; expertly reads the quarterback and flashes good breaking speed closing the cushion in zone. Good burst breaking underneath the deep ball and flashes great leaping and ball skills. ... Lateral fluidity is not a strong area and he could struggle mirroring quicker, more elusive Division 1 receivers in man coverage."

CB: Johnny Adams, Michigan State, Class of 2008: Scout Grade of 77, rated as nation's 48th best athlete. Analysis: "We list Adams as an athlete because he is not necessarily a guy you can project to play one position at this time. He could easily play wide receiver or cornerback depending on a teams needs and what they want from him. He has very good size for a corner."

S: Trenton Robinson, Michigan State, Class of 2008: Scout Grade of 75, rated as nation's 60th best cornerback. Analysis: "Robinson is an impressive athlete who shows good skill as a runner and defensive back. We project his speed will probably be best utilized at corner of safety at the next level. He possesses adequate height with good muscle tone. Plays fast and physical on defense."

S: Nick Sukay, Penn State, Class of 2007: ESPNU 150 selection, rated as nation's 137th best overall prospect and nation's 20th best wide receiver. Analysis: "Sukay is big, strong and fast. At first glance he appears to be more of a possession guy on offense, but the more you watch you realize he has big-play ability after the catch and very deceiving speed. He is tall, well-built and has an impressive frame."

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Anthony Fera, Penn State, Class of 2009 -- Scout Grade of 80, rated as nation's second best kicker and 35th best player in the Midlands region. Anaylsis: "Fera has excellent leg strength as a kicker. Gets good power into his kickoffs; normally kicks the football deep into the end zone or out. ... Also an above average punter. Gets good height on the punts; helps the coverage unit get down the field to make a play. Fera is an excellent place kicker and a good punter."

K: Brett Maher, Nebraska, Class of 2008 -- No Scout Grade and unranked among kickers. No extensive analysis.

KR: Raheem Mostert, Purdue, Class of 2011 -- Scout Grade of 79, rated as nation's 42nd best athlete and 169th best player in southeast region. Analysis: "Mostert is a terror of a return specialist with upside to be just as productive as a wide receiver. He has a lean, wiry build with average height and a very nice blend of speed, quickness and versatility. He has excellent stop-start ability and the burst to make plays in space and pull away from defenders in the open field. Has a real knack for returning kicks, knowing when to be patient and knowing when he has to 'hit it.' ... Good player that could be a difference-maker in the return game."

PR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin, Class of 2009 -- No Scout Grade and unranked among wide receivers. No extensive analysis.

Thoughts: A few more recruiting standouts on this list than the one for the offense, which included no ESPNU 150 prospects. Both Still and Sukay were among the ESPNU 150, and others such as Simon, Hodges and Fera also were decorated high school players. The evaluations for Mostert, Adams and Simon are very accurate, while players like Hodges, Robinson and Sukay are projected for different positions than they ended up playing. Worthy and Mercilus both seem to have exceeded their evaluations, especially as pass-rushers. Abbrederis, a walk-on who has become very effective as a receiver and on returns, is a real steal for Wisconsin.