Monday, April 30, 2012
Big Ten NFL draft roundup
By Adam Rittenberg
After a historically slow start to the 2012 NFL draft, the Big Ten ended up having 41 players selected during the three-day event. It's a strong overall total, one behind the SEC, the league with the most picks (42). Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin led the way with six picks each, followed by four teams -- Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State -- with four selections. Michigan had three players selected, and both Purdue and Northwestern had two. Neither Minnesota nor Indiana had a player drafted this year.
We'll post some of the free-agent signings later today, but first some thoughts and themes on the draft.
With Robert Griffin III on the roster, one has to wonder about Kirk Cousins' future in Washington.
Many had projected Cousins to be the first Big Ten quarterback off of the board, but Russell Wilson went ahead of him to Seattle. Cousins was one of the more intriguing third-day picks as he went to Washington, which selected Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall selection. Griffin is the future of the Redskins franchise, and it leaves Cousins in a potentially tough spot on the depth chart. The selection surprised Cousins, who didn't know the Redskins were interested and told the Detroit Free Press, "I think Robert is in their immediate plans and the long-term hope for their fan base, but they wouldn't have selected me unless they believed in me."
The verdict on Ron Zook always seemed to be great recruiter, average coach, and this draft validated it. Illinois was the only Big Ten team with two first-round picks and had four of the first 48 overall selections, yet the team went 7-6 last season after a 6-0 start. Talent clearly wasn't the problem during Zook's tenure in Champaign. Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore is on a roll with back-to-back first-round picks (Corey Liuget and Mercilus). He has two more potentially big-time prospects (Akeem Spence and Michael Buchanan) this year.
The Houston Texans clearly like what they see from Big Ten country. After drafting Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt with the No. 11 overall pick last year, the Texans added Mercilus, Posey, Keshawn Martin, Crick and Mondek. Watt welcomed the group on Twitter, tweeting, "Big Ten takeover. Welcome to the Texans." The Cincinnati Bengals also had a nice Big Ten haul with Zeitler, Still, Prater and Herron.
Posey, who last week told me he had no idea where he'd be drafted, had to be pleased with a third-round selection after appearing in only three games last fall because of suspension. Teams didn't shy away from the Ohio State star too much because of his off-field issues. Posey's Buckeyes teammate, Mike Adams, meanwhile, appeared to pay a bit of a price for his off-field issues, falling to the late second round.
On the flip side, Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, the Big Ten's defensive back of the year in 2011, slipped all the way to the seventh round. Keep in mind some draft gurus, including ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., once projected Dennard in the first round. But after being ejected from the Capital One Bowl, failing to impress in predraft events and getting arrested the weekend before the draft for allegedly punching a cop, Dennard plummeted to No. 224. At least he'll have no trouble getting motivated to prove himself.
Dennard wasn't the only Big Ten player selected later than expected. Michigan's David Molk, who called himself the best center in the draft, also fell to the seventh round. And Ohio State center Mike Brewster, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2010, didn't hear his name called at all. While Brewster's play slipped during his senior season, he seemed like a mid-round candidate.
Other players I expected to be picked earlier: Mercilus, David, Adams, Mike Martin, Cousins, Daniels, McNutt, Hemingway and Baker.
Some players I expected to be picked later: Jenkins, Allen, Russell Wilson, Tavon Wilson and Posey.
Although the Big Ten had more wide receivers drafted than any other position, only one (Jenkins) went in the first two rounds and only two, Jenkins and Posey, went in the first three rounds. With only two quarterbacks and two running backs drafted, none in the first two rounds, it's fair to question whether the Big Ten is producing enough elite-level offensive skill players. It will be interesting to see which Big Ten running backs can rise up the draft boards in 2013. Running back might be the league's strongest position group this coming season.
I'll be very interested to watch how Worthy and Still fare at the next level. Both men have first-round talent, but both seemed to slip to the second round because of questions about their motor. If they don't take plays off in the NFL, they both could be extremely disruptive for the Packers and Bengals, respectively.
Wisconsin had players selected in each of the first six rounds and had the Big Ten's lone fullback (Ewing) and punter (Nortman) selected in the draft.
Ohio State's Ebner was one of the more interesting third-day picks. He didn't play football at all in high school -- he starred in rugby -- and spent most of his Buckeyes career on special teams. His selection shows the premium some teams place on the third phase.