Big Ten: BT post rank 09

The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, end with ...

No. 1

Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan, Sr., 6-2, 263

Preseason rank: 10

[+] EnlargeBrandon Graham
Eric Bronson/Icon SMIMichigan's Brandon Graham led the nation in tackles for loss with 26.5.
Why he's here: These rankings try to blend performance at the college level with potential at the NFL level, and no Big Ten player satisfied those requirements quite like Graham in 2009. The Big Ten's co-MVP was one of the nation's most productive players at any position. He led the nation in tackles for loss with 26.5, ranked 14th with 10.5 sacks, forced two fumbles, blocked two kicks and had a fumble recovery. The senior returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and had nine games with multiple tackles for loss.

Some will undoubtedly knock this pick because Graham played on a subpar team with a very poor defense. But in many ways, his season was even more impressive because opposing offenses geared their protection schemes toward stopping him and still couldn't. Graham affected the game as much as one defender could, but he just didn't get much help from his teammates.

Any doubts about Graham's pro potential were squashed during the Senior Bowl, where he earned MVP honors after recording two sacks, three total tackles for loss and a forced fumble. He doesn't have incredible size but makes up with relentless effort and by simply making plays every time he's out on the field. The Big Ten boasted a ton of elite defenders this year, especially in the front seven, but Graham tops my list. I'd be surprised if he isn't selected in the first round in April's draft.

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The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 2

Jared Odrick, DT, Penn State, Sr., 6-5, 296

Preseason rank: 12

Why he's here: Of all the great defensive linemen in the Big Ten, no one commanded more respect than Penn State's Odrick. Evidence? The league's coaches voted him Defensive Player of the Year, ahead of Greg Jones, Brandon Graham and others. It was the ultimate sign of respect for a player who made offensive game-planning absolutely tortuous. Odrick played a huge role in Penn State finishing sixth nationally in rushing defense (89.9 ypg allowed). He consistently faced double teams and freed up room for teammates (Navorro Bowman, Jack Crawford, Josh Hull, etc.) to make plays.

Odrick led Penn State and ranked seventh in the league in sacks with seven, tops among Big Ten defensive tackles. He finished with 43 tackles, 11 for loss, four quarterback hurries and a blocked kick. But the disruption he caused for opposing offensive linemen and running backs cannot be calculated.

These rankings are also about future potential, and Odrick has plenty of it. He's projected as a late first-round pick in April's draft, and he'll make an NFL team very happy in 2011. In a season where Ndamukong Suh put the defensive tackle position on the map, Odrick received some well deserved attention both regionally and nationally.

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The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 3

Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa, Jr., 6-3, 282

Preseason rank: Unranked

Why he's here: Clayborn became the face of the Iowa program during a dramatic run to a second-place Big Ten finish and an Orange Bowl championship. His punt block and return for a touchdown in the rain against Penn State set the tone for the season, as Iowa rallied to upset the Nittany Lions and went on to the first 9-0 start in team history. In a league loaded with star pass rushers, Clayborn put himself among the elite by recording 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, nine quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles.

He saved his best for last, leading a dominant defensive performance against Georgia Tech and claiming Orange Bowl MVP honors. Clayborn is big, fast and extremely physical, and he was a difference maker for Iowa on both defense and special teams.

Iowa lost two underclassmen (Bryan Bulaga and Amari Spievey) to the NFL draft, but the team got excellent news when Clayborn opted to return for 2010. He'll enter the fall as an All-America candidate and anchor one of the nation's top defensive lines. The first-team All-Big Ten selection certainly can improve his draft stock with another year in Iowa City. Most projected him in the second or third round this year, but teams would have a hard time passing up Clayborn if he puts together another year like 2009.

The rundown
The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 4

Bryan Bulaga, LT, Iowa, Jr., 6-6, 312

Preseason rank: 5

Why he's here: After putting himself on the NFL radar in 2008, Bulaga endured a few speed bumps this fall. He missed three games in September because of a thyroid condition and took a while to fully get comfortable at the end of Iowa's line. Some even termed 2009 a disappointing season for Bulaga in mid-October.

That was before the Orange Bowl took place. Bulaga showed in Miami why he'll be the first Big Ten player drafted in April, and why he's one of the nation's best offensive tackles. He essentially shut Georgia Tech superstar defensive end Derrick Morgan, kept quarterback Ricky Stanzi clean and helped Iowa to a big win. Bulaga was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection and named the league's Offensive Linemen of the Year by the coaches.

Pro potential plays a major role in these rankings, and Bulaga certainly has what NFL teams desire. He's big, smart and physical, and anchored an Iowa offensive line that turned things around after an uncharacteristically poor 2007 season. Kirk Ferentz has produced a string of elite linemen in Iowa City, and Bulaga certainly deserves to be mentioned among the best.

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No. 5

Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State, Jr., 6-1, 228

Preseason rank: 11

Why he's here: Few players back up their preseason hype, but Jones not only met expectations but exceeded them in 2009. The Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year continued to produce at an extremely high rate, leading the league and finishing third nationally in tackles with 154. Jones has led Michigan State in tackles in each of his three seasons as a Spartan. Jones also led Michigan State in tackles for loss (14), sacks (nine) and quarterback hurries (eight). He was the only linebacker to rank among the Big Ten's sack leaders, coming in at fifth. Not surprisingly, Jones and Penn State's Jared Odrick shared Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.

About the only knock on Jones, and it's more of an unknown than a flaw, is how he projects to the NFL. He put in paperwork with the draft advisory board but decided to return to Michigan State, saying: "The news wasn't exactly terrible. It just wasn't good enough." Jones' size could be a concern for pro teams, but his production at the college level shouldn't be overlooked. Few linebackers make as many plays as Jones, especially behind the line of scrimmage. He'll once again enter 2010 as one of the Big Ten's top players.

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The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 6

Navorro Bowman, LB, Penn State, Jr., 6-1, 232

Preseason rank: 6

Why he's here: Few linebackers in the country put together back-to-back seasons like Bowman, who earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors in both 2008 and 2009. He recorded a whopping 33.5 tackles for loss in those two seasons and added two receptions and two fumble recoveries this fall. After battling a groin injury during a scrimmage in preseason camp, Bowman quickly returned to form against Iowa with 13 tackles (3 for loss). He recorded multiple tackles for loss in six games and scored two touchdowns on returns.

Not surprisingly, Bowman skipped his senior season and opted to enter the NFL draft, where he's projected to go in the late first or early second round. Despite an average 40 time (4.72 seconds) at the NFL combine, Bowman impressed the scouts and with his pass-coverage skills. Bowman went through a lot both on and off the field at Penn State, and he has really grown up during the last eight months. He should make a very good pro after adding to Penn State's storied linebacker tradition.

The rundown
The 2009 Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 7

Cameron Heyward, DL, Ohio State, Jr., 6-6, 287

Preseason rank: Unranked

Why he's here: It's time for a bold prediction: When the 2010 postseason player rankings roll around, Heyward will appear at the top of the list. Along with Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, Heyward has the most potential of any returning Big Ten player to not only dominate at the college level, but also project well to the NFL. Although he didn't earn first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2009, he showed flashes of dominance in two of Ohio State's biggest games, against USC and Penn State. He led the team with 6.5 sacks and ranked second with 10 tackles for loss to go along with a fumble recovery for a touchdown at Michigan.

Heyward easily could have entered the NFL draft after the 2009 season. And with a strong combine performance, he might have been a first-round pick in April. Ohio State is thrilled to have him back, and he'll contend for national awards in 2010 as he leads the Buckeyes' defensive line. Heyward looked like the best player on the field at times this season, and his next step is to dominate every game this fall. He'll be a name to watch both in the Big Ten and nationally. A strong senior year could make Heyward a top 10 pick in the 2011 draft.

The rundown
The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 8

Daryll Clark, QB, Penn State, Sr., 6-3, 232

Preseason rank: 2

Why he's here: In two seasons as the starter, Clark cemented himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks in Penn State history. He set team records for career touchdown passes, single-season touchdown passes, single-season passing yards, career touchdowns and single-season touchdowns. Clark also shared Big Ten MVP honors with Brandon Graham and led Penn State to consecutive 11-win seasons. While he struggled in losses to both Iowa and Ohio State, he finished strong by helping the Nittany Lions to a Capital One Bowl victory against LSU.

I'm sure I'll take heat for dropping Clark from his preseason perch, but it has more to do with the players ahead of him than anything he didn't do. He doesn't project as well to the NFL as some other Big Ten stars, and the buzz at the combine signaled a position switch is possible at the next level. But Clark's accomplishments as a college player, both statistically and as a true team leader, reinforced his legacy at Penn State. On a personal note, Clark was always one of my favorite players to interview, and his insights will be missed.

The rundown

The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 9

John Clay, RB, Wisconsin, So., 6-1, 248

Preseason rank: 16

Why he's here: Clay fell behind Zach Brown in camp and started the season a bit slow, but much like his team, he figured things out as the weeks went by. And for the rest of the Big Ten, it signaled major trouble. Clay steamrolled his way through opposing defenses, eclipsing 100 rushing yards in nine games, including each of his last six contests. He racked up 1,517 rushing yards, which led the Big Ten and ranked 12th nationally, and won Big Ten Offensive MVP honors. Clay also was a finalist for the Silver Football award.

At nearly 250 pounds, Clay is one of the nation's most powerful running backs. He'll enter 2010 as a Heisman Trophy candidate and a good bet to turn pro after the season. He needs to perform better against the Big Ten's best after being held to fewer than 100 rushing yards against both Ohio State and Iowa. But Clay will have every chance to improve on his 2009 performance, as he'll work behind a veteran offensive line and alongside a quarterback in Scott Tolzien who provides balance in the offense. Expect Clay to be much higher in the 2010 preseason rankings.

The rundown

The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 10

Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota, Sr., 6-2, 220

Preseason rank: 3

Why he's here: Decker was the Big Ten's best offensive player through the month of September, and he might have been the nation's best wide receiver, too. After two solid seasons as a starter, he finally got some much-deserved national recognition after monster performances against Syracuse, Air Force and Cal. Decker eclipsed 100 receiving yards in four of his first five games and hauled in five touchdowns during the span. His production dipped a bit during October, and he suffered a season-ending foot injury Oct. 24 against Ohio State.

If Decker played a full season, he almost certainly would have ended up in the top five of the rankings. Even after his injury, he still earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the Big Ten coaches, the ultimate sign of respect. The record-setting Decker will go down as quite possibly the greatest wide receiver in Minnesota history. Decker's NFL prospects are hazy, as he'll undergo another surgery March 15 and won't be able to run until June. If he can recapture the form he showed before the injury, he'll be a valuable asset as a slot receiver at the next level.

The rundown
The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 11

Kurt Coleman, S, Ohio State, Sr., 5-11, 195

Preseason rank: 13

Why he's here: The only consensus first-team All-Big Ten honoree from the league champion definitely deserves to be high on this list. Coleman keyed an extremely opportunistic Buckeyes defense with five interceptions, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He had an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown against Wisconsin that changed the game, and he also ranked third on the team in total tackles (68) and second in solo stops (39). Not surprisingly, Coleman was voted as the team's MVP in December.

Coleman displayed tremendous leadership on defense and fulfilled his goal of ending Ohio State's bowl drought by helping the Buckeyes to a Rose Bowl championship. He could play cornerback or safety in the NFL and will need to address questions about his speed this week at the NFL combine. One area Coleman will ace is the team interviews, as he conducts himself extremely well both on and off the field.

The rundown

Big Ten rankings: Sean Lee, No. 12

February, 24, 2010
The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 12

Sean Lee, LB, Penn State, Sr., 6-2, 236

Preseason rank: 7

Why he's here: Lee once again showed that when healthy, he's one of the best linebackers in the country. Although he appeared in only 10 games and missed Penn State's loss to Iowa, Lee finished third on the team in total tackles (86) and tied for third in tackles for loss (11). He also recorded an interception, a fumble recovery and eight passes defended, tops among linebackers and second on the squad. His leadership and on-field savvy helped Penn State win 11 games and rank eighth nationally in both total defense and scoring defense.

It's a bit tricky to assess Lee's future in the NFL. His injury history could deter some teams, but his overall body of work at Penn State is extremely impressive. Lee is an extremely sound tackler who knows the game and displays great fundamentals. Most projections have Lee in the second or third round, though his performance this week at the NFL scouting combine will be big.

The rundown
The Big Ten postseason player rankings continue with ...

No. 13

Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State, So., 6-6, 235

Preseason rank: 8

Why he's here: My inbox will undoubtedly fill up with complaints about Pryor, who struggled for much of the season and imploded in an upset loss to Purdue. But it's impossible to deny the obvious progress the sophomore displayed in Ohio State's Rose Bowl win against Oregon. Pryor delivered the best performance of his career in the biggest game of his career, flourishing in a more open offensive scheme. For the first time, he displayed the type of run-pass mix that defenses will struggle to contain.

Will Pryor ever be a top-10 passer? It's highly unlikely. But if he continues to build on an MVP performance in Pasadena, he'll be very dangerous in 2010, especially as he plays behind a veteran offensive line and has almost all of his weapons back. His size and skill set are unique, but he needs to turn the corner in 2010, much like Vince Young did in 2005 after leading Texas to a Rose Bowl win after the 2004 season.

The rundown

The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 14

Amari Spievey, CB, Iowa, Jr., 6-0, 190

Preseason rank: 15

Why he's here: Spievey might have been the only true shut-down cornerback in the Big Ten in 2009. A few others had sexier stats, but Spievey was barely challenged and still recorded 56 tackles, two interceptions and 10 passes defended. After announcing he would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft, Spievey talked about how he didn't see much action as opposing quarterbacks avoided his side of the field.

After a rocky start to his college career, Spievey was a back-to-back All-Big Ten selection, earning first-team honors from the league's coaches this year. He's a solid tackler who makes plays on the ball and should do very well at the next level. It will be interesting to see if Spievey or Michigan's Donovan Warren is the first Big Ten corner selected in April's draft.

The rundown
The Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on past performance and future potential, continue with ...

No. 15

Evan Royster, RB, Penn State, Jr., 6-1, 213

Preseason rank: 4

Why he's here: Royster put together another solid season as Penn State's featured back, rushing for 1,169 yards (5.7 ypc) and six touchdowns. It might not have been the huge performance Royster expected, but he was working behind a new-look offensive line that took time to jell. Royster's yards-per-carry average led Big Ten backs who had at least 150 attempts, and he recorded five of his six 100-yard rushing performances in conference play.

Royster will be ranked higher in the 2010 preseason rundown, and his somewhat surprising return to Penn State gives the Lions a major boost. It will be interesting to see if his carries increase to 20-25, as NFL teams want to see if he can handle a full load. With so much uncertainty at quarterback, Penn State should be willing to lean on Royster, a proven commodity in the Big Ten. A strong senior season could help him get into the first round of the 2011 draft.

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