<
>

Big Ten draft projections: Potential sleeper, risk

4/28/2015

We're now just a day away from the NFL draft so, as part of a conference-wide series, we decided to look at the Big Ten's biggest sleeper and biggest risk:

Sleeper

We've been over this before: Jeremy Langford is incredibly underrated.

Let's talk about all he's accomplished first -- and then look where he's ranked. He's very consistent: He set a school record by rushing for 100 yards in 10 consecutive games and set a national record by going 15 straight conference regular-season games with at least 100 yards. He's strong near the goal line: He finished fifth nationally among running backs last year with 22 TDs. And he's fast: He clocked the best 40-yard dash among backs at the NFL combine with a 4.42.

So where is the draft's fastest back slotted? ESPN.com lists him as the No. 9 RB and No. 97 overall player, pushing him into fourth-round territory.

That's become a pretty common spot for him to go in mock drafts ... which is odd, considering analyst after analyst thinks he's "underrated." Let's see, there's NFL.com's Charles Davis and Mike Huguenin, CBS' Frank Cooney and now ESPN.com's Jon Gruden.

"I don't understand why we don't hear his name more," Gruden wrote.

I don't either. Considering Langford bounced from cornerback to receiver for two seasons, he still should have plenty of room to grow in the NFL. No, he's not Le'Veon Bell -- but there also are not eight running backs better in this draft class. He's an obvious sleeper.

Risk

Donovan Smith's stock has skyrocketed these past few months, going from a potential fourth-round pick to being a first-round selection. The Penn State left tackle even earned an invite to the NFL draft in Chicago.

So why is he on this list and not the other?

There are plenty of positives, after all. Smith has the size, versatility and raw talent that a lot of teams crave. Baltimore Ravens offensive guard John Urschel even said, earlier in his career, that Smith was a stronger lineman than second-rounder Stefen Wisniewski. And the old Penn State staff even recruited Smith because they saw shades of No. 5 overall pick Levi Brown.

But there's a big asterisk next to Smith's ability: No one has anything nice to say about his work ethic.

At Penn State, he had a reputation for being lazy and not knowing the playbook as well as he should have. He was looked upon as a natural talent who just didn't try that hard. Despite Urschel's praise, for example, he never so much as earned a second-team spot on the All-Big Ten team. He appeared to give up on plays.

"I thought he was fat and messy and played lazy," one scout told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, before adding, "He's got talent."

Smith ballooned up to 350 pounds last year, but he's motivated now. His livelihood is on the line, and as a result, it looked as if he was in the best shape of his life at Penn State's pro day. But will that last? It sure didn't for other lazy players like JaMarcus Russell and Mike Williams ...

Hopefully, for Smith's sake, he turns a corner in the NFL. But, right now, he's too much of a wild card -- especially for such an early pick.