Big Ten: Ryan Shazier

Darron LeeJamie Sabau/Getty ImagesDarron Lee has seamlessly filled the void left by linebacker Ryan Shazier.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A conversation with Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee about his predecessor can go a number of directions.

The redshirt freshman will call himself a huge fan of Ryan Shazier.

He will call Shazier a big brother after the time they spent in the same meeting rooms a year ago and he will rave about the lessons he learned watching him fly around at linebacker last season from the sideline.

Lee will politely accept any compliments comparing him to the first-round NFL draft pick, as well.

But one thing Lee will not do is call himself the next Ryan Shazier. That is perhaps as much a matter of respect and an acknowledgement of how much better he can get as it might be the fact he's rapidly making his own name and carving out a reputation for the No. 4 Buckeyes.

“Well, I'm not going to sit here and compare myself to him in any way, shape or form,” Lee said. “Ryan Shazier is Ryan Shazier, he's a whole different ballpark, a league of his own, you know. I'm Darron Lee, he's Ryan Shazier.

“You know, if people say I make plays like Ryan Shazier, I'll take that as a compliment, because I have a high amount of respect for him and everything he's done for this program from when he first got here to when he left.”

Shazier's early departure left a void in production -- given all the ways he stuffed the stat sheet and flew around the field for the Buckeyes before ultimately being selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Filling those shoes was going to be a tall task regardless of who Ohio State plugged in at outside linebacker. It might have looked even less likely to happen when a former high school quarterback with only a couple of years of experience on the defensive side of the ball showed up in his place to start spring practice.

While Shazier's final season with Ohio State has some decided edges in a couple of categories like tackles, forced fumbles and tackles for loss, Lee more than held his own in a head-to-head matchup thanks to a couple of interceptions, 7.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, a pair of touchdowns -- and a Defensive MVP trophy in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“I think I remember [senior linebacker] Curtis Grant saying I didn't have a conscience, and Ryan really didn't have a conscience,” Lee said. “He just went out and played, and it didn't matter how big you were. He was faster and he would hit you.

“That's what I would try to take from him and try to mold it to my game. Hey, you know, just go and don't think. I guess that's kind of led to a lot of made plays this year.”

His athleticism might have always indicated Lee could be a playmaker for the Buckeyes, though it was no certainty where that might happen. If not for some repeated visits to camp during his recruitment, the opportunity to do it anywhere at all might not have presented itself to the product of nearby New Albany, Ohio.

But Lee made an impression on the coaching staff every time he showed up to test himself and show what he could do as a versatile, fast, fearless talent. And like Shazier before him, he's now using those attributes to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

“I mean, who knows exactly what position he was going to be, but he came back to camp three times,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “Why? Because he wanted to be an Ohio State Buckeye. Why? Because he wanted to show us he was a competitor. Those things, to me, you can't just rip open a guy's chest and find out what's really inside that thing. But when you get him there as many times as you can, you know what kind of competitive nature they have, it's usually the best indication of what kind of success they'll have.

“Recruiting is an educated guess. I try to say it's a little bit like going to Vegas. Everybody goes to Vegas and thinks they're going to win, but that's why they continue to build those casinos.”

The Buckeyes bet big on Lee. And just like they did with Shazier, they've hit the jackpot at linebacker once again.
Dantonio/MeyerUSA TODAY SportsUrban Meyer and OSU might be the Big Ten favorite, but don't forget about Mark Dantonio and MSU.
Let's get this out of the way first. I don't begrudge anyone for listing Ohio State as the 2014 Big Ten favorite.

The Buckeyes are 16-0 in regular-season Big Ten games under coach Urban Meyer, and 24-0 in the regular season overall the past two seasons. Despite Wisconsin's surge in 2010 and 2011 and Penn State's in 2005 and 2008, Ohio State has carried the Big Ten banner since winning the league's last national title in 2002. Other than the 2011 season, when the program lost its coach and its quarterback late in the spring, Ohio State has been the team to beat in this league.

What bothers me is the tone about the Buckeyes and this season's Big Ten title race. I've been on several radio shows in recent weeks that have presented the conference as one where Ohio State is 50 yards ahead and everyone else is trying to catch up. Some playoff projections list Ohio State as the Big Ten's only candidate. Bovada's futures list Ohio State with 1/1 odds to win the Big Ten and 2/5 odds to win the East Division. That is an overwhelming endorsement for Meyer's crew.

I'm used to the Big Ten being framed in this way. In other seasons, it has made complete sense. It doesn't make sense entering the 2014 campaign.

The Big Ten conversation can start with Ohio State, but it also must include Michigan State, the team that outclassed Ohio State in the 2013 Big Ten championship game and went on to win the Rose Bowl against Stanford. The Spartans have earned a spot in the conversation.

Several other teams could catch, and possibly overtake, the Buckeyes and Spartans by early December, but right now, it's a two-team discussion.

So why are the Buckeyes dominating so much of the preseason chatter?

It takes a long time to change perception in college football, and the default perception in the Big Ten goes like this: Ohio State, canyon, everyone else. Michigan State last season was the Big Ten's most dominant team in recent memory -- the Spartans beat all nine of their league opponents by 10 points or more -- but the sense is MSU cannot sustain such excellence.

And why not? Well, the Spartans lost some key pieces from the league's top defense, including All-America cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Max Bullough.

But so did Ohio State. The Buckeyes actually lose more of their core: four starting offensive linemen, running back Carlos Hyde, linebacker Ryan Shazier, cornerback Bradley Roby.

Both teams say goodbye to quality offensive linemen but bring back proven quarterbacks in Braxton Miller (Ohio State) and Connor Cook (Michigan State). The Buckeyes likely have the single best position group between the teams -- and possibly in the entire Big Ten -- with their defensive line, but MSU's defense, with a multiyear stretch of elite performance, looks more complete. The Spartans, who lose only one key skill player on offense -- wide receiver Bennie Fowler -- seem to have fewer question marks on that side of the ball.

Both coaching staffs are excellent. Meyer added two quality defensive assistants this winter in Larry Johnson and Chris Ash. Michigan State retained arguably the nation's top defensive assistant in coordinator Pat Narduzzi.

Both teams should thrive on special teams with standout punters Mike Sadler (MSU) and Cameron Johnston (OSU).

I guess I'm trying to figure out where a significant gap exists between Ohio State and Michigan State. I understand the risk of basing too much on a previous season. MSU has to rise up again. But it's not like the Spartans are a one-year marvel. They have averaged 10.5 wins over the past four seasons.

Maybe the perceived gap is based on talent and recruiting. Ohio State has advantages in those areas and a roster that now includes several classes of Meyer recruits. But MSU also has made upgrades in the quality of players it brings in, and its ability to develop players can't be questioned at this point.

If you can make a case why Ohio State is well ahead of Michigan State and the rest of the Big Ten, be my guest. But don't base it on Ohio State being Ohio State and Michigan State being Michigan State. That type of lazy, it-is-how-it-is-because-it-always-has-been thinking enters too many college football conversations.

Ohio State could storm through the Big Ten en route to its first recognized league title since 2009. But the Buckeyes don't look like world-beaters on paper. They have significant questions (offensive line, linebacker, secondary, running back) and likely must get through East Lansing on Nov. 8 to return to Indianapolis.

They aren't entitled to the pedestal they have occupied in the past.

Go ahead and list the Buckeyes as your favorite. I might, too. But this year's Big Ten preseason buzz involves two teams, not one.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

May, 27, 2014
5/27/14
5:00
PM ET
You ask, I attempt to answer. I ask, you follow us on Twitter. Deal? Good.

To the inbox ...

Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Your answer to Rajiv highlights the problems with the so-called "playoff". If all five power conference champions ran the table, one of them would HAVE to be left out.

Adam Rittenberg: That's true, Lance, but it's also extremely unlikely. Let's look at how many power-conference teams (or Notre Dame) ended the regular season (including league title games) with perfect records during the past 10 seasons. For these purposes, I'm including any team that will be in a power conference in the 2014 season.

Here's the list:

2013: Florida State
2012: Notre Dame
2011: LSU
2010: Auburn, Oregon
2009: Alabama, Texas (Boise State and Cincinnati were not in power conferences in 2014)
2008: Utah (Boise State also undefeated)
2007: None
2006: Ohio State (Boise State also undefeated)
2005: USC, Texas
2004: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn (Boise State also undefeated)

As you can see, the chances of five undefeated teams from power conferences in the same season -- much less three -- is highly unlikely. The playoff will be more about which one-loss teams are most deserving. If you run the table in a Group of Five conference, you should be in.


John from Kansas City, Missouri, writes: It seems that Iowa is at that point in [Kirk] Ferentz's "cycle" where they have the unusual combination of experience and talent. They also have a very favorable schedule, leaving the traditional powers from the east off the slate. Let's say this Iowa team clicks and has a 10-, 11- or 12-win regular season and makes it to the B1G championship. Does Iowa get the praise and credit of being back at the top of the conference or does the success get written off as a product of the weak schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: John, it's probably not what you want to hear, but I think you would hear a lot about Iowa's schedule. It would depend a lot on what Nebraska and Wisconsin do in their games before visiting Kinnick Stadium in late November. We know at least one of them will have a loss as they meet Nov. 15 in Madison, but it would help Iowa if one or both are ranked in the top 10 when they come to Iowa City. Otherwise, Iowa likely will gain national credibility only by beating a team like Michigan State or Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. It could feel a lot like 2009, when Iowa kept winning but didn't receive much love outside the Big Ten footprint.


Louie Louie from Evanston, Ill., writes: Why do people think Northwestern is going to be bad next year? Do people really think that last year was a return to the mean rather than a fluke year? I think Trevor Siemian is underrated - I think he's still one of the best pure passers in the Big Ten; the running back corps is underrated with Venric Mark, Treyvon Green and Stephen Buckley, among others. The wide receiver corps is among the best in the B1G and the secondary has a host of experience. Of course, the big problems are the offensive line and the interior defensive line, but it's not like the teams on its schedule are particularly great. I'm predicting at least a seven-win season, more likely eight wins.

Adam Rittenberg: Louie, part of the low expectations can be traced to a 5-7 season combined with the unionization issue, which many believe could splinter the team. But part of the expectations also can be traced to folks not doing their homework. Northwestern had everything go wrong last season and still was two plays away from being 7-5. The roster doesn't turn over significantly, and the defense could be the best in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure. If the lines hold up, this team should win at least six games and possibly eight or nine.

I disagree with you about the schedule: While Northwestern misses Michigan State and Ohio State, its nonleague schedule features Notre Dame, Cal and Northern Illinois, and its home schedule (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan) isn't particularly easy. But if Northwestern remains relatively healthy, it should be in most games and win more than it did during a disastrous 2013 season.


Scott from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Which plays a bigger role in the success of the Buckeyes this season? 1) O-line; 2) defensive back seven?

Adam Rittenberg: Scott, normally when an offensive line loses four starters, the group automatically becomes the biggest question mark on the team and, in turn, will shape success or failure. But I have enough faith in Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner, one of the best in the country, to get his revamped group ready for the season. The Buckeyes will move the ball and score points.

The back seven on defense is the bigger issue because teams repeatedly attacked them late in the 2013 season. I really like the Chris Ash hire to boost the secondary, and the talent is there for a rebound. But I wonder about the depth. The defensive line should be dominant at times, but teams will find holes if Ohio State doesn't improve on the back end. The development of the linebackers and secondary will have more bearing on Ohio State's success.


Austin from Camp Hill writes: Which B1G draft pick do you foresee making the biggest impact in his first year at the next level?

Adam Rittenberg: I really like linebacker Ryan Shazier with Pittsburgh. He had a very productive junior season at Ohio State but can get so much better with his skill set. He should thrive in the Steelers' defense, which has had success with other Big Ten standouts. I also think Darqueze Dennard fits in really well at Cincinnati, which got a steal by drafting him at No. 24. There are some concerns about whether he'll be an elite corner and master zone coverage, but his aggressiveness and coachability should translate really well with the Bengals. You want a sleeper pick? I really like safety Brock Vereen with the Chicago Bears.
Tired of NFL draft rewind posts? Well, it's nearly over. And besides, not much else is happening in mid-May.

We're taking a closer look, roundtable-style, at the Big Ten's draft: how certain teams did, the risers, the falls and more. Noted draft hater Brian Bennett is somewhere in Italy, so Big Ten reporters Mitch Sherman, Josh Moyer and Austin Ward are kind enough to join me in breaking down the draft.

The draft roundtable is on the clock ...

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Elsa/Getty ImagesRyan Shazier ended a three-year drought without a Buckeye in the first round.
Let's start off with individual teams you cover -- Nebraska (Sherman), Penn State (Moyer) and Ohio State (Ward), for those who need a refresher. What stood out to you most about each team's draft showing?

Moyer: Penn State had just three players drafted, so what really stood out to me was how divided the opinion was on Allen Robinson, who was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round. At times, he was a projected first-rounder. At other times, he wasn't projected to go until Day 3. Some lauded the Jags' pick; others labeled it a reach. Let me add my two cents: He's going to succeed in the NFL. I spoke with two former PSU and NFL wideouts, O.J. McDuffie and Kenny Jackson, and they both said last season that A-Rob boasts more physical skills than they ever did. That has to count for something.

Sherman: NFL organizations continue to rate Nebraska defensive backs highly. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste (second round to the Saints) was the 11th draftee from the secondary in the past 10 years. Since 2003, though, just two Nebraska offensive players, including new Redskins guard Spencer Long, have landed in the top three rounds. Receiver Quincy Enunwa, despite technical shortcomings, offers value to the Jets as a sixth-round pick. As expected, all others, including quarterback Taylor Martinez, had to take the free-agency route.

Ward: Ohio State has long been a pipeline for the next level, but it had actually been three years since it had produced any first-round picks until Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby on Thursday night. The Buckeyes followed that up with four more players being selected, which suggests the talent level is starting to get back to the level the program is accustomed to after going through a bit of a down stretch. It seems a bit backward that two guys from a beleaguered defense were the top picks while the record-setting offense wasn't represented until Carlos Hyde and Jack Mewhort were grabbed in the second round, but either way the Buckeyes appear to be back as a favored target for NFL organizations.

Turning our attention to the entire Big Ten, which player surprised you by how high he was drafted, and which player surprised you with how far he fell in the draft?

Rittenberg: I was a little surprised to see Michael Schofield go before the end of Day 2. We knew Michigan’s poor offensive line play wouldn’t impact Taylor Lewan, but I thought it might make teams hesitant about selecting Schofield. He’s a good player who enters a great situation in Denver. Another Big Ten offensive lineman on a struggling unit, Purdue’s Kevin Pamphile, surprised me with how early he went. I didn't see Darqueze Dennard, the nation’s most decorated cornerback on arguably the nation’s best defense last season, dropping to No. 24 overall. Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Ohio State’s Hyde went later than I thought they would.

Sherman: Long's rise to the third round surprised me after he missed the final six games of his senior season with a knee injury that kept him out of the combine and limited him at Nebraska's pro day. I pegged the former walk-on as a fifth- or sixth-round pick. And I thought Lewan might slip past the first 15 picks because of character questions from a pair of off-field incidents at Michigan. Conversely, I thought Borland’s exemplary résumé at Wisconsin might propel him into the top 50 picks. At No. 77 to the 49ers he's a steal.

Ward: There really weren't guys who made shocking jumps up the board in my mind, though Ohio State safety Christian Bryant sneaking into the seventh round was a feel-good story after he missed the majority of his senior season with a fractured ankle. The Big Ten also had a handful of first-round caliber players slide to the second day, so Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, Indiana's Cody Latimer, Hyde or Penn State's Robinson all qualified as minor surprises -- and great values for their new teams.

Moyer: How many people thought Dezmen Southward would be the first Badger drafted? I sure didn't. The Atlanta Falcons scooped him up early in the third round, and they probably could've snagged him two rounds later. As far as guys who fell, I expected both Latimer and Dennard to go sooner. They didn't free-fall, but you kept hearing before the draft how those two improved their stock -- and then Latimer nearly fell to the third round, anyway.

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis went in the fifth round to the Green Bay Packers.
Which Big Ten players will be the biggest sleepers/best values in the draft?

Ward: General managers and coaches might view running backs as easily replaceable in this new era in the NFL, but the league’s most recent champion offered another reminder of how important it is to have a productive rushing attack and an elite tailback. Hyde hasn’t proven anything at the next level yet, so comparing him with Seattle's Marshawn Lynch is a bit premature. But Hyde has all the physical tools to be a star, from his well-built frame to his often overlooked speed, and he's going to a team in San Francisco that has a system that will put him in position to thrive.

Rittenberg: Southward’s high selection surprised me, too, but the other four Wisconsin players -- Borland, Jared Abbrederis, running back James White and nose tackle Beau Allen -- all are good value pickups. White is an extremely versatile player who might never be a featured back but can block, catch passes and do whatever his coaches need. Allen gained great experience as a nose tackle last fall. I think the New York Jets get a sixth-round steal in Enunwa, whose blocking skills should help him get on the field. Big Ten coaches loved DaQuan Jones, who looks like a nice value pickup for Tennessee in the fourth round.

Sherman: I'll place Robinson (second round to Jacksonville) and Abbrederis (fifth to Green Bay) together in a category of undervalued Big Ten receivers. Perhaps it illustrates a general stigma about offensive skill players from the conference; throw second-rounders Latimer and Hyde into the discussion, too. NFL decision-makers might not respect the competition these players face on a weekly basis and count it against them in evaluations. If so, that’s a big problem for the Big Ten.

The Big Ten had eight more players drafted this year than in 2013, but its champion, Michigan State, had only one selection. What does this say about the league and its trajectory?

Sherman: After 2012, the Big Ten presumably had nowhere to go but up in producing quality prospects. The influx of Urban Meyer-recruited talent will soon impact the Big Ten in the draft. Same goes for Brady Hoke, even if he’s not making gains in the standings. Penn State and Nebraska, too, are upgrading their talent, so the trajectory figures to continue upward. As for Michigan State, it was young on offense and clearly better than the sum of its parts on defense, a testament to Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi. The absence in the draft of Max Bullough and Denicos Allen caught me off guard.

Moyer: Having more picks shows the Big Ten is on the right track ... but it still has a long way to go. Yes, it improved on last year -- but it still finished behind the SEC (49), ACC (42) and Pac-12 (34) this year, in terms of players drafted. As far as Michigan State, I think their success serves as a reminder that the right coaching and the right schemes can still trump a roster full of NFL-caliber players. Penn State's success during the sanctions also helps to reinforce that.

Ward: It's another reminder of how well-coached the Spartans were a year ago, particularly in turning a defense that had just one player drafted into the nation’s best unit. Dantonio deserves another bow for the job he and his staff did a year ago, even if they didn’t have much to celebrate during the draft. The league does seem to be on the rise again in the minds of top athletes around the country with Meyer, Hoke and now James Franklin upping the ante on the recruiting trail. Those efforts should produce even better weekends than the one that just wrapped up.

Rittenberg: It says something when arguably the best Big Ten team in the past seven or eight years -- MSU had nine double-digit league wins plus the Rose Bowl triumph -- produces only one draft pick. Still, I think the arrow is pointed up after a horrendous 2013 draft. The Big Ten has struggled to produce elite prospects at both cornerback and wide receiver in recent years. This year, the league had three corners drafted in the first two rounds, and while I agree the Big Ten's wide receivers were undervalued, the league still produced five picks. The next step is obvious: generating better quarterback play as no Big Ten QBs were drafted this year.
The biggest non-game on the American sporting calendar is all done, as the 2014 NFL draft wrapped up Saturday afternoon in New York. After arguably its worst draft in the modern era in 2013, the Big Ten performed better this year with 30 picks. Still, the league finished fourth among conferences in selections, trailing the SEC (49), ACC (42) and Pac-12 (34).

After a big Friday night with six second-round selections -- including four in a row -- and six third-round selections, the Big Ten's momentum slowed a bit Saturday in the final four rounds. The league had only one sixth-round pick and only four in the seventh round.

Let's start the breakdown by listing Big Ten draftees by round (with comments below). Maryland and Rutgers players aren't included here because neither group competed in the Big Ten (Terrapins CB Dexter McDougle went in the third round; Rutgers had no players drafted).

FIRST ROUND (4)
[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyTaylor Lewan was the first Big Ten player selected, going 11th overall to the Tennessee Titans.
Analysis: Click here for my first-round thoughts

SECOND ROUND (6)
Analysis: Hageman ends up in a really good spot with the Falcons. Although Latimer had an excellent pre-draft performance, it wasn't surprising to see him end up in the middle of the second round. Hyde waited longer than many anticipated, but he enters a great situation with a team that loves to play power football. Robinson joins a new-look Jaguars passing attack featuring quarterback Blake Bortles and wideout Marqise Lee.

THIRD ROUND (6)
Analysis: Everyone had Southward going before Borland, right? Borland, the 2013 Big Ten defensive player of the year, had an exceptional college career, but concerns about his height and perhaps his injury history moved him down the draft boards. The Iowa Effect shows up here as both Fiedorowicz and Kirksey were swept up by teams that respect what the Hawkeyes do. What does it say that Michigan's offensive line struggled mightily in 2013 but had two tackles drafted in the first three rounds? Those young Wolverines linemen had better step up this fall.

FOURTH ROUND (4)
Analysis: Some really good pickups in this round, especially White, who will fit in very well with New England's offense. Although James Morris received the most accolades among Iowa's linebackers at the college level, both Kirksey and Hitchens were mid-round selections, while Morris went undrafted and signed with New England as a free agent. As a Chicago Bears fan, I love the Vereen pick. He's a smart, athletic versatile player who knows from his older brother what it takes to succeed in the NFL.

FIFTH ROUND (5)
[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsJared Abbrederis isn't venturing far from Madison as he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers.
Analysis: Like his teammate Borland, Abbrederis had a much longer wait than expected but lands in a very familiar spot with Green Bay. I think he's a steal and will surprise people with his ability to make plays despite less-than-ideal measurables. Pamphile had a fairly quiet college career but is seen as a project and could develop into a better pro. Urschel is another player who lacks the ideal physical traits sought in the NFL, but could make up for it with exceptional intelligence.

SIXTH ROUND (1)
Analysis: Enunwa complemented his superb blocking skills with big-play ability in the pass game as a senior. He's a good value for a Jets team that needs to boost the league's 31st-ranked pass offense.

SEVENTH ROUND (4)
Analysis: All four players could be very good values. Bolser is an athletic tight end who had 15 career touchdown catches. Allen showed versatility as a senior, transitioning to a 3-4 scheme. Gallon heads to a Patriots team that has had success with smaller, productive receivers. Bryant likely would have been selected higher if not for major leg and ankle injuries last season.

Here are the draft picks per B1G team:

Ohio State: 6
Wisconsin: 5
Michigan: 3
Penn State: 3
Nebraska: 3
Iowa: 3
Purdue: 2
Minnesota: 2
Indiana: 2
Michigan State: 1

The big surprise is a Michigan State team that dominated Big Ten play and won the Rose Bowl had just one player selected, as standout linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen didn't have their names called. Only four teams -- LSU, Alabama, Notre Dame and Florida State -- had more selections than Ohio State. Illinois, which led the Big Ten in draft picks last season (4) and had 18 picks between 2009-13, had no selections. Northwestern also went without a draft pick for the second straight year.

Curious about the Big Ten's undrafted free-agent signings? Check back in a bit as we take a look.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 9, 2014
5/09/14
12:00
PM ET
Fourteen Big Ten programs combined to produce four first-round NFL draft picks. Louisville, Northern Illinois and Buffalo together had five. Eleven of 32 came from the SEC. Discuss.
  • A big night at the NFL draft for Michigan's Taylor Lewan, who landed with the Titans at No. 11 to lead off a better opening day for the league.
  • Ohio State's defensive duo, Ryan Shazier at No. 15 to the Steelers and Bradley Roby at No. 31, went to the Broncos.
  • And Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard found a home with the Bengals at No. 24.
  • Michigan’s other offensive tackle, Michael Schofield, has used a family struggle as his motivation to prepare for this draft.
  • Former Indiana receiver Cody Latimer went to New York to hear his name called at the draft. He’s still waiting.
  • Also waiting, defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hagemen of Minnesota, which hasn’t had a player drafted since Eric Decker in 2010. And the wait is almost over, too, for Wisconsin’s Chris Borland.
  • Tracking the Maryland prospects for the second through seventh rounds.
  • Meanwhile, Purdue’s 15-year streak of landing at least one player in the draft is in jeopardy.
  • Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel lands the presidency at Youngstown State after he was bypassedat the University of Akron.
  • What to do this offseason? Shane Morris can play catch ... with himself.
  • Michigan State appears interested in the younger brother of tight end Dylan Chmura.
  • James Franklin and the Penn State coaches continue their 17-stop caravan in Pittsburgh. Can the grayshirting of recruits help PSU overcome its scholarship limitations.
  • Former Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage earns the endorsement of ex-coach Greg Schiano.
  • Former Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz will remain on staff in 2014 as a graduate assistant. An appeal is deniedfor the summer jail sentence in Colorado for offensive tackle Alex Lewis is denied.
  • Minnesota loses a backup defensive lineman to North Dakota.
  • Kirk Ferentz marches to the beat of his own drum in recruiting, but even he occasionally extends a scholarship offer to a high school freshman.
The first round of the 2014 NFL draft is in the books, and as expected, the Big Ten fared much better than it did a year ago.

Four Big Ten players had their names called Thursday night at New York's Radio City Music Hall, although some waited a little longer than expected. The league had three more first-round picks than 2013 but went without a top-10 pick for the sixth consecutive year. Former Michigan tackle Jake Long, the No. 1 overall pick in 2008, is the last Big Ten player in the Top 10.

[+] Enlarge Taylor Lewan
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesTaylor Lewan was first off the board for the Big Ten, going to the Tennessee Titans.
Two Big Ten players who made the trip to Manhattan, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman and Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer, still don't know their draft fate.

Let's recap the Big Ten first-round picks:
Our friends at NFL Nation reacted to the selections of Lewan, Shazier, Dennard and Roby.

It's no surprise that Lewan went first among Big Ten prospects, although some analysts had pegged him -- and possibly Dennard -- for the top 10. Two SEC offensive tackles, Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, went ahead of Lewan, who likely still would have been a first-round pick if he had come out after his junior season in 2012. It will be interesting to see how he factors in with the Titans, who already have starting tackles in Michael Roos and Michael Oher.

Dennard fell further than most expected, as two cornerbacks -- Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller -- went ahead of him. He ended up in a pretty good spot, though, as he joins a very good secondary that includes another former Big Ten cornerback, Leon Hall. He'll also play for a defensive-minded coach in Marvin Lewis and first-year coordinator Paul Guenther.

Shazier's stock soared in the weeks leading up to the draft, and he enters a Pittsburgh organization known for swarming defense. The Steelers have taken linebackers in the first round in each of the past two years (Jarvis Jones in 2013). It doesn't hurt that longtime Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is an Ohio State guy.

Like Dennard, Roby waited a little longer than expected but ends up with a very good team in Denver. Broncos general manager John Elway said Roby was the highest-ranked player on the team's draft board "by a long shot" when their pick rolled around.

It's a bit surprising Hageman didn't make the first round, although teams had concerns about his consistency. Latimer's stock surged in the pre-draft period, but five wide receivers went ahead of him Thursday night. Both likely won't be waiting long Friday.

Is the Big Ten's weakened reputation hurting its top draft prospects? You have to wonder when a guy like Dennard, who did everything he could for a nationally elite defense, falls as far as he did.

Finally, here are some notes on the Big Ten picks from ESPN Stats & Information:
  • Lewan is the highest drafted Big Ten player since former Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt in 2011 (also No. 11). He's the first Michigan player taken in the first round since defensive end Brandon Graham in 2010.
  • Shazier is the third Ohio State player drafted by the Steelers in first round since 2006: Cameron Heyward (2011) and Santonio Holmes (2006) are the others.
  • Dennard is the first Michigan State player taken in the first round since wide receiver Charles Rogers in 2003. He's the first Spartans defender in the first round since linebacker Julian Peterson in 2000.
  • Roby has high standards to uphold, as four of the last seven Ohio State defensive backs drafted in the first round went on to make the Pro Bowl (Donte Whitner, Nate Clements, Antoine Winfield and Shawn Springs).

The draft resumes today and finishes Saturday. We'll have a full Big Ten draft recap on Monday.
The 2014 NFL draft is just hours away, and unlike last year, the first night should be a lot better for the Big Ten.

As Michigan's Taylor Lewan and most likely several other Big Ten players walk across the stage tonight, I thought it would be interesting to recall their recruiting stock coming out of high school. Were they pegged for greatness back then, or largely overlooked?

Let's begin the look-back with the five Big Ten players in New York City today, as well as Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, who will most likely be drafted in the first half of the first round. Note: several players were evaluated at different positions as high school recruits.

Michigan LT Taylor Lewan

Class: 2009
ESPN 150: Yes (No. 148 overall)
Position rank: No. 12 offensive tackle
ESPN scouting report: "Displays good feet and can mirror a rusher. Will hop at times and open quickly, but displays the tools to be a college left tackle. Lewan has some parts of his game to keep developing and needs to add bulk, but this is a good offensive tackle prospect."

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsDarqueze Dennard went from unheralded recruit to college football's best cornerback.
Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard

Class: 2010
ESPN 150: No
Position rank: No. 166 wide receiver
ESPN scouting report: "Dennard is a feisty competitor who plays bigger between the white lines. May get recruited to play on either side of the ball, can really close on the football with good burst and speed when employed at defensive back. Good under-the-radar prospect."

Ohio State CB Bradley Roby

Class: 2010
ESPN 150: No
Position rank: No. 42 athlete
ESPN scouting report: "May get a look at corner as he flashes the great speed, body length and ball skills sought-after as a perimeter defender. Overall, this is a guy who may be falling under the radar nationally and with some positional polish should develop into a very good wideout or corner at the major college level."

Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman

Class: 2009
ESPN 150: No
Position rank: No. 12 tight end
ESPN scouting report: "This kid can be a productive weapon as a receiver. He also has upside as a blocker. A bit raw in his technique he will be physical and can create push in the run game. Gets into a defender and drives his legs. Displays good tenaciousness. Needs to be more consistent in his hand placement."

Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier

Class: 2011
ESPN 150: Yes (No. 81 overall)
Position rank: No. 4 outside linebacker
ESPN scouting report: "His backside pursuit is relentless. Has a very quick inside gap move which is very difficult to block; this creates havoc in the backfield with many TFLs. His real strength is as an outside pass rusher; displays the quickness to beat tackles off the edge; can squeeze the pocket with excellent balance forcing the QB out of the pocket."

Indiana WR Cody Latimer

Class: 2011
ESPN 150: No
Position rank: No. 178 wide receiver
ESPN scouting report: "Latimer is a big, physical wide receiver that is smooth and fluid, but for the most part straight-lined and more of a possession guy in the short to intermediate ranges of the field. His size/strength combination could develop him into a formidable red-zone target as an outside receiver. He does not have explosive speed."

Now let's look at several other Big Ten players who could be selected early in the draft.

Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde

Class: 2009
ESPN 150: No
Position rank: No. 31 running back
ESPN scouting report: "He is a power back with good straight-line speed and some quickness, but tends to try and dance laterally at times instead of blowing it up hard inside utilizing his good North-South speed and running strength. Long-strider who rarely gets caught from behind, but he does lack good top-end speed and is more of a one-gear back."

Nebraska CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste

Class: 2010
ESPN 150: No
Position rank: Not rated as a wide receiver
ESPN scouting report: Not available

Penn State WR Allen Robinson

Class: 2011
ESPN 150: No
Position rank: No. 201 wide receiver
ESPN scouting report: "We see a big, strong possession receiver capable of leveraging his body to make the contested catch. Robinson appears to be a borderline BCS prospect with the potential for success as a go-to guy when tough yardage is needed."

Wisconsin LB Chris Borland

Class: 2009
ESPN 150: No
Position rank: No. 134 athlete
ESPN scouting report: "Borland is an good athlete but impresses you more as a total football player on film. He has good size with his compact, thickly-built frame. A very durable prospect. Could get recruited on either side of the ball at the next level and will bring a lot of toughness and versatility to a college roster."

Penn State DT DaQuan Jones

Class: 2010
ESPN 150: No
Position rank: No. 43 offensive guard
ESPN scouting report: "Jones plays on both sides of the ball -- at DT and OT. He has the size for both positions at the major level of competition. Flashes upper body explosion and good hand shiver; able to defeat the one-on-one block but lacks agility in space; displays sure tackling ability. We feel he is a better prospect at offensive guard."

Rutgers WR Brandon Coleman

Class: 2010
ESPN 150: No
Position rank: No. 120 wide receiver
ESPN scouting report: "He is tall, thickly built and has a wide catching radius. This is a prospect that possesses good overall top-end speed, but lacks quick-twitch explosion. Climbs the ladder and is a rumbling, physically-imposing target in the passing game."

Some quick thoughts: To say the Big Ten's top draft contingent is underrated would be an understatement. Only Lewan and Shazier ranked in the ESPN 150 in their respective classes, and neither was in the top 80. Dennard's story from fringe FBS recruit to potential top-10 pick is extraordinary, and players like Jean-Baptiste, Latimer, Robinson, Borland and Coleman were far from top prospects in high school. It's interesting to see how many of these players were projected at other positions. The scouting reports swung and missed in several cases (Robinson as a borderline BCS prospect?) and hit on other prospects (Borland's versatility, Shazier's pursuit).
SportsNation

Which Big Ten school produces the most NFL draft picks?

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    18%
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    14%
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    45%
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    10%
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    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,960)

Ready or not -- and seriously, you should be ready by now -- the 2014 NFL draft is almost here. The Big Ten is poised to have a much stronger overall draft showing than it did a year ago.

But which Big Ten team will produce the most picks during the seven rounds? That's the subject of today's poll question.

Illinois led Big Ten teams with only four draft picks in 2013, followed by four teams with three selections. I'd be surprised if this year's Big Ten leader has only four players selected, but we'll see.

The candidates ...

Iowa: The Hawkeyes lack top-line prospects, but they typically do well in the NFL draft. Iowa produced six picks in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts -- only one, cornerback Micah Hyde, last year -- and has generated 52 picks during the Kirk Ferentz era. Linebackers James Morris and Christian Kirksey, and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz lead Iowa's draft contingent.

Michigan State: Cornerback Darqueze Dennard might be the first Big Ten player off the board, but he won't be the only Spartan. Several other Michigan State defenders, including linebacker Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, are likely draft picks.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes have had at least three players drafted in every draft since 1999, and they could produce a large haul this year. Linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby are potential first-rounders, and bruising running back Carlos Hyde -- plus several offensive linemen -- should follow.

Penn State: Since being shut out of the 2005 draft, Penn State has had multiple selections in each subsequent draft and three or more selections six times. Wide receiver Allen Robinson and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones are likely second-day picks, and others, like guard John Urschel, should hear their names called as well.

Wisconsin: The Badgers have had multiple players selected in each of the past six drafts and at least four players picked 10 times since 2000. Although Wisconsin's streak of first-round picks likely will end at three tonight, linebacker Chris Borland and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis lead a group that could add up by the end of the week.

It's time to vote.
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett occasionally will give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

The NFL draft takes place this week (you may have heard a little bit about it). We're going to take a look at a few questions surrounding the Big Ten's draft class this week. We begin with Today's Take Two topic: Who is the best future pro out of the Big Ten's 2014 NFL draft prospects?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergMichigan State CB Darqueze Dennard comes from a system that showcased his ability to play on an island and make an impact.
Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan will very likely be the first Big Ten player drafted, and thanks to his talent and the position he plays, he could be looking at a long NFL career. But the first guy I would draft from the league is Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard. I say this with a bit of hesitation, since the drafting of cornerbacks has proved to be a volatile proposition over the years. It's not always easy to project how corners will adjust to the next level, when they will face much better receivers and quarterbacks who are much more able to pinpoint their passes than at the college level. You could make the case that Dennard didn't face a wealth of NFL talent at wideout playing in the Big Ten the past few years (though I'd counter that this year's draft crop of Big Ten receivers is actually pretty strong).

There are a couple of reasons why I think Dennard will quickly adapt to the next level, however. One is the system he played in at Michigan State. Head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi like to put their cornerbacks on an island a whole lot, and Dennard showed a tremendous ability both to be physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage and to cover them one-on-one in space. I also think he has great instincts for the game and is a very coachable player. The NFL has evolved into a pass-first league, and while the rules favor offenses, having a shutdown cornerback is an enormous luxury. I think Dennard can be just that.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

[+] EnlargeRa'Shede Hageman
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsMinnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman is flying under the radar now, but he has to potential to make a name for himself in the NFL.
I definitely considered both Lewan and Dennard, two players with the potential for long and successful pro careers. But I wonder if Dennard will reach the upper echelon of NFL corners -- the Richard Shermans, Patrick Petersons, Joe Hadens, Darrelle Revises -- or simply be a very good pro. It's a bit surprising he's not projected higher in the first round, as I thought he had top 10 potential after earning consensus All-America honors and the Jim Thorpe Award as a senior. It would have been nice to see Dennard face Penn State's Allen Robinson or Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis last season. We'll see how it turns out for him.

When it comes to the draft, I always look for guys with unique skills who haven't come close to their ceiling yet. Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman is one of those guys. Hageman doesn't look like a normal defensive tackle. He's long and lean but still powerful. He can affect games not just by taking up space or overpowering interior linemen, but by knocking down passes. Hageman was quiet early in his career as he needed to mature both physically and mentally and settle into the defensive tackle role. We saw what he could do last season as a more polished player, as he led Minnesota in tackles for loss (13) and ranked second in pass breakups (8). His pre-draft performance illustrates a player who continues to climb, not plateau, in his development.

Hageman needs to be in the right place with the right coaches, but his potential for elite play could be higher than that of any other Big Ten player in the draft. There are safer picks here like Lewan, Dennard and Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, but I'm going with the guy who is still nowhere near what he could be at the next level.

Big Ten's lunch links

May, 5, 2014
5/05/14
12:00
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Fantastic Derby weekend here. If you've never been, you're doing life wrong.
Now that spring practice is officially in the books, we're taking a look at each Big Ten team and identifying a player who announced himself as a potential key performer this fall.

We're talking about guys who maybe haven't had big roles yet but displayed enough during the 15 spring practices -- and not just some fluky, spring-game performance against backups -- to factor heavily into their team's plans.

The series rolls along with a look at Ohio State and its rebuilding defense.

Spring breakout player: LB Darron Lee

Filling the void left behind by one of the most productive linebackers in the nation isn’t likely going to be a job Ryan Shazier’s replacement in the lineup can do alone, and technically Lee isn’t going to be playing exactly the same position in Ohio State’s retooled defense.

But with Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant both returning as starters, the spotlight all spring was on the final piece of the puzzle and the fresh face working with the unit. There wasn’t much buzz about the former high school quarterback and defensive back heading into camp, but Lee impressed the staff with his work in the offseason program and was plugged into the first-team role at strongside linebacker on the opening day of practice -- and he never did anything to relinquish the job when all the work on the field was done in the middle of April.

Lee is obviously unproven after appearing in just two games as a true freshman, and he’s still not guaranteed anything heading into training camp with redshirt freshman Chris Worley pushing for playing time as well. But Lee’s ability to stay at the top of the depth chart while the Buckeyes were closely monitoring the position and trying to restore the proud tradition of their linebackers speaks volumes about the potential he has shown on the field as a tackler and in the weight room as he has built his 6-foot-1 frame up to 225 pounds.

The Buckeyes may still not be fully reloaded in terms of depth and experience at linebacker quite yet. But Lee at least appeared to give Ohio State a viable candidate to replace Shazier and fill out the first-team defense, which made the spring a success for both parties.
Remember the angst felt around the Big Ten on the night of April 25, 2013?

OK, maybe you weren't nervous. But they were a bit skittish at Big Ten headquarters as the first round of the NFL draft unfolded at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Thirty names were called, none from the Big Ten, which found itself in danger of being excluded from the first round for the first time since 1953. Then, Dallas drafted Wisconsin center Travis Frederick and his prodigious beard at No. 31.

[+] EnlargeCody Latimer
AP Photo/Alan PetersimeCould Indiana receiver Cody Latimer be picked in the first round of the NFL draft?
Phew.

The Big Ten shouldn't be nearly as concerned as the 2014 NFL draft approaches next month. In fact, the league could have one of its better first round showings in recent years.

Earlier this week, the NFL announced that 30 players will attend the draft, including five from the Big Ten: Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier and Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer. If you're invited to the draft, your name likely will be called early, if not in the first round then shortly thereafter. Another likely first round prospect, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, is choosing to watch the draft from his home in Georgia.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has all six Big Ten players going in the first round in his latest mock draft Insider.

The Big Ten might not dominate the top 10 -- Lewan is the likeliest candidate to hear his name called -- but a strong first-round showing is possible.

Latimer is soaring up the draft boards after a strong pro day at Indiana and additional workouts with teams. Some questioned his decision to skip his final season and enter the draft, but it's looking like a good choice now. I've always loved Latimer's combination of length, leaping ability and speed on the outside. He'll be a good pro.

Shazier is another Big Ten early entrant whose draft stock seems to be surging in recent weeks. Many have the former Buckeyes standout going late in the first round.

One good sign: the group of potential first-rounders includes two cornerbacks and a wide receiver. The Big Ten has struggled to produce elite players at both positions in recent years.

If the list of player invites proves prophetic, the SEC and ACC both will have a sizable presence early on May 8. But after quite possibly the worst draft in Big Ten history, the league should have more to celebrate this time.

Joshua Perry building on momentum

March, 25, 2014
3/25/14
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Some changes were subtle, some were more obvious for Joshua Perry as he replayed his first season as a full-time starter on video from beginning to end.

Early in the season, the Ohio State linebacker might not have always been as quick to react, didn’t appear to be playing with much confidence and was occasionally prone to missing tackles or assignments, though not all of that is perhaps as clear to anybody else as it is Perry.

[+] EnlargeJoshua Perry
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAfter playing a variety of roles last season, Joshua Perry will now be tasked with filling Ryan Shazier's shoes.
What might be easier to decipher is his shift across the defensive formation, starting on the strong side then picking up a few more responsibilities in the middle as his familiarity with the speed of the game and production both increased. That transformation is still on display and spilling over to the spring. Perry has moved again, this time to the weak side, where he is trying to keep the ball rolling after his solid finish last season by tackling both everything he sees and the challenge of replacing Ryan Shazier, Ohio State’s most prolific defender.

“A lot of times you don’t want to necessarily look back and harp on negative things, but you need to take the negatives and the weaknesses and know what they are so you can make them into strengths,” Perry said. “I’ve taken some time and done that, and overall it’s just the intensity of the game and playing with my fundamentals that has really changed. When I can do that, I gain confidence to be able to go harder every play.

“You know, the sky is the limit for me, I think.”

The Buckeyes are counting heavily on Perry to get closer to his ceiling as a junior, particularly since the defense, as a whole, largely struggled to even get off the ground last season.

Perry played a part in those issues at times, and even when he started to turn the corner individually down the stretch, it wasn’t enough to offset problems elsewhere as Ohio State was gashed for piles of yardage and 115 points during its last three games.

Perry was actually turning in his most productive run of the year over that period with 22 tackles, chipping in a pair of tackles for loss and making his only sack of the season in the loss to Clemson. While the Buckeyes lost two of those three games, Perry’s personal numbers might help provide something of a springboard as he tries to fill the enormous statistical void left by Shazier’s early departure to the NFL.

“Right now, I’m trying to get that comfort level to where I can just see the play and react, be downhill,” Perry said. “If I need to cover, I’m going to go cover, but I want to do everything fast and with reckless abandon.

“That’s the thing, I had that comfort level towards the end of the year to be able to play a little bit faster, know my assignment and just go. ... But it’s all a process. When it clicked [last year] is not necessarily as important as keeping the momentum and the consistency going.”

Perry’s bit of forward progress from the end of the season is an encouraging sign for an Ohio State defense still trying to rebuild a unit of linebackers that has been hit hard by injuries, transfers and lack of development over the last few seasons, but it’s the latter that will be more critical for him if he’s going to deliver like his predecessor.

Shazier’s consistency was unmatched on the Ohio State roster, and few players around the country were able to contribute in the variety of ways he did as a sideline-to-sideline tackler, playmaker in the backfield and vicious hitter capable of forcing four fumbles. But Perry has made it clear he has no problem stepping into those shoes this spring to continue the ongoing transformation that has been documented on the game film, even when it’s not always plain to see.

“I mean, they were pretty big changes, to a certain point,” Perry said. “But there’s definitely still a lot of changes that can be made.

“Last year, I did all right, I got a little momentum heading into the end of the year and I think that’s carried over a little bit. But I can’t stop now.”
Over the last couple of weeks, we've taken a look in video form at the biggest shoes to fill on each Big Ten team this spring and who the replacements might be.

SportsNation

Who leaves the biggest shoes to fill in the Big Ten this spring?

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    30%
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    19%
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    17%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    18%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,693)

Which player's empty cleats will be the most considerable this spring? Let's consider these options:
  • Penn State WR Allen Robinson: The two-time Big Ten receiver of the year left early for the NFL and left Christian Hackenberg without his favorite target. Watch the video here.
  • Michigan LT Taylor Lewan: In case you didn't notice, the Wolverines' offensive line wasn't very good last season, and that was with an All-American left tackle. Lewan will likely be a top 15 NFL draft pick. Watch the video here.
  • Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis: The former walk-on-turned-superstar was the Badgers' only real threat at wideout the past two years, leaving a gaping hole at the position. Watch the video here.
  • Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier: Where oh where would the Buckeyes' defense -- and its underachieving linebacker unit -- have been without Shazier last season? The Buckeyes might have to find out this spring. Watch the video here.
  • Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard: While the Spartans know how to reload on defense, it's never easy to replace a player the caliber of Dennard, who won the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. Watch the video here.

Vote now in our poll.

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