Seven B1G players came off the board in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft.
At this time last year, Jabrill Peppers was the only guy of that group who seemed to be a consensus first-round pick. Nobody predicted the likes of Taco Charlton, Gareon Conley, Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk and T.J. Watt weren’t first-round locks by any stretch. Conley and Peppers were the only ones who had even started before the 2016 season.
In other words, it’s not easy to predict first-round picks. There are probably several Wisconsin players who will emerge as potential first-round prospects. There are probably guys on Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State who will blossom as first-time starters and become first-round prospects, too.
But for now, here are the seven B1G players I’d expect to come off the board first in the 2018 NFL draft:
1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State RB
It’s always good when scouts are talking about a player’s monstrous NFL potential a year before he’s even eligible for the draft. When you run a 4.33 40-yard dash and set a Penn State power clean record, people notice. People also notice when your touchdown runs go viral.
Barkley is a consensus top-10 pick in the early mock drafts, and depending on team needs, many believe he could go in the top three. The biggest issue for Barkley is staying healthy. He still hasn’t played a season at full strength (he’s only had two) from start to finish. Doing that while leading Penn State to another B1G Championship would all but lock in Barkley as a top-10 pick.
2. Jerome Baker, Ohio State LB
When you think about recent inside linebackers at Ohio State, you think of sure-handed tackling, consistent guys like Joshua Perry and Raekwon McMillan. Baker is that sure-handed tackler — he was second on the team in tackles in 2016 — but he’s a different kind of talent.
He has the speed and coverage skills to change a game in a hurry. Remember what he did as a spy against Oklahoma last year?
Even if you liked Baker’s speed that play — he had no forward momentum and went 68 yards untouched — it wasn’t the most challenging interception.
This was, though:
That’s an inside linebacker making that play. Baker fits the mold of what the linebacker position has become in the NFL. Lead Bleacher Report draft scout Matt Miller compared Baker to former Buckeye star Ryan Shazier in his early 2018 mock draft.
He’s still young (just a junior) and at 225 pounds, Baker will have some weight to put on. But playing behind OSU’s loaded defensive line, he could be in for a monstrous 2017 season and a monstrous payday next spring.
3. Mason Cole, Michigan OL
We don’t know where Cole is going to play in 2017 — he could move back to left tackle — but we know he’s going to start and in all likelihood, he won’t miss any snaps. That’s what the Wolverines have come to expect of the second-team All-B1G selection, who started the first 38 games of his college career. Two of those seasons were at left tackle and last year was at center.
Cole’s experience and versatility will make him a safe, reliable plug-and-play option for a team looking for offensive line help in the first round. Add in the return of offensive line coach Greg Frey, who just cranks out All-Americans and early-round draft picks, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cole as a mid-first round pick in 2018.
4. Denzel Ward, Ohio State CB
An Ohio State defensive back gets drafted in the first round. What else is new? That streak could easily continue with Ward, who might be the fastest player in the B1G.
In addition to his impressive speed, Ward has cover skills that should allow him to emerge without the likes of Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley. Another year of Kerry Coombs and Greg Schiano could put Ward in position to follow in their footsteps.
He’ll have to overcome a lack of size (5-10, 185 pounds) and experience. But Ward can squash those concerns and warrant first-round consideration if he can put up some big numbers in his first full season as a starter.
5. Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State DE
Lewis was one of the biggest surprise returns in college football. He could’ve been getting ready for his first rookie minicamp right now. Instead, he returned to lead arguably the deepest defensive line in the country.
The B1G Defensive Lineman of the Year end has 16 career sacks, which is more than any returning B1G player. It’ll be interesting to see how Lewis is used with Ohio State’s bevy of defensive linemen. Will his production take a hit because he could play less snaps? Or could his numbers even increase because he’ll be fresher?
That remains to be seen, but production matters for an edge-rusher more than most positions. As long as Lewis shows that he’s still capable of consistently frustrating B1G backfields, he’ll have first-round interest in 2018.
6. Marcus Allen, Penn State S
If you watched the 2017 NFL draft, you probably noticed a trend. Versatile defensive backs are hot commodities these days. Allen is just that.
How many safeties have 22-tackle games? Allen was Penn State’s leading tackler (110 tackles) in 2016, which he did while solidifying the Lions’ back end.
Oh yeah, and he also blocked a pretty big kick last year:
Allen only has one career interception, which might be a knock on him if that number doesn’t increase in 2017. Still, he should be a valuable prospect as a four-year guy who can make plays all over the field.
7. Akrum Wadley, Iowa RB
This last spot could’ve been filled by a variety of guys. Sam Hubbard, Dre’Mont Jones, Maurice Hurst and Michael Deiter could’ve all been in this spot. It wouldn’t be surprising to see any of them become first-round picks, but Wadley got the nod for a few reasons.
Wadley was considered by Mel Kiper Jr. as a top-five running back in the 2017 draft class (Wadley didn’t leave school early). That was in November, and likely after Kiper watched tape of Wadley tearing up Michigan. Keep in mind that was a defense that had more NFL talent than any unit in the country.
Wadley’s size has always been a popular topic of discussion. He’s up from 185 pounds over 190 since the end of the season, which is a number that must continue to increase. That shouldn’t be a problem for Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
Iowa also returns an experienced and talented offensive line that Wadley is plenty familiar with. On top of that, new offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz plans on being much more creative with Wadley than Greg Davis was.
Add it all up and you get a versatile, experienced playmaking tailback. That sounds like a solid early-round NFL prospect.