Ranking the B1G's Top 25 NFL Draft prospects
Editor’s note: Saturday Tradition’s annual Top 25 preview week continues with a look at the B1G’s best pro prospects.
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It’s all about pro potential and measurables when it comes to making a post-college living in football.
That cruel reality makes Taulia Tagovailoa a longshot to make the NFL despite a stellar career at Maryland. Standing under 6-foot tall with arm strength rated good but not great, he might need to soar well over 10,000 career passing yards just to get drafted at all.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Penn State left tackle Olu Fashanu, 6-6 and 320 pounds of can’t-miss prospect. In only 9 career starts (20 less than Tagovailoa), the 2020 3-star recruit has wowed scouts. Projected as a 1st-round pick after last season, he’s back in State College to wrap up his degree and see if he can impress enough to surpass Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. and others for the No. 1 overall pick in next April’s NFL Draft.
When it comes to pro potential among draft-eligible QBs, on many lists Tua Tagovailoa’s little brother ranks below several of his Big Ten brethren, including Michigan’s JJ McCarthy, presumed first-time starter Kyle McCord of Ohio State and incoming transfers Jeff Sims (Nebraska), Luke Altmyer (Illinois) and Hudson Card (Purdue).
A lot can happen between now and April, however, and not all draft-eligible players will move on, especially now that college football has become so lucrative. There are players not on this list who could play themselves into first-round selections. The B1G has that much talent.
Here’s a best guess on the first 25 B1G players to hear their names called next April 25-27 in Detroit:
25. Taulia Tagovailoa, QB, Maryland
A fabulous college quarterback, Tagovailoa will push his school record for passing yards above 10,000 assuming reasonably good health this season. Some will consider him the Big Ten’s best QB entering the season. And a big year could change minds about his pro prospects, which aren’t good right now. He (5-11, 208) and his arm aren’t considered big enough for the NFL. A 5th-year senior, the little brother of 6-foot-1 former 1st-round pick Tua will need to go out in style to change his outlook. Think Doug Flutie if you’re old enough to know who that is.
24. Tory Taylor, P, Iowa
He’s expected to be the 1st or 2nd punter off the board, and some needy team will likely use a mid- or late-round pick on him. The 6-4, 232-pound Aussie — only half-jokingly referred to as Iowa’s MVP the past 2 offensively challenged seasons — has averaged more than 45 yards per punt over 3 seasons. He’s booted the ball more than anyone in the country the past 2 seasons (162 punts) and should get plenty more chances in his final year.
23. Connor Colby, OL, Iowa
The 6-6, 311-pound junior has already started 24 games at Iowa, and he’s played particularly well at guard. OC Brian Ferentz tried him at right tackle last season with disastrous results. But Colby, a 4-star recruit in 2021, graded out extremely high at left guard, the spot he should be anchoring this season. PFF rates him among the top draft-eligible IOLs in the country.
22. Max Melton, CB, Rutgers
It’s not easy to make a name for yourself at the perpetual also-ran in Piscataway, N.J., but the 4th-year junior projects as high as late 2nd round. At 6-0, 190, Melton draws praise for agility, closing speed and smarts. Ability as a return man fills out his resume.
21. JJ McCarthy, QB, Michigan
Entering his 2nd season as Michigan’s starter, the junior ranks as the most NFL-ready of the B1G’s quarterbacks, but no higher than 10th on most national lists of QB prospects. Another undefeated run to the CFP might change that a bit, but Michigan’s run-heavy offense limits his chances to show off. It’s possible he’ll still be in Ann Arbor in the fall of 2024.
20. Braelon Allen, RB, Wisconsin
Allen arrived in Madison 2 years ago as a big-for-his-age, highly regarded linebacker, but shifted to offense early on and took over the featured back role after just a handful of games. He should still get plenty of touches in new coach Luke Fickell’s offense. If he gets to show off receiving skills more often, all the better. At 6-2, 245, his body is NFL ready. A 3rd straight 1,200-yard rushing season would prove his game is too.
19. Tyler Nubin, S, Minnesota
Analyst Dane Brugler of The Athletic tabs the 5th-year senior as a late 1st-round pick, citing athleticism and ball skills. At 6-2, 210, Nubin racked up 55 tackles, 4 interceptions, 3 pass break-ups and 1 forced fumble while earning 2nd-team all-B1G honors in 2022.
18. Cade Stover, TE, Ohio State
The 6-4, 250-pound senior excels at picking up yards after contact and rates as no slouch as a blocker. He doesn’t gain much of the spotlight at Ohio State because the wideouts cast such a large shadow. But pro scouts know what he can do.
17. Brevyn Spann-Ford, TE, Minnesota
The 6-7, 270-pound senior rates highly as a blocker and receiver, and should get more touches now that workhorse Mo Ibrahim isn’t in the backfield.
16. Tommy Eichenberg, LB, Ohio State
It’s been a slow steady rise for the 6-2, 240-pound grad student. He made a name for himself in 2022 with 120 tackles, including 77 solo stops (5th nationally, 1st in B1G). He’s back trying to win a national title and prove his game can translate to the next level.
15. Jack Nelson, OL, Wisconsin
The 6-7, 311-pound redshirt junior will anchor the line for the Badgers’ new-look offense. He’s made 25 career starts, including 13 last season at left tackle. With continued progress, he could become Wisconsin’s 1st opening-round NFL pick since TJ Watt and Ryan Ramczyk both made that cut in 2017.
14. Donovan Edwards, RB, Michigan
As the 1-B to Blake Corum’s 1-A in the Wolverines’ backfield, the 6-1, 210-pound junior might be almost dead-even with his more highly touted teammate when it comes to NFL Draft status. Nearly 1,000 yards in 2022, including 216 against Ohio State, puts the former 5-star recruit on the radar. And there should be plenty of carries to go around at run-heavy Michigan.
13. TreVeyon Henderson, RB, Ohio State
The No. 1 RB recruit in 2021, the 5-10, 212-pound junior has been slowed more by injuries than opponents while averaging 6.3 yards per carry over his 2 seasons as a Buckeye. A full year of good health in OSU’s offense could vault him to the top of the list of draft-eligible running backs. Solid pass-catching skills round out his resume.
12. Blake Corum, RB, Michigan
Corum possibly was on his way to the Heisman Trophy before a late-season injury derailed his bid. He’s back to prove he’s healthy. In a best-case scenario, the 5-8, 213-pound senior could ascend to the top of the NFL Draft running backs list.
11. Denzel Burke, CB, Ohio State
A Freshman All-American in 2021, the 6-1, 190-pound former 4-star recruit regressed slightly last season and also missed 2 games. Many scouts believe he has 1st-round talent, and he’ll have a chance to prove it again this season.
10. Michael Hall Jr., DT, Ohio State
At 6-2, 280, the junior can stay on the field on pass-rush downs, as was proven when he produced 4.5 sacks in last season’s first 5 games. Getting such production from the interior of the defensive front is a boon for the Buckeyes. A high 4-star recruit in OSU’s loaded 2021 class, Hall has barely tapped his potential according to many analysts. Shoulder injuries limited him over the 2nd half of the 2022 season.
9. Chop Robinson, DE, Penn State
He played regularly as a 5-star true freshman at Maryland in 2021, then upped his game after transferring within the B1G East. The 6-3, 250-pound pass-rush specialist posted 5.5 sacks and 10 TFLs as part of Manny Diaz’s tenacious defense. Scouts think he’ll make another jump in progress as a junior.
8. Cooper DeJean, CB, Iowa
The homegrown 6-1, 207-pound junior became a fan favorite with a monster season in 2022, racking up 75 tackles and 5 interceptions, 3 of which he returned for touchdowns. If the former 4-star recruit produces an encore in his true junior season, some NFL team will want to find a spot for his all-around DB skills.
7. Kalen King, CB, Penn State
When Joey Porter Jr. missed the end of last season, Penn State’s secondary didn’t miss a beat as King seamlessly filled the CB1 role. After Porter went at the top of Round 2 of April’s draft, scouts are tagging the 5-11, 191-pound junior as a serious candidate to end PSU’s forever drought without a 1st-round DB. Pro Football Focus listed him as 1st-team B1G and a 3rd-team All-American after a season with 3 picks, 21 passes defended (3rd nationally) and 18 pass breakups (3rd).
6. Donovan Jackson, OL, Ohio State
The 6-4, 320-pound junior certainly has the pedigree and progression to reach the NFL after this year’s true junior season. He was the Buckeyes’ highest rated OL in the 2021 recruiting class (5-star, No. 7 overall talent according to 247Sports’ composite rankings). He played in all 13 games as a freshman, then started all 13 at left guard as a sophomore and shared the team lead in snaps (827) with 2 other OLs. Those 2, Paris Johnson and Luke Wypler, have moved on, leaving Jackson to anchor the group.
5. Emega Egbuka, WR, Ohio State
Marvin Harrison Jr.’s wing man nearly matched his superstar teammate with 74 catches for 1,151 yards and 10 TDs last year. The yardage total would have made him the No. 1 receiver on all but 2 other Power 5 programs. Most mock drafts expect the 6-1, 206-pound junior to be the 2nd WR taken.
4. JT Tuimoloau, DE, Ohio State
Everyone loves a big man with wicked athletic skills and a high motor. The 6-4, 270-pound Tuimoloau showed all of that in a monster game against Penn State last season (2 picks, 2 sacks, a forced fumble he recovered himself, plus a tipped pass that led to another INT). If he keeps the motor revving all season long this year, some NFL team will reward him handsomely.
3. Jer’Zhan Newton, DL, Illinois
Newton is a tweener in the best sense of the word — big enough (6-2, 295) to play interior defensive line and agile enough to work the edge. In Illinois’ 3-4 defense, he does some of both. And at a very high level. Another year wreaking havoc will position the junior to rake in pro riches.
2. Olu Fashanu, LT, Penn State
Fashanu shot up draft boards, allowing no sacks in 8 starts last season before an injury kept him out the rest of the way. Bigger and stronger this year, according to head coach James Franklin, he’ll lead a much improved o-line. A breakthrough season for the program would boost his stock, but he’s looking like a top-10 pick regardless.
1. Marvin Harrison Jr., WR, Ohio State
Another season of spectacular grabs and YAC could propel the 6-4, 205-pound gazelle to the top of the board. A wide receiver hasn’t gone No. 1 overall since Keyshawn Johnson in 1996. And none of the 3 previous WRs to go No. 1 hailed from a B1G school. But the son of the NFL Hall of Fame member sure looks worthy.