Every Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten …

1. The B1G Story

You work for a widget company, and for decades the hiring practices of the widget company are to hire the most qualified applicant based on prior history of working with widgets.

Only on the day you choose a new employee, you’re owner says prior work history is important — but don’t forget about the S2 cognition test.

The what?

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce what the NFL is trying sell. Cognition tests determine a player’s ability to:

  • Think (I’m not making that up).
  • Learn (also, not making it up).
  • Understand and use language.
  • Remember.
  • Pay attention.
  • Reason.
  • Make decisions.
  • Apply judgment.

Apparently, Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud didn’t nail his cognition test. In fact, numerous reports have Stroud scoring 18 (out of a possible 100), and the odds  of him being selected in the top 5 of the NFL Draft on Thursday night are quickly decreasing.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Here’s a novel concept: follow your tried and true process and select the guy who has the best game tape. Or in this case, the guy who has played at a high level in 2 seasons at Ohio State — and (in case this means anything to anybody) played better than any other quarterback over the last 2 seasons against the nasty Georgia defense.

Or you can go with your cognition test. Whatever the hell that is.

On to our annual ranking of the best available Big Ten players in the NFL Draft, with The Top 10, The Next 5 and Boom or Bust.

2. The Top 10

1. QB CJ Stroud, Ohio State: What’s not to like? Live arm, accurate, sneaky athleticism. If you’re concerned about his play in 2 losses to Michigan, turn on the tape against Georgia.

2. CB Devon Witherspoon, Illinois: Might be the 1st cornerback selected. Has moved up draft boards since the end of the season. A true man-cover corner with 24 PBUs in the last 2 seasons.

3. CB Joey Porter Jr., Penn State: Long and strong, and can run. An ideal perimeter corner who can play man and off coverage. Likely top 15 pick.

4. WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State: The 40 time (4.58) at his Pro Day is concerning for some teams, as is the 2022 season he essentially sat out with a hamstring injury. But look at 2021 — and treat him like JaMarr Chase, who sat out the Covid season and is a star in the NFL.

5. OT Peter Skoronski, Northwestern: The closer we get to draft day, the more many teams believe Skoronski isn’t a tackle and will likely slide inside. Do you take a guard with a top 10 pick?

6. CB Deonte Banks, Maryland: A physical corner who thrives in man coverage. Don’t mistake limited INTs (2 career) for talent. Teams didn’t throw his way.

7. OT Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State: Probably the safest OT selection in the draft. Has the size, length and athleticism to be a left tackle from Day 1.

8. TE Sam LaPorta, Iowa: A combo in-line and move tight end, and a wildly underused weapon because of poor quarterback play (and offensive concepts) at Iowa. Terrific catch range with sneaky speed.

9. CB DJ Turner, Michigan: Stock has slipped some since the end of the season. A risk/reward player, but a physical corner who thrives in man coverage.

10. C Joe Tippmann, Wisconsin: The first question: a 6-foot-6 center? He may have to move inside to guard, but taller centers have worked of late in the NFL (see: 6-4 Jaguars C Luke Fortner), especially those as athletic as Tippmann.

3. The Next 5

1. LB Jack Campbell, Iowa: The prototypical Mike linebacker. He’ll play in the league for a decade, and be one of the best at his position. High football IQ and athleticism.

2. C John Michael-Schmitz, Minnesota: The former wrestler was a mauler in college. But what happens against bigger and/or quicker interior players in the NFL?

3. DE Zach Harrison, Ohio State: You’re betting on ceiling. Harrison has improved every season since he arrived as a 5-star recruit, but isn’t close to maxing out. Can play in odd and even fronts.

4. LB Nick Herbig, Wisconsin: Where does he play? He’s not a Mike, and he’s not big enough to be a 3-down edge in an odd front. He’s more than likely a situational pass rusher — but guys have made a career doing the same thing.

5. S Ji’Ayir Brown, Penn State: A physical, punishing hitter in the back end. One scout told me, “Once he figures out the game is about (tackling) angles, he could be a helluva player.”

4. Boom or Bust

1. Edge Lucas Van Ness, Iowa: Never started a game at Iowa. A long and athletic situational pass rusher with huge upside. Played mostly interior in 2021, then mostly outside in 2022. 14 career sacks.

2. OT Dawand Jones, Ohio State: A massive, massive individual (6-8, 375) — and risk. There are plays when he’s scary good, and others where he looks lost. Strong and punishing, and potentially a 10-year RT.

3. DT Mazi Smith, Michigan: Mostly a one-dimensional player (run stuffer), but when has that been a problem? Pass rush skills are spotty. Big and quick enough to play nose in an odd front.

4. DT Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin: The breakdown is a combo run stuffer and pass rusher. But there’s one problem: where’s the consistent production in both areas?

5. Edge Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern: An athletic freak, but where does he play? He was an end at Northwestern, but he’s not an edge in the NFL. He’s probably a 3 technique in an odd front.

5. The Weekly 5

The best 5 Big Ten picks from the 2022 draft.

1. DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan (No. 2 overall, Lions): Final 6 weeks of season with Lions in playoff hunt: 4 sacks, 5 QB hits, 21 tackles, 5 tackles for loss.

2. WR Garrett Wilson, Ohio State (No. 10 overall, Jets): Led all rookies in receiving yards (1,103), setting a Jets franchise record.

3. WR Chris Olave, Ohio State (No. 11 overall, Saints): Led the Saints in catches (72), yards (1,042) and 100-yard games (3).

4. RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State (No. 41 overall, Seahawks): Led all rookies in rushing yards (1,050) and touchdowns (9).

5. TE Chigoziem Okonkwo, Maryland (No. 143 overall, Titans): in only 46 targets, had 32 catches and led rookie tight ends in receiving yards (450).

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft eligible Big Ten player. This week: Purdue CB Corey Trice Jr.

“He’s a big guy. You don’t often seen a 6-3, 210-pound corner. He might be a guy that grows into a safety. He can run (sub-4.5 40), but he’s not consistent mirroring. I love the way he breaks on the ball, and that makes up for some other deficiencies. Where does he play? That’s the biggest question.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: spring practice star.

1. Michigan: WR Peyton O’Leary. After 2 seasons of near-hits, it might be too difficult for coach Jim Harbaugh to keep O’Leary — a former walk-on — off the field. He’s 6-3, 200 pounds, and makes the critical look easy: he gets open and catches the ball.

2. Ohio State: WR Carnell Tate. Freshman 4-star midterm enrollee was fluid all spring, and looked the part. Then made a big catch on a deep ball in the spring game.

3. Penn State: RB Nick Singleton. He’s bigger, he says he’s faster, and it all looked so much easier in his second spring. He’s ready for a monster season.

4. Wisconsin: CB Ricardo Hallman. With the entire focus on the Air Raid offense, new coach Luke Fickell did what he does best: develop cover corners. Hallman struggled in 2022, but was a star this spring. Had 3 INTs in spring game.

5. Minnesota: S Jack Henderson. Gophers coach PJ Fleck embraced the portal, and found a gem in Henderson, an FCS star at Southeastern Louisiana who was the best player in the secondary during spring practice.

6. Iowa: TE Erick All. The other Michigan transfer (not QB Cade McNamara) quietly had a huge spring, backing up his blue-chip potential at Michigan.

7. Illinois: LT Julian Pearl. The best offensive lineman at Illinois in more than a decade, he’ll be among the best in the nation at his position in 2023.

8. Purdue: QB Hudson Card. Played better than given credit for at Texas, and thrived in OC Graham Harrell’s offense this spring. New coach Ryan Walters thinks he can be unique.

9. Maryland: DT Jordan Phillips. Transfer from Tennessee was disruptive for much of the spring, and will be a factor in both run stuff and pass rush. Played 3 games for the Vols last season as a freshman, and redshirted.

10. Michigan State: WR Keon Coleman. He skipped playing basketball in the spring to focus on football. A breakout season last year could lead to an All-Big Ten season in 2023 — or much more.

11. Nebraska: QB Jeff Sims. Casey Thompson, the 2022 starter, missed much of the spring recovering from a shoulder injury. Georgia Tech transfer Sims flashed, and gives Nebraska a dual threat at the position.

12. Indiana: DE Andre Carter. The Western Michigan transfer was disruptive wherever he played this spring. The staff moved him along the front, and he was consistently unblockable at every position.

13. Rutgers: WR Rashad Rochelle. Greg Schiano hasn’t had an impact receiver since his return to Piscataway, but Rochelle could be it. He worked mostly at RB as a freshman in 2022, but is a wideout — and will be used at both positions to get him as many touches as possible.

14. Northwestern: QB Brendan Sullivan. Flashed late last year, and Northwestern is desperate for someone to take the job and develop.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: Nebraska brought back Frankie Solich for the spring game. Can this connection to the past start to heal the program? — James Donaldson, Omaha, Neb.


I’ll write about this very subject in the coming weeks, but as a quick assessment: it can’t hurt.

Solich was a beloved player and coach, and was unceremoniously fired because he wasn’t Tom Osborne. Think about that.

All of the important small things new coach Matt Rhule is doing can make you feel better about a program that hasn’t been relevant since Solich was coach in 2001 — but it’s not going to win games. You win games because you’re better prepared than the other team, and most important, because you have better players.

The Huskers will be better prepared under Rhule. They won’t collapse at critical moments, and won’t make confounding mistakes.

That’s a big start, and can be the early stages of winning their share of the multitude of 1-possession games lost over the Scott Frost era.

9. Numbers

141. Ohio State has the most NFL Draft picks in college football since 2000. The Buckeyes have had 141 players drafted, including 31 in the 1st round.

Ohio State could have as many as 8 players drafted this week, including 3 1st-rounders (Stroud, Smith-Njigba, Johnson). The Buckeyes are tied with Alabama in 1st-round selections.

The Tide could have as many as 4 go in the 1st round: QB Bryce Young, Edge Will Anderson, S Brian Branch, RB Jahmyr Gibbs.

10. Quote to note

Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell: “It’s easy to look at (QB) Tanner (Mordecai) and say, ‘OK, the ball was picked off 3 times or whatever it was. He didn’t bat an eye. He didn’t get down. He kept coming back, kept firing. I think the guys rallied behind him.”