The silliest of seasons is about to begin – no we aren't talking about the college football carousel – which arguably was about as crazy as it's ever been. Instead we are talking about the NFL draft process. You and I will probably be checking the bazillions of mock drafts checking on your favorite college teams draft prospects and of course your favorite NFL teams projected picks as well.
To that end we sat down with Erick Galko, the Director of Scouting at fellow Bloguin site Optimum Scouting to talk about the prospects of a group of six players so far from the Big Ten that have declared themselves draft eligible following their junior seasons. Make sure you follow them on Twitter as they give you the best information from all the all-star games and the combine from @OptimumScouting.
The players are – Akeem Spence (DT, Illinois); Le'Veon Bell (RB, Michigan State); William Gholston (DE, Michigan State); Dion Sims (TE, Michigan State); Jonathan Hankins (DT, Ohio State); Travis Frederick (Center, Wisconsin)
We delve into a lot in this interview, so sit back and enjoy a scouts look at the prospects of these six NFL draft prospects.
B1G Time: Just six players have declared early from the Big Ten this season, of those six players who's got the most to prove entering the draft process?
EG: Akeem Spence was a bit of a surprise to declare, despite giving every indication that he was likely to declare since the pre-season. The girthy, quick off the snap interior rusher is projected to be a 2nd-3rd rounder by some, but he's going to have to show short area athleticism and polish at the NFL Combine and in workouts, as this defensive tackle class is loaded with talent.
B1G Time: Of the six, who's the most "can't miss" prospect in your mind?
EG: I would say Jonathan Hankins of Ohio State fits that mold. While no draft pick is ever really "can't miss" (maybe outside of Andrew Luck), you can see when players can come in right away and contribute. Hankins has strong hands, attacks well upfield when he has one vs. one opportunities, and has shown the versatility to fit in multiple schemes. He's physical on the inside, and should give some mid-first round team a force for the next 8-10 years.
B1G Time: Michigan State has half of the early entrants from the Big Ten this season with RB Le'Veon Bell, TE Dion Sims, and DE William Gholston – did any of them make a mistake in coming out early or was this the right choice for all three of them?
EG: I almost always advocate for players to stay for their senior year if they aren't considered a "consensus Top 32 pick". So I would say all made "questionable" decisions by leaving early, because none are locks for the first round. Gholston fits the 5-technique role that NFL teams are willing to spend high on, and if he works out well, he may validate his decision with a late first round selection. But Dion Sims looks like a long term project, and can't contribute as a blocker or pass catcher at this point. Le'Veon Bell has the size and bulk that NFL teams will like, but he doesn't consistently break tackles on the interior as you'd expect, and though he has better than you'd expect athleticism from a running back, being a slower, bigger back who can't consistently push the pile is concerning in a deep running back class.
B1G Time: Who goes the highest in the draft of the six?
EG: Hankins is the clear "best" of the declared juniors, as he may have a place in the mid-first round. After him, William Gholston and Travis Frederick have outside chances at the late first round, but neither are locks at this point.
B1G Time: In your opinion who's the sleeper of the six?
EG: While I don't condone his decision to leave nor feel he's worth a Top 25 pick, I think William Gholston can come in and contribute early to an NFL team, more-so (and in the same NFL position) than Jerel Worthy, fellow Michigan State defensive lineman last year. Gholston pinches on the inside well, slips doubles well, and can control the B-C gap with more polish at the NFL level.
B1G Time: Call your shot now, which Big Ten player, not just early entrant goes first and why?
EG: As of now, it seems like Jonathan Hankins may be the top Big Ten pick (in the Top 25), but William Gholston of Michigan State, Travis Frederick of Wisconsin, and a potential draft riser in Illinois defensive end Michael Buchanan. All four should go in the Top 64, but the NFL Combine could be telling in how high these Big Ten-ers go.