The Big Ten has sent its fair share of talent into the NFL. Ohio State and Michigan have been the largest supplier but Penn State has produced a bunch lately. Today we are going to look at who are the top prospects for each of their fourteen-member schools available for the 2019 NFL Draft.
ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI
NICK ALLEGRETTI, SR, C
Lovie Smith has not cultivated the talent necessary for Illinois to rise in the Big Ten. The Illini have struggled for a long time. The pickings are slim for a draftable prospect in 2019. Nick Allegretti is a two-year starter, with games played at guard and center. He is a longshot to be selected but versatility goes a long way.
I thought Nick Linder was a top-five center prospect in last years draft. Linder was a two-year starter for Miami before he decided to transfer before the beginning of the 2017 season. He transferred to Indiana where I expect him to be the top center in the Big Ten.
NOAH FANT, JR, TE
Noah Fant is a field-stretching weapon at the tight end position. He caught 30 passes a year ago including 11 touchdowns. Fant caught two TDs against Ohio State. He is a threat in the red zone. Fant needs to add some weight (he is only 232 pounds) and I need to study his blocking more in-depth. If I see improvement in these areas he could be a Top 100 candidate.
BYRON COWART, SR, EDGE
Byron Cowart arrived at Auburn as the #1 high school recruit in the nation. He was rated ahead of 2017 #1 pick Myles Garrett. He finished his Auburn career with a whopping 1.5 TFL and zero sacks. So why is he on this list? Because I am a sucker for potential. Cowart is 6’3” 276 pounds. He has shown explosion but hasn’t finished. Will a change of scenery unlock his potential? We shall see.
RASHAN GARY, JR, DL
Rashan Gary is 6’4” 287 pounds. Rashan Gary ran a 4.57 forty. That is just dumb. Gary finished last year with 11.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks. Players with his talent, size, and athleticism are usually rare. The 2019 NFL Draft will not be one of those years. Gary will have to produce even more to separate himself from the many talented defensive linemen in next year’s draft class.
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
LJ SCOTT, SR, RB
LJ Scott is a talented runner. He runs with power and has some breakaway speed. Scott is not an intricate route runner but he can be an asset in the passing game. He found himself in the doghouse last year before injuries forced him back into the lineup. Scott wisely came back to East Lansing for his senior season so as to not get lost in the shuffle with last year’s draft class.
MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS
RODNEY SMITH, SR, RB
Rodney Smith is a solid RB prospect. He has been productive for the Golden Gophers over the last three years. Smith also ran a kick back for a touchdown a year ago.
FREEDOM AKINMOLADUN, SR, EDGE
The man with the very long name has seen his production dip since he exploded onto the scene as a freshman. Akinmoladun can get after the QB he just needs to refine his technique.
CLAYTON THORSON, SR, QB
Clayton Thorson is thought by some to be a first-round prospect at QB. I have not seen that in my limited viewing. He tore his ACL in their bowl game against Kentucky but is on track to be back for the 2018 season. Thorson’s recovery from that and an improvement in accuracy will help me feel better about him as a prospect.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
NICK BOSA, JR, EDGE
The younger brother of Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa is carving out a huge legacy for himself. Nick has 13.5 sacks during his first two years in Columbus. I expect that number to increase since he will not be sharing the spotlight with others. Bosa converts speed to power and is a finisher. A top-five draft position is not out of the realm of possibility.
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
AMANI ORUWARIYE, SR, CB
This long-armed cornerback burst onto the scene a year ago with four interceptions. Teams picked on him and he came through. He is definitely one I want to see more of this year.
BRYCEN HOPKINS, JR, TE
Purdue has a really fun offense to watch under head coach Jeff Brohm. There is excitement in West Lafayette for the first time in a long time. Hopkins isn’t always the go-to option in the pass play but when his number is called he makes plays. Hopkins could elevate his stock this year but he is a longshot to declare, in my opinion.
RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS
JON HILLIMAN, SR, RB
The third transfer on this list is former Boston College running back Jon Hilliman. Hilliman lost his starting job a year ago. He is a bruising back. Hilliman picks up the tough yardage. He should help the Scarlet Knights offense in 2018.
BEAU BENZSCHAWEL, SR, OG
You can always count on the Badgers to produce quality offensive linemen. Beau Benzschawel is the next in that line. He has started 36 straight games, including 30 at right guard. Benzschawel is a powerful blocker. He has a chance to get into the first round conversation during the 2019 NFL Draft.
That concludes our top prospect preview for the Big Ten. Next week we preview the Big 12.
Let us know in the comments about your favorite Big Ten prospects!