The NFL Draft is over and done with, and while a flurry of undrafted free agent signings are announced, here's a look at eight Big Ten takeaways from this year's selection bonanza.
1. Michigan has an awful lot to replace
It was a great few days for Jim Harbaugh's team as he watched a program-record 11 players get selected in this draft. But in sending so many players to the pros, it's an unnerving signal for the upcoming campaign, in which Michigan will have replace a whole host of talent. That includes the majority of what was one of the best defenses in college football last season. Four members of the Wolverines' 2016 secondary, three defensive linemen and one linebacker were chosen in the draft, as were three pass-catchers (two receivers and a tight end). A high number of players picked obviously shows how strong Michigan's program is, and it shouldn't be a surprise to see them reload again — just like Ohio State did this past season after last year's draft exodus — but it's a lot of work to do for Harbaugh & Co.
2. Should be a big year for Penn State
The flip side of what happened to Michigan is what happened to Penn State. The Nittany Lions, the reigning Big Ten champs, had just one player picked in seven rounds: wide receiver Chris Godwin. It's a good indication of why James Franklin's team is going into the 2017 as one of the favorites to win the national championship. Not hearing many names called this weekend means those names are all in Happy Valley, ready to work toward what could be an even better campaign than last year's 11-win stunner. Running back Saquon Barkley, quarterback Trace McSorley, tight end Mike Gesicki and a host of others could be in this position a year from now. But the lack of Nittany Lions mentioned this weekend means you'll hear a whole lot about them this fall.
3. Ohio State is DBU
The first three Big Ten products off the board in Thursday night's first round were Ohio State defensive backs. Even as injuries and off-the-field issues raised some red flags, these three guys were the best Big Ten players from wire to wire in the leadup to the draft. Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley are going to go make a ton of money after brief college careers. The first two of those three were just one-year starters in Columbus. That speaks to the defensive back factory Urban Meyer has going at Ohio State. Eli Apple was a top-10 pick a season ago, and Vonn Bell was a second-round pick. The year prior, it was Doran Grant getting picked, and Bradley Roby and Christian Bryant were selected in 2014. The Buckeyes might not have the No. 1 defense each and every season, but it's a good bet that offenses will be going up against future pros every single down.
4. Illinois is DLU
While Illinois isn't the type of program Ohio State is by a long shot, it does have an incredible track record when it comes to sending defensive linemen to the NFL Draft. Dawuane Smoot was a third-round pick this year, going to the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 68. He was the sixth Illini D-lineman taken in the draft since 2011, joining Corey Liuget, Whitney Mercilus, Akeem Spence, Michael Buchanan and Jihad Ward. Four of those guys, Smoot included, are defensive ends. And Carroll Phillips, another pass-rushing defensive linemen, was expected to be drafted this year but ended up an undrafted free agent. The Illini haven't found wins easy to come by in recent seasons, but they have a terrific track record of NFL guys to sell to recruits, something that should carry even more weight coming from Lovie Smith.
5. Interesting future for bowl games
Michigan tight end Jake Butt made some of the biggest headlines this weekend after he fell to the fifth round. Butt was one of the best tight ends in college football the past couple seasons but suffered a serious leg injury in the Orange Bowl. An insurance policy means Butt will get more than half a million dollars after his fall down the board, but it ties into the bigger question of the future of stars playing in bowl games. Star running backs Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette were first-round picks this weekend, and both sat out their bowl games back in the winter. Michigan played in a high-profile Orange Bowl, but even that game had significantly less juice after the Wolverines were left out of the College Football Playoff. It seems to show that future NFL stars could start sitting out of non-Playoff bowl games en masse. But we'll see how things play out.
6. Where was Austin Carr?
There were plenty of head-scratchers this weekend, but how on Earth did the Northwestern wideout not get selected? Carr is a former walk-on and might not have the size and/or flash of your prototypical NFL receiver, but there were few pass-catchers in all of college football better than Carr last season. The Big Ten's Wide Receiver of the Year, he hauled in 84 passes for 1,196 yards and 12 touchdowns, leading the conference in all three categories and getting named one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, honoring the best receiver in the country. Carr ended up signing with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent — a somewhat predictable landing spot considering he looked like a stereotypical Tom Brady target all along — but you have to imagine his future is bright enough that he should have warranted a draft pick.
7. Is there a quarterback in the house?
Just one Big Ten quarterback was drafted this year, and it was Iowa signal-caller C.J. Beathard, who in his most recent game threw three interceptions in a 30-3 Outback Bowl loss. It's now been 22 years since a Big Ten quarterback was drafted in the first round — Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995 — and we have to start to wonder if the conference is ever going to boast a quarterback good enough to be someone's first-round, franchise choice. Looking ahead to next season, the pickings remain slim. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is the least pro-style quarterback you might be able to think of. Northwestern's Clayton Thorson has the style, but will he be good enough or even want to leave school with a season of eligibility remaining? Penn State's Trace McSorley made a lot of big plays last season, but is he NFL material yet? And pretty much every other Big Ten team needs to figure out who's even going to play quarterback before assessing an NFL future.
8. Draft lays out Big Ten power structure
The two Big Ten schools with the most players picked this weekend? Michigan and Ohio State. The two Big Ten schools with no players picked this weekend? Maryland and Rutgers. And the rest of the conference falls in line much like you'd expect. The NFL Draft effectively laid out the Big Ten's power structure in glaring fashion, with the dominant programs obvious and the weak ones obvious. Multiple selections for the likes of Michigan State and Wisconsin. Just one selection for the likes of Illinois and Purdue. There were some irregularities. As mentioned, Penn State only heard one name called. Same for Nebraska. But if you want to know the healthiest Big Ten programs, look at which ones had multiple draft picks this weekend. It also shows the uphill climb facing newcomers Maryland and Rutgers.