For 2015 season previews we will be posting the top draft-eligible prospects at each position in each conference. Again, draft-eligible is the key here (redshirt sophomore to senior). I am sure someone will be left out, so feel free to leave recommended names in the comments or send them to my twitter account.
Ohio State redshirt junior Cardale Jones
This was a tight race between Cardale, Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg. Thankfully we all will have more than 3.5 games to evaluate Jones, but what has been displayed on the field is impressive. There are a few obvious traits: huge arm, willingness to target receivers at multiple levels of the field, huge frame, physical running threat. We have seen glimpses of positive pocket movement and throwing to receivers before their breaks. Exposures of the opposite also exist. We know Jones is very talented, but a real evaluation of his play is impossible to fully complete right now. Cook and Hackenberg are also talented, and I will elaborate on their games another day.
Ohio State junior Ezekiel Elliott
Where to start? Elliott has immediate starter talent and is on track for a first round selection. We all saw Elliott break off huge runs during the second half of OSU’s season, first running through alleys created by Ohio State’s misdirection and spacing, then making defenders miss in the open field or winning on first contact.
Most of all, Elliott’s ability to convert five yard runs in 10 yard runs is what separates him from other ball carriers. His feet and eyes and mind are so in synch that Elliott flawlessly changes his line to take advantage of blocking position. Runners who lack this barrel into defenders, Elliott changes their angles. Add on the fact that Elliott also runs through arm tackles at the second level, and you have a special talent.
Ohio State redshirt junior Michael Thomas
This is not a position of strength for the Big 10. Expect Thomas’ role to expand this season as he inherits some of Devin Thomas’ vertical targets. For a 6’3/210 lbs receiver, Thomas is quite fluid with his footwork after the catch, tiptoeing the sideline or altering his momentum to pick up a few extra yards. I will be watching to see if that large frame is being put to use.
Penn State senior Kyle Carter
The debate was between Carter and OSU’s Nick Vannett. I know Carter caught more passes during his freshman season than he did as a sophomore and junior combined. He might not even be the full-time start this season. But of the Big 10 bunch, he is the most fluid receiver and can win in one on one situations with athleticism, body control and size. I doubt Carter becomes an all-around tight end at the NFL level, however, a receiving role player at the position can be quite valuable. There’s some Mychal Rivera to Carter’s game.
Michigan State T redshirt junior Jack Conklin
Many encouraged Conklin to enter the 2015 NFL Draft. Instead he returned with Connor Cook and Shilique Calhoun to make one more push for the College Football Playoff. Conklin is a better run blocker than pass protector, asserting his strength, power and aggression. As a pass protector he can be late on contact and lose balance a bit too much for my liking. There’s some brutality in Conklin’s mentality when a run play is called. He finishes opponents when gaining the leverage advantage rather than just sustaining his position.
We all know Bosa’s name, yet I doubt his game is fully understood. This is oversimplifying the position: there are two kinds of edge players - speed benders and power players. A select few do both well. Many collegiate edge rushers do not “win” in either area and/or understand their limited ability (as in power rushers try to win with speed/bend and vice versa).
Bosa understands who he is. The Ohio State pass rusher converts explosion to power with a strong upper body and a balanced base. Many collegiate players win with athleticism. Bosa combines athleticism with hand technique and positioning to create separation and shed his blocker. DO NOT expect a flashy edge rusher with speed and consistent bend. That is not Bosa’s game, but where he wins translates to the NFL
I know Kemoko Turay is a fairly new name. He wasn’t even a starter last season. If Bosa is a power rusher, Turay wins with athleticism.
He closes so quickly when asked to loop up the middle and can set up inside or outside angles thanks to his edge speed. Hopefully more reps equals sustained success, or at the very least gives us a larger sample to identify where he wins: as a sub-package pass rusher or base package player.
Penn State junior Anthony Zettel
Zettel spends time on the outside and inside, but as a pass rusher he is most effective working against interior offensive linemen thanks to his combination of strength and quickness. The Penn State defensive lineman can help a team immediately in the NFL and will test well during the process. A first-round selection is absolutely achievable. Interior disruption is king.
Ohio State redshirt sophomore Darron Lee
Off ball linebacker might be one of the best positions in college football, at least at the top in terms of prospects. Jaylon Smith, Myles Jack, Reggie Ragland, Scooby Wright, Su’a Cravens and others. In the end, Darron Lee could wind up the best of the bunch.
Lee plays downhill, meeting ball carriers in the backfield with speed or attacking lead blockers in the hole. He covers so much ground, and has all the tools to be useful in coverage with more experience.
Nebraska junior S Nate Gerry
Other Big 10 defensive backs will be taken ahead of Gerry, but from a projectable/determined role standpoint, I know what Gerry offers. The safety moved from linebacker after his freshman season in 2013. He played enough split safety coverage to get a feel for his game there, but Gerry is at his best as a strong safety. If a team wants to run their base defense in cover 1 or cover 3, Gerry could be that extra attacking defender in the box.