The four prospects that promise to continue Big Ten’s NFL draft success

The best and most effective way of measuring the best college football conference is not by evaluating a conference’s number of national championships or bowl wins but by how many quality NFL players it produces. 

If college football conferences were ranked by NFL players produced, then the Big Ten would invariably be in the conversation for top conference in the country.

From Tom Brady to Russell Wilson to J.J. Watt, the Big Ten has certainly had a knack for producing big-time professional talent. With the NFL Draft on Thursday in Chicago, we will soon find out who will be the next NFL playmaker from the Big Ten.

Melvin Gordon: Gordon, the top back in the Big Ten in 2014, is one of the most intriguing draft prospects among running backs. At Wisconsin, Gordon gave every defense he faced a migraine with his elite speed and agility in the open field. 

His knack for exploiting gaps and embarrassing defenders attempting to tackle him once he hits the second level is an enviable trait for teams lacking a strong running back. It should be said that Gordon must improve as a inside runner, as a receiver out of the backfield and as a pass blocker. Still, his 40 yard dash time of 4.52, the best of any running back at the combine, is certainly hard to pass up.

Given his speed, don’t be surprised to see the Eagles swoop in and choose him in the first round. He has the potential to fit perfectly into a fast-paced Chip Kelly offensive system. The Cowboys and Ravens are two other possible landing spots for Gordon due to their lack of depth at running back.  

Trae Waynes: Like Gordon, his high school teammate, Waynes is equally known for his speed. He recorded the fastest 40 yard dash time of any cornerback at the draft combine and is arguably the best cornerback in the draft.

He was an extremely well-rounded cornerback at Michigan State, who boasted the quickness to keep up with any elite receiver. Waynes also has a strong ability to break up passes and make tackles in the open field. Barring injury, whichever team drafts him in the first round will be set for years to come at the cornerback position.

 Brandon Scherff: Offensive linemen may be the most boring, but most important, picks a team can make in the draft. 

If NFL teams are looking to anchor their offensive line for the foreseeable future, then Scherff may be the smartest decision. Scherff was selected as a first-team All–Big Ten selection and was awarded the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman in his senior season at Iowa. 

He boasts exceptional lateral movement and quickness, which gives him the ability to prevent rushers from hitting the edge. Another one of his strengths is his aptitude to generate a strong push against interior defensive lineman and to block in space. At 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, Scherff is a tenacious run blocker who has the potential to anchor any right side of the offensive line for many years.

Teams with holes in their offensive line, especially the Bears, Giants and Jets, would be smart to consider Scherff at the tackle position. This may not be the sexiest pick for any team in the draft, but it has the least potential to be a bust.

Devin Smith: Smith is one of the more underrated prospects of all the top wide receiver prospects at this year’s draft. Though he does not have the same potential as Alabama’s Amari Cooper or West Virginia’s Kevin White, Smith has enough upside to be a productive NFL receiver. 

Last season, he emerged as one of the more dangerous receivers in the Big Ten. His reputation as one of the best deep threats in all of college football was deserved — his production was a key cog in Ohio State’s national championship run. Smith accumulated 931 receiving yards in 2014 along with 12 touchdown catches, though his most staggering statistic is his 28 yard per catch average.

His downfield speed makes him a threat to turn any short pass into a long gain. His biggest weakness is his ability to contend with physical corners that knock him off the line of scrimmage. 

Smith is currently projected a second-round pick, and would fit comfortably on a team that lacks depth at wide receiver. Teams like the Bears, Eagles and Browns would be well advised to consider Smith in the second round.

Dan is a junior in Media.

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