Matt Daniels: 10 Big Ten players to watch at combine
1. Taylor Lewan, Michigan. NFL teams love big, athletic offensive tackles. Like the Michigan product. Could possibly be first Big Ten player to give Roger Goodell a man hug at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall on May 8. Doubt he’ll become like former Wolverine Jake Long and vault to the top of the draft, but almost a guaranteed first-round pick at this point.
2. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State. Mark Dantonio trusted the cornerback’s skills so much last fall he often left Dennard by himself in man coverage. With good reason. Michigan State’s first Jim Thorpe Award winner is projected right now as a mid-first-round pick. Given how Seattle won a Super Bowl with a premier secondary, teams will evaluate Dennard closely.
3. Ra’shede Hageman, Minnesota. The defensive tackle has the size (6-6, 318) and athleticism to make his case in becoming the first Gopher drafted in the first round since Laurence Maroney in 2006. Hageman caused fits all year for Big Ten offensive lines, and his disruptive ability could translate well in the NFL.
4. Bradley Roby, Ohio State. NFL teams want to see a little more of what he did against Illinois (63-yard interception return for a touchdown) and a little less of what he did right before Big Ten Media Days (arrested on misdemeanor battery charge). The charge later was dropped, but those are issues players never want to have to deal with at the combine.
5. Allen Robinson, Penn State. The Nittany Lions have not had a wide receiver drafted in the first round since 2003. Don’t know if Robinson can change that, but he has the ideal size (6-3, 210) for a wideout and excelled for two seasons in Bill O’Brien’s NFL system. Michigan native should hear his name called at some point in the first two rounds.
6. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa. Tight ends who are big, athletic and have hands like glue are in constant demand. Former Illinois commit from Johnsburg meets the criteria. He thrived his last two years in Iowa City, hauling in five touchdown passes last fall, which came after he had 45 catches for 433 yards in 2012. Could be a steal for any team.
7. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State. Linebacker, who declared early, certainly was a menace for Illinois. He produced 16 tackles, including 31/2 for loss, and forced a fumble. He didn’t just feast on the Illini, either, receiving three Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week accolades in 2013. Possibly could sneak into the first round.
8. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State. Again, another Buckeye who had a career day against Illinois last season. The running back didn’t let a three-game suspension to start the 2013 season deter him, rushing for 1,521 yards. Likely won’t become the ninth Buckeye running back to get drafted in the first round, but he shouldn’t stay on the board much longer after that.
9. Kain Colter, Northwestern. How he adapts from quarterback to wideout will prove intriguing for the former Northwestern signal-caller, who caught 63 passes for 683 yards and four TDs during his career with the Wildcats. Leading push to organize union for college athletes, the well-spoken Denver native should handle the interview part exceptionally well.
10. Max Bullough, Michigan State. The emotional leader and key playmaker on the country’s top defense, the Spartans linebacker will have to answer more questions than he wants from NFL teams about why he was suspended before the Rose Bowl. That talk will overshadow the 299 career tackles and two selections to the All-Big Ten first team he accumulated at Michigan State.