Dienhart: Will they stay or will they go?

We already have seen Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins turn pro. Some other Big Ten players likely are wrestling with the decision. Here is a look at ten Big Ten underclassmen who appear to be the most coveted and could opt to turn pro.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

[NFL.com: Look back at every NFL draft and sort by school.]

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State. A running back has only so many carries in his body. How many more does the 6-2, 237-pound junior have? Bell leads the nation with 350 carries this season, averaging a Big Ten-high 137.3 yards rushing. He has carried 639 times in his career.

Here’s a look at Bell’s career rushing and receiving stats.

Year Team G Rush Yds Yd/Rush TDs Rec Yds Yd/Rec TDs
2010 MSU 13 107 605 5.7 8 11 97 8.8 0
2011 MSU 14 182 948 5.2 13 35 267 7.6 0
2012 MSU 12 350 1648 4.7 11 30 154 5.1 1
Career 39 639 3201 5.0 32 76 518 6.8 1

Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois. The 6-1, 235-pound junior is an athletic force who plays well in space—and in traffic. Brown also is instinctive. He didn’t match the numbers from his big breakout 2011 season, still, Brown is the total package who can play inside and outside.

Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. Running mate Johnny Adams came into the season with more hype, but Dennard had the better season. The junior was a first-team All-Big Ten choice by the coaches, showing skills in space by playing on the “open” side. The 5-11, 188-pound Dennard can run and hit.

Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin. The redshirt junior was the anchor of another good Badgers offensive line. Scouts like Frederick’s quick feet and ability to get to the next level, as the 6-4, 338-pounder has followed nicely in the footsteps of Peter Konz, who turned pro early and was a second-round pick last year.

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Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota. The 6-6, 301-pound redshirt junior came to campus as a tight end but has morphed into a monster defensive tackle. Indeed, it all came together for Hageman in a breakout season. The NFL always overvalues defensive tackles—so expect Hageman to be coveted.

Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. The redshirt junior has said he will wait until after the Wolverines’ Jan. 1 Outback Bowl clash with South Carolina before making a decision. The 6-8, 309-pound redshirt junior was an AP first-team All-American and Big Ten offensive lineman of the year as a left tackle.

William Gholston, DE, Michigan State. He entered the year touted as one of the nation’s top defensive ends. But the 6-7, 278-pound junior wasn’t even first-team All-Big Ten after making 12 tackles for loss and only 3.5 sacks. Still, Gholston’s physical skills tantalize, but does his motor always run?

Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State. Just a redshirt sophomore, Roby has turned heads in just two seasons. The 5-11, 190-pound Roby excels in coverage and run support, notching 63 tackles in 2012 with two interceptions. He has shut-down skills.

Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State. He finally enjoyed a relatively healthy season—and it showed. The mammoth Sims (6-5, 280) arguably was the top tight end in the Big Ten. Sims has 33 catches for 451 yards and two scores. The redshirt junior also has improved as a run blocker.

Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois. At 6-1, 305 pounds, the redshirt junior lacks great stature. But Spence has been a force on the interior and is the type of run-stuffer that NFL teams covet, projecting as an ideal three-technique tackle. Illinois has produced linemen of recent vintage like Whitney Mercilus and Corey Liuget. Spence is next.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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