Dienhart: Big Ten to lose just 4 stars early to NFL draft

January 15 is the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft. And, the Big Ten isn’t taking too many big hits, which would seem to bode well for the conference in 2014. Just four players have declared: Indiana WR Cody Latimer; Penn State WR Allen Robinson; Ohio State CB Bradley Roby; Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier.

In my mind, it was a no-brain decision for Robinson, Roby and Shazier to all turn pro early. Each has excelled at the collegiate level, leaving little left to prove.

Ryan Shazier

Shazier paced the Big Ten in tackles last season, averaging 10.2 per game. He also led the league in tackles for loss (1.6) and was 10th in sacks (.43). Shazier was the one of the few consistent forces on a Buckeye defense that often struggled.

Some project him as a first-round pick with the only outside linebackers rated higher being UCLA’s Anthony Barr and Buffalo’s Khalil Mack.

Bradley Roby

Roby endured an up-and-down 2013 after contemplating if he should come back after the 2012 season. In fact, some think he may have been better off coming out a year ago, as he could have been a first-round selection. He still may be.

Things got off to bad start in 2013, as Roby was arrested July 21 and charged with misdemeanor battery and spent the night in jail after allegedly striking a bouncer in the chest during a bar fight in Bloomington, Ind. Eventually, the charges were reduced to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and will be dropped if Roby stays out of trouble for the next year. Still, he was suspended for the season opener. Roby then missed the Orange Bowl with injury.

Roby’s play seemed lackluster for a Buckeye pass defense that often got shredded. Who could forget how Roby struggled to cover Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis, who caught 10 passes for 207 yards and a score in a September matchup vs. Roby? Still Roby’s skill-set should translate well to the NFL, which covets cover corners. And he figures to test well. It was time to go. CBSSports.com has Roby as the No. 4 corner behind Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and TCU’s Jason Verrett.

Allen Robinson

Robinson led the Big Ten in receptions (97) and receiving yards (1,432), while grabbing six scoring passes. He’s a big, physical target with some speed. He’s ready for the next level.

The only wideouts who figure to go before Robinson are Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, USC’s Marqise Lee and Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin.

Cody Latimer

Latimer also impressed in 2013, grabbing 72 passes for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns. He has nice size but lacks top-end speed, which is why he’s a projected mid-round pick.

Among the four Big Ten early-entrants, Latimer is the one who could have benefited most by returning. His numbers could have been even higher in 2014 playing for an Indiana offense that returns both quarterbacks and will be without WR Kofi Hughes and TE Ted Bolser.

***

Notable for eschewing the NFL, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon could have turned pro but opted to return for his redshirt junior season after running for 1,609 yards. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah is another back who opted to return after leading the Big Ten in rushing with 1,690 yards. I was surprised by the decision of both guys. Backs have only so many carries. Why not get paid now and go back to school later?

Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff is returning, as is Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who thought about leaving but wisely opted to return.

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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