Dienhart: NFL draft Q&A with Mike Huguenin

The NFL draft begins a week from today. The build up has been lengthy. The anticipation is great. Intrigue dominates the top picks, as no one is sure what the Houston Texans will be do with the No. 1 overall pick. The Big Ten has to hope this year’s draft is more productive than last year’s, which was largely forgettable.

How forgettable? The conference had only 22 picks, the conference’s lowest total since 1994, when it had 21 from a then 11-team conference.

The Big Ten had fewer selections in the first three rounds (seven) than any of the power leagues. The low total in 1994 was softened a bit when you consider the Big Ten had the No. 1 overall pick (Ohio State DT Dan Wilkinson), four first-rounders and eight picks in the first three rounds. You get the idea.

How will the Big Ten do this year? I asked NFL.com’s Mike Huguenin, who covers college football and the draft, a variety of questions concerning the Big Ten. Check it out.

[ MORE: Get all of BTN.com's 2014 NFL Draft coverage ]

Tom Dienhart: Who will be the first Big Ten player picked, and why?
Mike Huguenin:
I think everyone thinks it will be Michigan OT Taylor Lewan. There are a lot tackles available, and he is one of the top three. I think there are some concerns about his maturity, but his size, athleticism and physical nature will trump those. I think he goes in the top 12 to 15.

TD: Deepest position for Big Ten players?
MH:
There are a lot of good Big Ten offensive linemen, led by Lewan. There’s also his Michigan teammate, Michael Schofield, who looks like a third-day pick. Ohio State has T Jack Mewhort, C Corey Linsley and G Andrew Norwell. Penn State G John Urschel, Nebraska G Spencer Long and Wisconsin G Ryan Groy could be third-day guys, though I would think Urschel would enjoy life more if he becomes a professor/mathematician. Had he not gotten hurt, Long would’ve been a fringe third-round guy, I think. Purdue T Kevin Pamphile could be a seventh-round guy.

TD: How many first-rounders?
MH: I think Lewan, Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard (my favorite CB in this draft) and Ohio State CB Bradley Roby are first-round locks. I think Minnesota DT Ra’Shede Hageman is a likely first-rounder, and I think it’s 50-50 whether Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier is a first-rounder. Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde has a chance to slip into the first round, but I am one of those who thinks there will be zero running backs in the first round for the second year in a row.

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

TD: Which Big Ten team has most potential picks?
MH: Ohio State. That says a lot about Jim Tressel’s recruiting but also about Urban Meyer’s ability to develop players. They have 10 players (Roby, Shazier, Hyde, Mewhort, Linsley, Norwell, C.J. Barnett, Christian Bryant, Corey Brown and Marcus Hall) with at least some hope of being drafted.

TD: Most overlooked players?
MH: I think Shazier is a first-round talent, and I think he is underrated a bit. I also am interested in seeing where Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis goes; I’m not sure he is underrated but think he could go a bit later than some expect because this is such a deep class of receivers. Overall, I like Iowa LB James Morris more than a lot of people. I get that he is not the most athletic and physically gifted linebacker out there. The flipside? He makes a ton of plays, is a tough and physical guy and always is around the ball. I also like Michigan State LB Denicos Allen a lot. He is considered way too small. But he’s another guy who is physically tough, makes plays and just understands the game. Finally, I think Penn State WR Allen Robinson is underrated by most analysts. He would be one of my top six receivers, but I’m not sure all that many folks agree with me.

TD: Any overhyped players?
MH: I think Roby is overrated. He had a really strong 2012 season and played well down the stretch in 2013, but he also played mediocre football for the first half of the 2013 season. Can he be really good in the NFL? Yes. He certainly has all the measurables. But I have more questions about him than Shazier. I do not understand why Shazier isn’t a lock first-rounder. And there are some analysts who think Indiana WR Cody Latimer will go before Allen Robinson. I like Latimer – - but not that much.

TD: Who will be the first five Big Ten players picked?
MH: Lewan, Dennard, Roby, Hageman and Shazier. Dennard is said to be slipping, and there are more than a few folks who now think he goes behind Roby. I don’t get that at all.

TD: How does Big Ten talent stack up with other leagues?
MH: The SEC is going to have the most draftees — I would think at least a dozen more than any other league — and I think the ACC will be second. The Big Ten and Pac-12 will be vying to have the third-most selections. No matter who you pull for in the Big Ten, you should be happy Urban Meyer and James Franklin now are coaching in your league. Those two are going to make every coach in the league pay more attention on the recruiting trail, and that is going to pay off Saturdays in the fall and on draft day.

TD: Top Big Ten underclassman?
MH: It’s Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. I think he made a really smart move to stay in school even though there are those who said he would’ve been the first back taken in this draft. By staying in school, he should get stronger, become a better receiver and show he can be a true feature back. I think he wore down a bit in the second half of last season even though he was sharing time with James White (I think you could win some bets by pointing out White had more carries last season). Wisconsin always is going to use at least two backs, but I think Gordon this season can show he can handle 18-plus carries a game with no problem.

Mike Huguenin covers college football and the draft for NFL.com. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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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Show Comments (2 Comments)
2 Post Your Comment
Scott on 5/1/2014 @ 11:30am EDT Said:

Sorry, the Big Ten’s top underclassman is not Melvin Gordon. That would be Michigan State’s Shalique Calhoun, who is only the best defensive end in the country heading into 2013. Gordon would be no lock to start on any team with Nebraska or MSU’s starting tailbacks, so how can he be the conference’s best underclassman?

Matt on 5/2/2014 @ 11:08am EDT Said:

Shalique Calhoun isn’t even the best defensive end. (see Randy Gregory) It is a good thing to have multiple players in the conference up for this debate.

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