Several Big Ten underclassmen deciding NFL draft futures

The Big Ten has no shortage of NFL-ready talent, and the time has come for the best underclassmen to make one of the most important decisions of their lives: Stay or go?

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft is Jan. 16, which means many are weighing their options now after gathering feedback. Some have already declared, while others have decided to return for their senior seasons.

Here is a look at the Big Ten players who have declared, are still considering leaving early or who have announced they will come back to school, as of Wednesday night.


CB Rashard Fant: Fant has been one of the Big Ten's best defensive backs the past two years and must decide between the NFL and pursuing graduate school at Indiana. He led the league in 2016 with 20 passes defended one year after recording 22.

LB Tegray Scales: Scales led the Big Ten in tackles (126) and tackles for loss (23.5) this season to vault his way into the draft conversation. The Indiana defense would receive a big boost if Scales returns.


RB Akrum Wadley: Wadley told reporters after the Outback Bowl that he was "50-50" on whether he would turn pro. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark as a junior and gained 115 yards on the ground against Florida in the bowl game. There are several talented tailbacks ahead of Wadley, but he could find a spot on the right team.

LB Josey Jewell: Jewell said he plans to return to Iowa for his senior season, noting the feedback he received from the NFL draft advisory committee indicated he should stay in school. Jewell finished second in the Big Ten with 124 tackles.


LB Jabrill Peppers: Peppers, a Heisman Trophy finalist, was one of the most versatile players in college football this season. He was fifth on the team in rushing, was the top punt and kick return man and finished third in total tackles. His decision will be watched as closely as that of any player in the Big Ten.

DT Maurice Hurst: Hurst has announced he will return for the 2017 season. He will be a key piece of the Wolverines defense. He recorded 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.

FB Khalid Hill: Michigan's touchdown machine is also returning for his senior season. He scored 10 rushing touchdowns despite carrying the ball only 39 times.


DL Malik McDowell: McDowell announced in early December his decision to leave school early. He tallied 34 tackles and 1.5 sacks in nine games during an injury-plagued junior season. He is projected as a potential first-round pick.

S Montae Nicholson: Nicholson, like McDowell, is opting for the NFL draft. The junior finished second on the team with 86 tackles and an interception, and leaves after starting for the Spartans the past two seasons.


DL Steven Richardson: Pro Football Focus published a piece that highlighted Richardson as one of four breakout NFL prospects. Richardson, who finished with seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss this season, has not yet made an announcement on his future.


CB Chris Jones: Jones posted on Twitter on Nov. 29 that he will return for his senior season. He recorded 37 tackles, with three interceptions and 10 pass breakups.


LB Anthony Walker Jr.: Walker has announced that he will declare for the NFL draft. He becomes the first Northwestern player to leave school early for the NFL since Darnell Autry after the 1996 season. Walker led the Big Ten in tackles for loss in 2015.

RB Justin Jackson: The Wildcats' workhorse said after his team's Pinstripe Bowl victory that he would return to school, telling reporters, "You don't come [to Northwestern] and not get a degree. I will leave it at that." He is the first Northwestern running back to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons and will be one of the Big Ten's best next season.


S Malik Hooker: After recording seven interceptions and finishing third on the team with 74 tackles, Hooker announced he would turn pro. Hooker is projected as a potential first-round draft pick.

QB J.T. Barrett: Barrett announced Wednesday via Instagram that he would return for his senior season, strengthening the Buckeyes' playoff hopes for next year. He is 26-4 as a starter at Ohio State and will have a chance to keep rewriting the program record books.

LB Raekwon McMillan: McMillan declared for the NFL draft on Wednesday after leading the Buckeyes with 102 tackles and producing a monster 15-tackle game in the Fiesta Bowl. He is expected to be a first- or second-round pick.

H-back Curtis Samuel: Samuel's versatility is special and has NFL talent evaluators salivating. He ranked third on Ohio State in rushing and first in receiving, while recording 15 touchdowns.

CB Marshon Lattimore: Lattimore could be a first-round pick, which would be difficult to turn down. He picked off four passes and took advantage of his first season as a full-time starter.

CB Gareon Conley: Conley announced on Tuesday that he would enter the NFL draft after tallying eight pass breakups and four interceptions. He was a two-year starter who was named second-team all-Big Ten this season.

DE Tyquan Lewis: Lewis is another prospect likely to enter the NFL draft after he finished with 10.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and five quarterback hurries.

TE Marcus Baugh: Baugh caught 24 passes for 269 yards with two touchdowns and was an honorable mention all-Big Ten pick. He's an athletic prospect who would get drafted somewhere if he left early.

DE Sam Hubbard: Hubbard announced on Twitter after the Fiesta Bowl that he was "not going anywhere." He'll be back after recording 46 tackles with 8.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

OL Billy Price: Price also opted to return for next season. He'll certainly be one of the best offensive linemen in the country, with a chance to further increase his draft stock.


WR Chris Godwin: Godwin caught nine passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl against USC, and his stock is on the rise. His 11 touchdown catches ranked second in the Big Ten this season.

S Marcus Allen: The junior recorded 110 tackles, including a ridiculous 22-tackle performance against Minnesota earlier this season. He has yet to declare for the draft.

DE Garrett Sickels: Sickels led Penn State with 12.5 tackles for loss and tied for the team high with six sacks. He announced his decision to enter the draft on Wednesday night.

LB Jason Cabinda: Cabinda announced on Dec. 28 his intention to return to school. He ranked third on the Nittany Lions in tackles (81) despite playing in only nine games due to injury.

TE Mike Gesicki: Gesicki decided to return for his senior year after catching 48 passes for 679 yards and five touchdowns. He'll be one of the top tight ends in the Big Ten, if not the country, next season.

WR DaeSean Hamilton: Hamilton hasn't decided on his future yet. He caught 34 passes for 506 yards and one touchdown and could add another potent piece to the Nittany Lions' offensive attack next season.


WR Janarion Grant: Grant suffered a season-ending broken ankle against Iowa on Sept. 24 and could be granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA. Otherwise, he is projected to be a late-round selection in the NFL draft. He has scored eight special teams touchdowns at Rutgers, which ties an NCAA record.


OL Ryan Ramczyk: Ramczyk told reporters he would undergo hip surgery on Thursday, which could affect his decision to leave school early. He is projected as a first-round NFL draft prospect after having a dominant junior season at left tackle.

LB T.J. Watt: Watt announced one day after the Cotton Bowl that he was leaving for the NFL. He put together a tremendous junior season, his first year as a full-time starter. He led Wisconsin with 15.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hurries.