We've had 2012 mock NFL drafts seemingly since this draft class was in elementary school. But all the projections and prognosticating lacked one essential ingredient: the testing process.
That happened this past week at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, so now evaluators have a better sense of who are the legitimate prospects and who might be questionable.
ESPN's own draft expert, Mel Kiper Jr., offered his risers and fallers after the combine dust settled, and they included a few notable Big Ten names. Among those Kiper said helped themselves in Indy were:
Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: "Not great in any one area, but solid across all of them, and Cousins has intangibles that evaluators love. I can see him safely into the second round now, where before a third-round grade was a better bet. A good week for him."
Nebraska LB Lavonte David: "Really encouraging for David's stock that he got his weight to 233 and still showed off plenty of athleticism, including a 4.56. He could be a solid second-rounder now and is a tackling machine."
Not everyone had the best showings in the combine. Here are the Big Ten products Kiper says he has questions about after the combine:
Ohio State RB Dan Herron: "I like Herron, but thought he needed to make a splash here given the missed time in 2011. That didn't happen, confirming a late-round grade."
Penn State DT Devon Still: "He derives a lot of value from being able to jump into a 3-4 or 4-3, but still has been sliding on my board. He needs to show more explosiveness, because he's not a great penetrator."
Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard: "Solid everywhere, but not great in any one area, Dennard is a good prospect who didn't test great, limiting the chances he goes in Round 1."
Kiper adjusted his new Big Board based on the combine performances, and now only two Big Ten players appear in his list of top 25 prospects, and they're both offensive linemen: Iowa's Riley Reiff (No. 8) and Wisconsin's Peter Konz (25).
Kiper also has his new list of top 5s by position, and there has been some serious movement in his tiers. Still, the Penn State All-American and Big Ten defensive player of the year, now does not even rank in Kiper's list of the top 5 defensive tackles. Michigan State's Jerel Worthy is No. 5.
Offensive line appears to be the strength for the Big Ten in this draft. Kiper lists Reiff as the No. 2 offensive tackle, with Ohio State's Mike Adams No. 4. The Big Ten owns the center list, with Konz, Michigan's David Molk and Ohio State's Mike Brewster ranking 1-2-3, respectively. (Molk moved ahead of Brewster with his combine showing, which comes as no surprise to Molk.) Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler is rated as the No. 3 guard.
Elsewhere, Kiper has Wisconsin's Bradie Ewing as the No. 1 fullback, Michigan State's Brian Linthicum as the No. 5 tight end and Nebraska's David as the No. 2 outside linebacker. Dennard did not crack the list at corner, and Illinois' Whitney Mercilus is nowhere to be found on the defensive ends chart. Kiper says Michigan State's Cousins is the No. 6 quarterback in this draft.
Colleague Todd McShay has five Big Ten players in his new top 32 list: Reiff (10th), Adams (23rd), Worthy (25th), Konz (27th) and Still (28th).
Don't worry, though. We still have pro days, private workouts and nearly two full months of evaluations before the draft begins.