Pro Days across the Big Ten are coming to an end and we're less than a month away from the NFL draft, which means the next few weeks will see plenty of future projections and predictions. We decided it would be a good time to weigh in on the Big Ten's brightest future NFL stars.
There are plenty to choose from. Michigan sent 14 players to Indianapolis for the combine in February. Ohio State's head count wasn't far behind, and both school have some first-round hopefuls. But who will have the most sustained success and the longest, most fruitful NFL careers? The answers are rarely obvious, but here are our best guesses at the moment.
Brian Bennett: Ohio State S Malik Hooker
Sometimes it’s hard to know how a player's skills will translate to the NFL. Not so in Hooker's case. He's a freak athlete who could have played Division I basketball. Even though he only started one season for the Buckeyes, his instincts and ball skills were obvious, as he recorded seven interceptions. Hooker's lack of experience could mean that he will need some time to develop at the next level. He'll need to improve as a tackler, but there's no doubt that he will be a huge asset in pass coverage and will create some takeaways for his team. Comparisons to Ed Reed are not far off.
Dan Murphy: Penn State WR Chris Godwin
Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore was high on my list, but where's the fun in choosing a probable top-five pick? In looking a little beyond the first day of the draft, there are plenty of sleepers avaiable from the Big Ten. Godwin improved steadily during his three seasons at Penn State, and his 11 touchdowns are the second-highest single-season mark in Penn State history. He has an NFL-ready body, and his speed and shiftiness stood out among a talented group of receivers. He doesn't have the height (6-foot-1) that scouts drool over, but if he lands on a roster with a good quarterback he has the potential to put together a long and productive career at the next level.
Jesse Temple: Wisconsin OL Ryan Ramczyk
It can sometimes be difficult to quantify an offensive lineman's value relative to skill-position players who rack up loads of impressive statistics, but Ramczyk is the type of player that can anchor an NFL line for years to come if he can stay healthy. Ramczyk, who had offseason hip surgery, was a dominant force in his only FBS season and is viewed as one of the top offensive linemen in the 2017 draft. According to Pro Football Focus, Ramczyk's 84.6 run-blocking grade led all FBS offensive tackles in 2016. He surrendered only one sack, with three quarterback hits and eight hurries, all season. At 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, Ramczyk can maul defenders. But what makes him even more special is his quickness and athleticism for such a big body, which helps protect quarterbacks and open holes at the line of scrimmage for running backs.
Austin Ward: Ohio State C Pat Elflein
The highest professional ceilings might belong to a couple of his teammates, but Elflein might wind up being one of the best values in the draft for a franchise looking for a long-term, reliable anchor for the offensive line. Similar to Corey Linsley -- another Ohio State center who has started 38 games for the Packers since being picked in the fifth round of the 2014 draft -- a team picking Elflein will have a ready-made, versatile contributor who has proven he can play multiple spots up front. Elflein only needed one season as a snapper to win the Rimington Trophy, which is yet another reminder of his work ethic, athleticism and skills in the trenches. With good health, he can be penciled in to the lineup for years to come, with the the potential to be an annual All-Pro blocker. No matter when he ultimately gets selected, what more could a general manager want?