In its most recent mock draft, NFL Nation looked ahead to the first round of 2016's NFL draft and projected that seven Big Ten players would be selected.
Here at the Big Ten blog, we liked that idea -- so we decided to look ahead even further. Who are the seven conference players in 2017 who have the most potential to go in the first round?
Here's our way-too-early look ahead:
1. Michigan State DT Malik McDowell, junior
McDowell proclaimed earlier this month that he's the best defensive lineman in the country. And he may not be far off. As a sophomore last season, he racked up 13 tackles-for-loss -- but he hasn't even scratched the surface of his potential, according to Mark Dantonio. MLive's Mike Griffith even called him the Spartans' modern-era version of Bubba Smith, a tall Hall of Famer who shared a similar personality.
2. Ohio State OG Pat Elflein, redshirt senior
Elflein could've chosen to play on Sundays this fall instead of Saturdays. But the Buckeyes couldn't be happier he decided to stick around. "He's as valuable as anybody on this football team," Urban Meyer said last fall. He's a two-time all-conference selection and an obvious contender for the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award.
3. Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan, junior
Debate all you want on who the Buckeyes' top linebacker was in 2015. But the fact is McMillan still impressed plenty with a team-high 119 tackles, making him one of five finalists for the Butkus Award. He has an uncanny blend of size and speed -- he's 6-foot-2, 240 pounds and can reportedly run in the 4.6s -- and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell has constantly praised his mentality. That bodes well for 2016 and beyond.
4. Indiana OG Dan Feeney, redshirt senior
Based on his extreme consistency, he might be the biggest lock in the conference to improve his draft stock. In his 2,719 career snaps, he's allowed just one sack. And, per the university, he registered a team-high 102 knockdowns in 2015 -- meaning he put a defender on his back about once every 10 snaps. He was an ESPN.com All-American last season and, like Elflein, he could've declared early for the NFL draft. Expect a lot more honors to come his way in 2016.
5. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers, redshirt sophomore
Peppers feels like he doesn't deserve the comparisons to former Michigan great Charles Woodson ... but how's Willie Mays sound? Peppers, the poster boy of versatility, played 10 positions last season -- and that made Jim Harbaugh wonder aloud last November if he could be "the Willie Mays of football." He moved from safety to linebacker this spring, and his athleticism has allowed him to adjust quickly. He can run, catch, return, tackle and cover. What's not to like?
6. Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis, senior
Maybe he didn't post big numbers, or intercept a lot of passes, like some other defensive backs. But he was still a shutdown corner, maybe the best cover corner in the nation. Pro Football Focus listed him as a Heisman candidate 10 games into the season. And, at the end of the year, the group still had him as the top-graded overall cornerback. He broke up 20 passes and made several All-America teams.
7. Iowa CB Desmond King, senior
He's the only Jim Thorpe Award winner to return the next season, and he tied Nile Kinnick's 77-year-old single-season school record for interceptions (8). So, yeah, it's pretty fair to call the returning consensus All-American a rare talent here. He was a finalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year, he won the Jack Tatum Award, and he was named the Big Ten's best defensive back. He's a ball-hawk who appears to be picking up right where he left off. And, if history is any indication, there'll be no let-up in 2016.