Iowa's Bulaga declares for NFL draft

The Big Ten's top offensive lineman is taking his skills to the next level.

And after watching the FedEx Orange Bowl on Tuesday night, it's easy to see why.

As expected, Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga announced Wednesday that he's declaring for the NFL draft. Bulaga, named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year this fall, is projected by many as a first-round pick in April.

He entered the fall very much on the draft radar and often drew comparisons to former Iowa star tackle Robert Gallery, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft. Bulaga missed three games in September after a thyroid condition caused him to be hospitalized, and he didn't have the dominant season many had projected. But he looked great in the bowl game against Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan, a projected top-10 pick.

Bulaga said the time away from the field contributed to his decision.

“This was not an easy decision since my Iowa experience has been very positive and rewarding,” Bulaga said in a statement released through the school. “The illness I was faced with at the beginning of the 2009 season made me realize how important football is in my life, and how quickly it can be taken away. I want to thank coach [Kirk] Ferentz, coach [Reese] Morgan and the rest of the Iowa football staff who played a significant role in my development.”

This is a major loss for Iowa, though Bulaga's departure has been expected. If there's an area that could derail the Hawkeyes this fall, it's the offensive line. Iowa loses three starters, each of whom earned All-Big Ten honors, and needs some young players to emerge like Riley Reiff did this year.

Iowa is still awaiting a decision from junior cornerback Amari Spievey, who said Tuesday that he's 50-50 regarding the draft.

Best of luck to Bulaga, one of the nicest guys in the league.