The 2011 NFL draft kicks off Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall, but colleague Bruce Feldman already is thinking ahead to next year.
Feldman breaks down the potential draft sleepers from 2012, and three Big Ten players made his list of 10: Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater. All the sleepers Feldman selected don't appear on Mel Kiper Jr.'s top 5 player lists (by position) for the 2012 draft.
Here are Feldman's thoughts on the B1G contingent:
Persa: At 6 feet, 210 pounds, he's a few inches shorter than what the NFL wants in a quarterback. In terms of toughness, they'll love the guy, and he's proved he can be accurate and make good decisions. Persa completed almost 74 percent of his passes and had a 15-4 TD-INT ratio while ranking ninth nationally in passing efficiency. His coach Pat Fitzgerald gushes about him every chance he gets. If that's not enough, in a league that was loaded with good passers last season, Persa was the coaches' pick as the All-Big Ten quarterback.
Pryor: At 6-6, 235 (and with 4.4-type speed), Pryor is so physically imposing that he probably has scouts intrigued by his potential as a receiver. And therein lies part of the issue for him. Many people don't envision him as an NFL quarterback. Still, despite all the drama that has swirled around him (he will miss the first five games of the season because of an NCAA suspension), Pryor has been a star in Columbus. Two seasons ago, he was the Rose Bowl MVP. Last season, he had a 27-11 TD-INT ratio, completed 65 percent of his passes and was 10th in passing efficiency.
Prater: The Hawkeyes found a gem when they went to Nebraska to get Prater. In 2010, league coaches and media named the 5-11, 185-pounder to the first-team All-Big Ten squad after he picked off four passes and made 50 solo tackles. In addition to making lots of plays on the field, he's a driving force for the team in the locker room.
I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Feldman's inclusion of Pryor gets by far the most attention. Pryor will be one of the more talked about prospects next April, no matter how he performs this season. Many folks never will consider him an NFL-caliber quarterback and will forecast him as a tight end or wide receiver. Others will argue that Pryor can succeed as a signal caller at the next level. It'll be interesting to see where he ends up.
Persa will always face doubters because of his size, but he's extremely accurate and boasts excellent vision. Prater is a player who might move out of "sleeper" status with a strong senior season. He definitely has the ingredients to be a good NFL corner.