1. Jack Conklin, Jr., LT: If Jack Conklin was limited due to the knee injury that caused him to miss the Rutgers’ game, he didn’t show it against Michigan. Conklin demonstrated great hand strength, with his Wolverine pass rushers rarely escaping his grasp once he locked in. While the Spartans rarely ran to Conklin’s side, I counted at least four pancake blocks for him in the running game. Unfortunately, they were all away from the ball carrier. My primary critique is not against Conklin at this point, but about why the Spartan offense is not trying to run more to his side of the field more often.
Current Draft Projection: Early 1st round. Status unchanged.
2. Connor Cook, Sr., QB: While Connor Cook made some really nice throws against Michigan, I was not as high on his play as some in the local media were. Cook once again struggled to pick up the blitz, where it was evident that he and his receivers were not on the same page. That is something that Cook will need to improve upon before he heads to the NFL. I will give credit to Cook for pulling out yet another victory in a close game, and while he didn’t lead the Spartans to their winning score himself, things might have been different had Macgarrett Kings, Jr. had been able to hold onto a perfect pass towards the end of the game that hit him right between the numbers.
Current Draft Projection: 1st round. Status unchanged.
3. Shilique Calhoun, Sr., DE: While I don’t see Shilique Calhoun flash as consistently as I would like, it’s in games like these where he reminds us all just how dominant he can be as a pass rusher. With 2 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss, Calhoun flat out dominated against Michigan. While he failed to hold the edge at defensive end on a couple of occasions, Calhoun might not be big enough to develop into a three down player in the NFL. I was happy to see Calhoun demonstrate an inside counter move that lead to one of his sacks, and his pass rush skills alone will make him a much coveted day one prospect in the NFL Draft.
Current Draft Projection: Late 1st round. Up from 1st round to early 2nd round.
4. Malik McDowell, So, DT (not draft eligible until after the 2016 season): Malik McDowell did not make a huge impression in the stat sheet against Michigan, but he consistently stood up his blockers and penetrated U of M’s offensive line. McDowell is no longer a star in the making, he’s simply a star.
Current Draft Projection: 1st or 2nd round. Up from 2nd or 3rd round.
5. Jack Allen, Sr., C/G/T: Despite missing one of MSU’s biggest games of the year, nobody’s going to challenge Jack Allen’s toughness, although his presence was sorely missed against Michigan. While Brian Allen filled in admirably in his brother’s absence, there were still two plays where the Spartans missed having his "big bro" on the field. First, Brian Allen and Connor Cook got their feet tangled on Michigan State’s first drive, causing Cook to fall to the ground for a loss. Worse yet, the younger Allen whiffed on a block during MSU’s final drive, allowing a U of M interior rusher to sack Cook on a play that could have cost them the game had it not been for Jalen Jackson-Watts and the "Michigan State Miracle." Fortunately, Allen could return to action as early as this week, and MSU will be happy to welcome back a player who is perhaps college football’s most versatile offensive lineman.
Current Draft Projection: 2nd to 4th round. Status unchanged.
6. Aaron Burbridge, Sr., WR: Aaron Burbridge had another big game against Michigan. While I’d like to see him get more separation from opposing defensive backs on his routes, he is still a master at using his body to fend off defenders while going up for the ball. For a senior, I would like to see Burbridge become more cognizant of blitzes coming from opposing defenses so he can make more plays as Connor Cook’s "hot read" receiver. Sometimes all a receiver needs to do is flash a hand signal or make eye contact with their quarterback, and I’m yet to see that kind of chemistry between Cook and Burbridge.
Current Draft Projection: 3rd to 6th round. Up from 4th to 6th round.
7. Demetrious Cox, Jr., CB/S: The versatile Demetrious Cox once again changed positions this week, moving back to corner from safety. Cox played a bit too soft on the edge early, leaving his man open by drifting too deep in coverage on a key 3rd down and 9. However, he rebounded later in the game by demonstrating solid tackling skills in key situations during a tense 4th quarter. Cox remains a better NFL prospect at free safety, but remains the Spartans’ best option at cornerback in what has become an injury depleted secondary.
Current Draft Projection: 5th to 6th round. Status unchanged.
8. Lawrence Thomas, Sr., DE/DT: Lawrence Thomas is probably never going to develop into the impact player that fans expected when he arrived at Michigan State as a five star recruit. However, he is strong against the run, and probably projects as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme given his height and weight. While those players are a dime a dozen in the NFL, Thomas also demonstrated the athleticism that scouts like by swatting down a key 4th quarter pass that helped make Michigan settle for a field goal, and should find himself on an NFL roster next year.
Current Draft Projection: 5th to 7th round. Status unchanged.
9. Josiah Price, Jr., TE: I’m not sure if Josiah Price is still limited due to injury, or if he’s losing reps due to his blocking ability, but he was relatively quiet against Michigan. With only one catch for 9 yards (he had another reception negated due to his own offensive pass interference penalty), Price seems to be losing receiving opportunities to fellow tight end, Paul Lang. Price’s catch did come in a key situation towards the end of the game, which shows that he still has the confidence of Connor Cook, but he needs to get healthy and/or show more of a complete game or he’ll be viewed as nothing more than a red-zone tight end, which would seriously undermine his draft value.
Current Draft Projection: 7th round. Down from 5th to 7th round.
10. Joel Heath, Sr., DT: Joel Heath remained a solid defender against the run in what was MSU’s biggest test of the season. While Michigan fullback Sione Houma did break his long run in the first half between Heath and Malik McDowell, the gap was minimal, and MSU’s linebackers seemed to overrun the play after biting on a play fake. Heath was able to make a key play in the 3rd quarter when swatted down a pass on 3rd and goal to force Michigan settle for a field goal.
Current Draft Projection: 6th to 7th round. Unchanged.
11. Riley Bullough, Jr., MLB: Riley Bullough was a beast against Michigan, coming up big when things mattered the most. Bullough hit the correct gap and made key hits on a Michigan ball carrier over three consecutive plays in what should have been a goal line stand had it not been for poor officiating. Bullough was also solid outside of the red-zone, coming up with a half sack on Michigan’s first drive after beating their right guard on a blitz.
Current Draft Projection: 6th to 7th round. Status unchanged.
Next up on the draft board:
Demetrius Cooper, So., DE: Demetrius Cooper picked up a half sack against Michigan, and looks poised to be MSU’s top pass rusher next season.
L.J. Scott, Fr., RB: L.J. Scott has all the running skills needed to excel at the next level in terms of power and quickness. Scott seems to run with a "force field" that keeps defenders at his hip, which is a quality that all great runners seem to have that stems from having great vision and instinct. Scott just needs to work on the skills that will set him apart from other elite college running backs, such as pass blocking and special team play.
Darien Harris, Sr., OLB: Darien Harris had his best game of the season against Michigan. While I’ve questioned his speed and quickness, Harris was quick and fast to the ball this week, and is looking more and more like the side to side linebacker that I remembered from last season after a slow start to this year. Harris did bite on a play fake and leave his gap on Michigan fullback Sione Houma’s long first half run, but other than that played an excellent game.