1. Jack Conklin, Jr., LT: While Jack Conklin appeared to aggravate his knee injury when he once again got rolled up on by a defensive lineman early in the game, he remained solid in both his run and pass blocking. While Conklin did give up a rare sack, he actually made a solid initial block on his man, only to see him ultimately bring Connor Cook down as his quarterback scrambled within the pocket trying to find an open receiver. While Conklin could have done a better job of following up on his initial block, it’s hard to say that he was really beat on the play.
Current Draft Projection: Early to mid 1st round. Down from early 1st round.
2. Connor Cook, Sr., QB: Connor Cook may have played the best game of his career from a technical standpoint against Indiana. Two of his four touchdown passes came against the blitz, which is an area of his game where I have been critical of his play in recent weeks. While he was far from perfect in reading the blitz against the Hoosiers, this week represented a tremendous improvement over his play against Rutgers and Michigan. At one point I thought I even saw Cook making hand signals to his receivers in an obviously blitz situation, but as it turned out, he was just fighting invisible windmills as he tried not to lose his balance while waiting for a snap. All jokes aside, Cook made some tremendous throws against IU and demonstrated some of the best footwork of his career. With Cook having confidence in all of his receivers, me might be the best quarterback in the country in throwing the 50/50 ball. In fact, with Cook they’re more like 70/30 balls.
Current Draft Projection: Early to mid 1st round. Up from 1st round.
3. Shilique Calhoun, Sr., DE: While Shilique Calhoun was relatively quiet against Indiana, he managed to get a key 4th quarter sack that helped secure MSU’s win. He also put pressure on Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld on a key third down play to force an errant throw. Calhoun did struggle some against the run and in the short passing game, failing to hold the edge on at least two occasions. Calhoun could stand to add another twenty pounds as he heads to the next level, but will still be valuable to NFL teams as a speed rusher from the edge even at his current weight of 250 pounds.
Current Draft Projection: Mid to late 1st round. Up from late 1st round.
4. Malik McDowell, So, DT (not draft eligible until after the 2016 season): Malik McDowell once again served as the anchor for Michigan State’s defensive line against Indiana. At this point he’s reminding me more and more of Ndamukong Suh, not so much due to any similarity in their size or any dirty plays, but because he’s so much stronger than opposing blockers and ball carriers that he’s simply able to throw them around like rag dolls. What’s really scary is that, as a true sophomore, McDowell is still just a baby.
Current Draft Projection: 1st or 2nd round. Status unchanged.
5. Jack Allen, Sr., C/G/T: All-American center Jack Allen was sorely missed last weekend as Michigan State struggled with their shotgun snaps and interior blocking all game against Indiana. Allen’s ankle injury does not appear to be a long term issue, and he should be able to return following MSU’s idle week. If Allen and Jack Conklin can get healthy before the end of the season, the Spartans could have more upside than any other undefeated team heading down the stretch given that they have been winning despite the chaos and lack of continuity on their offensive line.
Current Draft Projection: 2nd to 4th round. Status unchanged.
6. Aaron Burbridge, Sr., WR: After another early drop, Aaron Burbridge rebounded and had another huge game against Indiana as Connor Cook’s go-to target. While Burbridge could improve his hands when he is moving back towards the quarterback on comeback routes, his ability to track and bring the ball down over opposing defenders is top notch. Only his high end speed and questions about getting separation will prevent him from going on day one or two of the NFL Draft, but his ball skills and experience in a pro-style offense alone should make him a mid-round pick.
Current Draft Projection: 3rd to 5th round. Up from 3rd round to 6th round.
7. Demetrious Cox, Jr., CB/S: Indiana picked on Demetrious Cox as he struggled with his ball awareness against the Hoosiers. He did make a nice hit on the very first play of the game that lead to Grayson Miller’s interception, but his play went downhill from there. By no means did Cox struggle in keeping up with his receivers in coverage, he just seemed to have a bad day when it came down to making plays on the ball. Cox reminds me some of Green Bay rookie corner Damarious Randall of Arizona State, who transitioned from safety to corner in the NFL, but I still think Cox’s best position going forward is at free safety.
Current Draft Projection: 5th to 6th round. Status unchanged.
8. Lawrence Thomas, Sr., DE/DT: Lawrence Thomas had a solid game in run support, as he helped hold the edge against Indiana. He also had another pass deflection at the line of scrimmage, which are starting to become a regular occurrence. Thomas is a classic "tweener," lacking the height and speed to play defensive end, or the weight to play defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. However, if he can transition to defensive end in a 3-4 system, which I think he can, he might have a bright future in front of him when it comes to the NFL. Unfortunately, such a move involves some speculation, which will likely prevent "L.T." from going higher in the draft than his skill-set might otherwise suggest.
Current Draft Projection: 5th to 6th round. Up from 5th to 7th round.
9. Joel Heath, Sr., DT: Joel Heath might be Michigan State’s most pleasant surprise of the season that doesn’t involve Joe Bolden making yet another stupid mistake in a MSU - U of M game. Heath racked up another sack against Indiana, and would have had another but for a questionable hands to the face call on Demetrius Cooper in what even the ESPN announcers acknowledged was a poorly officiated game against MSU.
Current Draft Projection: 5th to 7th round. Up from 6th to 7th round.
10. Riley Bullough, Jr., MLB: Riley Bullough seemed to play a relatively clean game against Indiana. He demonstrated good lateral speed in coverage when he forced an incompletion on an IU screen pass, and seemed solid with his gaps against the run all afternoon. Bullough will get his chance to play in the NFL, but would benefit from returning for his senior year about 15 pound heavier provided that he can retain his current speed.
Current Draft Projection: 6th to 7th round. Status unchanged.
11. Josiah Price, Jr., TE: Josiah Price’s value continues to be limited to being a red zone/two minute drill target. Despite another touchdown against Indiana, Price is what he is at this point. He would greatly benefit by returning for his senior year and adding another 10-15 pounds to help make him a more effective blocker and all-around player.
Current Draft Projection: 7th round. Status unchanged.
Next up on the draft board:
Demetrius Cooper, So., DE: He’s still making rookie mistakes, like the questionable hands to the face penalty he had to negate a Joel Heath sack, but Cooper still represents the future of MSU’s pass rush.
L.J. Scott, Fr., RB: L.J. Scott is having a solid year at running back as a true freshman despite a make shift offensive line that has been in flux due to injuries. Give him another year to develop in pass protection, the screen passing game and special teams, and Scott will be ready for the NFL.
Darien Harris, Sr., OLB: I’m feeling more and more comfortable with Darien Harris at OLB after a shaky start to his season. I just don’t see him as an NFL prospect unless he finds himself in the perfect situation and plays his way onto a roster as a special teams player.