1. Jack Conklin, Jr., LT: Luckily for Jack Conklin and the Spartans, his knee injury doesn’t appear to involve any structural damage, nor is it expected to cost him the rest of his junior season. Assuming he can come back from that injury in the near future and play without any lingering effects, Conklin should still be an early first round pick. As of right now, I’d have him as either the second or third best left tackle on my draft board for the 2016 NFL Draft.
Current Draft Projection: Early 1st round. Status unchanged.
2. Connor Cook, Sr., QB: On one hand, RB Madre London was quoted as saying that the team’s game plan was to run the ball against Purdue because the weather conditions were so bad that neither team couldn’t effectively throw the ball. On the other hand, Connor Cook is projected as a 1st round draft pick from a cold weather school, so NFL teams are going to want to see him be able to grip and throw the ball in adverse conditions. While Cook was definitely limited in terms of the number of pass plays that were called against Purdue, he made poor throws to two different open receivers. First, he caused Monty Madaris to dive for the ball on a post route that would have likely gone for a touchdown had he hit him in stride. Secondly, he severely underthrew Aaron Burbridge on a stop and go route, which allowed a defender to catch up and make a play on the ball. One thing that continues to impress me is Cook's pocket presence. While a make shift offensive line should be commended for helping keep his back clean all day, Cook displays tremendous awareness in knowing when he needs to release the ball, which is a key factor for a quarterback to have success in the NFL, Cook also enhanced his draft value with several big runs, which is a skill that he possesses, but always doesn’t always demonstrate in games.
Current Draft Projection: 1st round. Status unchanged.
3. Shilique Calhoun, Sr., DE: After one of the better games of his career against Central Michigan, Shilique Calhoun was a non-factor against Purdue at a time when he needed to establish himself as a force in each and every game. Not only did Calhoun commit a stupid penalty by jumping offsides on a 4th and 10 play, he failed to hold the edge against the run on at least one occasion that lead to a Purdue scoring drive. Calhoun also appeared to overshoot what looked to be his gap on Purdue’s third touchdown of the game, although it may have been on a designed stunt. While he did force a much needed incompletion with a QB hurry on Purdue’s final drive, Calhoun needs to get to the passer with more regularity in order to secure his reputation as an elite level pass rush specialist as he heads into the NFL.
Current Draft Projection: Late 1st round. Down from mid to late 1st round.
4. Malik McDowell, So, DT (not draft eligible until after the 2016 season): Malik McDowell once again flashed his dominance with a sack and a forced fumble against Purdue. McDowell also stuffed the Boilermakers’ running game on a regular basis, and is looking more and more like an early round pick should he declare for the NFL Draft after his junior season in 2016.
Current Draft Projection: 2nd to 4th round. Status unchanged.
5. Jack Allen, Sr., C/G/T: Spartan fans should love and appreciate Jack Allen for what he brings to the team. He simply does whatever he’s asked to do, and he’s been asked to do almost everything on Michigan State’s line. Many news reports made note of the fact that Allen moved from center to left tackle after Dennis Finley’s gruesome leg injury. In actuality, Allen was playing left tackle even BEFORE Finley’s injury. Allen played an early series at left tackle in the first half before moving back to center, with Finley subbing back in for him. While I’m guessing that rotation would have continued, Allen moved back outside full time in the second half following Finley’s injury. Allen more than held his own protecting Connor Cook’s blindside, and went on to make several nice run blocks. Not only was Allen’s play essential to the Spartans, but it should have been an eye opener to NFL scouts as well.
Current Draft Projection: 2nd to 4th round. Up from 3rd to 4th round.
6. Aaron Burbridge, Sr., WR: After a hot start to the 2015 season, Aaron Burbridge has come crashing back to reality the past two weeks. While Burbridge seemed frustrated with the double coverage he saw against CMU, he appeared to have single coverage against Purdue for most of the game but still failed to make any sort of an impact. While Connor Cook underthrew Burbridge on a stop-and-go route down the sideline (that could have drawn a flag for defensive pass interference), I still questioned Burbridge’s effort in terms of not going up for the ball stronger than he did. Quite frankly, Burbridge’s body language looks weak, and he needs to turn things around with a couple of strong efforts against big time opponents in order to re-establish his draft value.
Current Draft Projection: 4th to 6th round. Down from 3rd to 4th round.
7. Lawrence Thomas, Sr., DE/DT: Just when I was getting ready to write Lawrence Thomas off as one of Michigan State’s top draft prospects, he came up big against Purdue. While he was not credited with an official forced fumble, he had a key role in creating both of Purdue’s lost balls in the first half due to his disruption. He also knocked down a pass on the Boilermaker’s final drive of the game. Thomas did seem to give up the edge on a key play in Purdue’s first touchdown drive, and then took a poor angle to fill his gap (according to some reports) on Markell Jones’ 68-yard touchdown run. Unfortunately, Thomas’ breakdowns and inability to get to the quarterback have been a disappointment. He’s looking more and more like a run stuffer, who are a dime a dozen in the NFL, unless he continue to create turnovers like he did against Purdue.
Current Draft Projection: 5th to 7th round. Status unchanged.
8. Demetrious Cox, Jr., CB/S: Playing safety against Purdue, Demetrius Cox started strong with an interception on a play in which he began on the opposite side of the field and made a nice read on the QB and covered a lot of ground to make a play. Unfortunately, in the 2nd half Cox seemed to lose his man in coverage on Purdue’s first touchdown of the game, and then failed to shed a block in time to fill what appeared to be his gap in run support on the Boilermaker’s third score. Bouncing from CB to S has been difficult on Cox, but the Spartan’s desperately need him to establish himself as a playmaker in their secondary, probably at safety, with R.J. Williamson now out for an extended period of time due to injury.
Current Draft Projection: 5th to 6th round. Down from 4th to 6th round.
9. Josiah Price, Jr., TE: Josiah Price was held out of the Purdue game due to injury, but could have played had it been necessary. I’ll be the first to admit that I thought that the Spartans wasted a scholarship on Price when they recruited him out of Indiana, but he has proved me wrong and established himself as a true NFL talent.
Current Draft Projection: 5th to 7th round. Status unchanged.
10. Joel Heath, Sr., DT: Joel Heath has been nothing but solid all season at defensive tackle, routinely making plays against the run and pressuring opposing quarterbacks. He kept things going on Saturday against Purdue with a first half fumble recovery, which was in part possible because he was already several steps in their backfield when the ball came loose. At 6 foot 6 and 290 pounds, Heath could stand to put on a little weight to succeed at the next level as tackle in a 4-3 defense, but may already fit the mold of a defensive end in a 3-4 set.
Current Draft Projection: 5th to 7th round.
11. Riley Bullough, Jr., MLB: Like Michigan State’s entire defense, Riley Bullough had a great first half before breaking down in the second against Purdue. After a key third down stuff, a fumble recovery, and a QB pressure that forced an interception, Bullough missed a tackle on Markell Jones’ 68-yard touchdown run that allowed Purdue to get back in the game. Bullough was also tagged with a pass interference penalty that kept that Purdue drive alive, although the call was questionable at best. Listening to Bullough speak, he seems to understand his mistakes, and appears close to tightening up MSU’s defense with his pre-snap reads like his brother Max once did.
Current Draft Projection: 6th to 7th round. Status unchanged.
Next up on the draft board:
Demetrius Cooper, So., DE: Cooper is looking more and more like a future playmaker at DE.
L.J. Scott, Fr., RB: This kid’s a beast. If his health holds up and his body continues to develop, Scott could become another elite NFL running back in the mold of Le’Veon Bell.
Falling out of consideration:
Darien Harris, Sr., OLB: Harris is a good player, he just looks a little too slow to play outside linebacker in the NFL.