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Michigan State Spartans Football: Who are Michigan State's top NFL Draft prospects?

Checking in on the NFL draft stock of current Spartans

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

1. Connor Cook, Sr., QB: After missing the Ohio State game with a "sprained shoulder," I’m a bit concerned that Connor Cook’s injury may not only hinder his ability to play the remainder of the season, but possibly even affect his draft status. It sure looked as if Cook was grasping in the vicinity of his rotator cuff and that his shoulder had popped out of its socket after he was driven to the ground by a Maryland defender two weeks ago.

Obviously, Mark Dantonio is not giving out much information about Cook’s injury, but if he is dealing with any type rotator cuff injury, there’s not much that can be done in the way of rehab to get him back on the field aside from rest or surgery, depending on the severity of the injury. While Cook was seen warming up on the sideline last Saturday before being ruled out due to a "lack of velocity" on his throws, the snap on your throws is exactly what rotator cuff and labrum tears rob you of.

Again, there’s no way of knowing what is going on based upon the information that MSU has released, but from what I’m able to observe, I’d be worried.

Current Draft Projection: 1st round. Down (based solely on injury concern) from early to mid 1st round.

2. Jack Conklin, Jr., LT: Sadly, while Ohio State typically likes to move defensive end Joey Bosa around on their defensive line, they lined him up almost exclusively over Michigan State’s right tackles. While nobody can blame them for that decision given the struggles that MSU’s right tackles have had this season, it robbed us of a chance to witness a premier match-up of one of the nation’s top defensive ends in Bosa, and one of the country’s top left tackles in Jack Conklin. When Conklin did get a chance to go one-on-one with Bosa he effectively neutralized him, as he with Ohio State’s other defensive linemen and linebackers.

Current Draft Projection: Mid 1st round. Status unchanged.

3. Shilique Calhoun, Sr., DE: Shilique Calhoun played an outstanding game against the run versus Ohio State, which was an element of his game that had been lacking all season. By penetrating and regularly being able to hold the edge, he forced quarterback J.T. Barrett and the Buckeye option attack to cut back inside towards what were waves of oncoming Spartan defenders.

While Calhoun was shut out in the pass rush department, he did take Barrett down for what looked to be a sack on what started out as a pass play before Barrett tucked the ball and ran, but was not officially credited. In any event, the Ohio State game served to answer some of the questions and criticisms that I had about Calhoun’s all-around game, and he should be in store for a big day against Penn State and quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who's pocket presence is so bad he'll find any opposing defender within 5-yards and find a way to run straight into him.

Current Draft Projection: Late 1st round or early 2nd round. Up from late 1st round or 2nd round.

4. Malik McDowell, So, DT (not draft eligible until after the 2016 season): Malik McDowell was a difference maker on Michigan State’s defensive line, as he was frequently drawing double teams and disrupting the Ohio State backfield. Better yet, those two things weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. McDowell plays exceptionally low for a man of his height, which is unheard of for a nose tackle and is what makes him such a special prospect. If McDowell were draft eligible this season, I’m guessing he’d probably be a second round pick, but with a little more seasoning and time to develop his already impressive strength, he could find himself as a solid first round pick.

Current Draft Projection: 1st or 2nd round. Status unchanged.

5. Jack Allen, Sr., C/G/T: Jack Allen was at his best against Ohio State, with the Spartans successfully running behind him on several key 3rd and 4th down situations. Allen not only played with a mean streak up until each and every whistle like he does every game, but he showed off his football I.Q. with quick snaps when Ohio State defenders (well, mainly just fellow All-American Joey Bssa) jumped offside on several different occasions.  After reviewing the film, I didn’t see any instances where Allen was beat by his man against the run or in pass protection, which was impressive considering that he had plenty of assignments against NFL defensive line prospect and former MSU recruit, Adolphus Washington.

Current Draft Projection: 2nd to 4th round. Status unchanged.

6. Aaron Burbridge, Sr., WR: In a game where the forward pass was about as prevalent as it was back in the early 1900’s, Aaron Burbridge actually had a pretty good game with four catches for 62 yards. He ran several good routes, including a nice catch on a comeback pattern to grab a first down on a key third down play following Ohio State’s first touchdown. Better yet, as Ohio State defensive backs like Eli Apple and Von Bell seemed to intentionally mock Burbridge and Michigan State by flashing their patented "No Fly Zone" incompletion signal, he went on to make an impressive catch down the field on a 3rd and 14 play after initially being forced out of bounds on that same drive. Burbridge’s lack of separation on deep balls makes me doubt that he’ll ever be viewed as an elite draft prospect at receiver, but his production and ball skills makes me think that he can develop into a solid #2, or a good possession receiver in the NFL.

Current Draft Projection: 3rd to 4th round. Status unchanged.

7. Demetrious Cox, Jr., CB/S: For the most part, Demetrious Cox had a relatively quiet game at free safety for the Spartans against Ohio State. While he was burned deep by Braxton Miller towards the end of the first half, he was bailed out by linebacker Jon Reschke’s quarterback hurry that caused J.T. Barrett to slightly rush overthrow him. After that though, Cox was solid not only in coverage, but he was strong in stepping up and tackling Ohio State ball carriers in what was a run heavy game due to the poor conditions.

Current Draft Projection: 5th to 6th round. Status unchanged.

8. Joel Heath, Sr., DT: Joel Heath returned against Ohio State after sitting out the Maryland game due to injury. Whether it was due to his injury lingering or a strategic decision, Heath seemed to give way to fellow defensive tackle Craig Evans in terms of playing time, but he did get low on third down to stuff Ohio State All-American running back Ezekiel Elliot at the goal line. Heath probably won’t ever be a star, but he should be a nice all-around player to develop at defensive tackle for a NFL team willing to use a late round pick on him.

Current Draft Projection: 6th to 7th round. Down from 5th to 7th round.

9. Lawrence Thomas, Sr., DE/DT: Lawrence Thomas contributed to a tackle for a loss on the first play of the game and had a quarterback pressure in the 4th quarter, but was absolutely driven out of the play by an Ohio State blocker on what looked to be a touchdown by J.T. Barrett, but was later overturned when he was ruled down inside the one-yard line. Thomas is a solid starter for Michigan State, but has never lived up to his five star expectations, mainly because he hasn’t been able to find a position where he has the body type to be explosive. Thomas just doesn’t seem to have the body type to play defensive end in the NFL, so perhaps a position change at the next level is in order given his strength and other physical gifts.

Current Draft Projection: 6th to 7th round. Status unchanged.

10. Riley Bullough, Jr., MLB: As compared to earlier in the season, Riley Bullough seems to be filling the correct gap more and more often, which means that he is doing a better job at diagnosing the plays of opposing offenses. Bullough continues to make key stops in short yardage situations, pressure the passer, and make plays in coverage. He’s still a bit raw and light in terms of weight at this stage of his career, but by the end of his senior season could turn into a prototype NFL middle linebacker.

Current Draft Projection: 6th to 7th round. Status unchanged.

11. Josiah Price, Jr., TE: Josiah Price was shut out against Ohio State, which was a game where I thought he could have made an impact in the short passing game given the weather and his ability to get involved in play action calls. Price did make a nice block on a key 4th and 3 play, but is starting to disappear in Michigan State’s offense outside of the red-zone.

Current Draft Projection: 7th round or undrafted free agent. Down from 7th round.

12. Darien Harris, Sr., OLB: Darien Harris was not as dominant against Ohio State as he had been in recent games, but he was certainly solid. While he was beat for a touchdown pass on OSU’s second score, he was also lined up in a mismatch against a Buckeye wide receiver. Harris is a solid linebacker who could ultimately find his way into the NFL as a developmental/special team player.

Current Draft Projection: 7th round or undrafted free agent. Previously unranked.

Next up on the draft board:

Demetrius Cooper, So., DE: Demetrius Cooper was quiet against Ohio State, but is in line to become MSU’s top pass rusher next season.

L.J. Scott, Fr., RB: After fumbling twice against Maryland, L.J. Scott could have lost the trust of the coaching staff by nearly losing an early handoff against Ohio State. Fortunately, the coaches stuck with him, and Scott was instrumental in grinding out the yardage needed to ultimately put the Spartans in a position to win the game. Scott can still develop in terms of ball security, blocking and his endurance over the course of a season, but as a true freshman, he stands to be the next elite running back that Michigan State sends into the NFL.

Trevon Pendleton, Sr., FB: While few teams utilize a fullback these days in what has become a pass happy NFL, those that do would be wise to take a look at Trevon "Big Play" Pendleton, who would be a prototype blocker and receiver out of the backfield for teams that run a west coast style offense.