[Editor's Note: Check out Mark's NFL Draft blog here. Mark knows his NFL draft stuff! - Joe]
With a background as a nationally rated NFL Draft prognosticator, this season I’ll be taking a weekly look at Michigan State’s top rated prospects that will be draft eligible following the 2015 season.
This week I’m going to look at the Spartans’ top ten draft eligible players and where they project in the draft based upon their performance to date. Once the season starts, I’ll analyze each player’s weekly performance (as well as any other Spartans who may work their way into the draft mix), and how their draft status may be trending based upon how they are playing.
The Top Ten Michigan State NFL Prospects for 2015
1. Connor Cook, Sr., QB: As a true pro-style quarterback, if Connor Cook improves his footwork, accuracy (especially in the short passing game), and leads the Spartans to the College Football Playoffs, he could find himself in the conversation to become the number one overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. On the other hand, if he continues to throw off-balance passes and he comes up short again in big games against Oregon and Ohio State, Cook could see his draft stock slide.
Current Draft Projection: Early 1st to early 2nd round.
2. Jack Conklin, Jr., LT: Left tackles are hard to find in the NFL, and even college tackles who are just "good" can find themselves going the 1st round of the draft if they have the right measurables. Having given up just 2.5 sacks in his career at Michigan State, former walk-on Jack Conklin is not only just "good," and at 6’6 and 325 pounds, the nimble Conklin is in a position to become a potential "franchise" left tackle if he can come up with a third straight strong season.
Current Draft Projection: Solid 1st Round.
3. Shilique Calhoun, Sr., DE: If there’s one Michigan State prospect who may be a bit overrated, it may be Shilique Calhoun. With 3 defensive touchdowns in his first two games a sophomore in 2013, Calhoun burst upon the national scene. However, at just 250 pounds, Calhoun projects purely as a pass rush specialist in the NFL, at least initially, and his sack totals have not lived up to his projection by some as a potential first rounder. After a smart decision to return for his senior season, Calhoun could greatly help his draft status by putting up double digit sacks and once again making an impression in the turnover department.
Current Draft Projection: Late 1st to 2nd round.
4. Jack Allen, Sr., C/G: As one of college football’s top centers, Jack Allen certainly has the ability and the mean streak to take his game to the next level. If there’s a knock on Allen, it’s that he’s a bit undersized for an NFL center at 6’2 and 296 pounds. I would compare him in size and attitude to former Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola, but with much better self-control. Right now I’d project for Allen to hear his name called on night two of the NFL Draft, which is pretty good for an interior offensive lineman.
Current Draft Projection: 3rd to 5th round.
5. Lawrence Thomas, Sr., DE/DT: Due primarily to fluctuations in his size, Lawrence Thomas has been unable to stick with just one position during his tenure at Michigan State after arriving as a five star recruit. While he’ll play defensive end in the Spartans’ 4-3 defense this season, Thomas projects as a prototype 3-4 defensive end in the NFL. A big season as a pass rusher could upgrade his value as 4-3 defensive end, who tend to go much higher in the draft than their 3-4 counterparts.
Current Draft Projection: 3rd to 5th round.
6. Demetrius Cox, Jr., CB/S: The NFL highly values big cornerbacks that can run, as well as free safeties who can cover. By moving from safety to cornerback this season, Demetrius Cox has the potential to play both positions in the NFL. While I don’t expect Cox to declare for the draft early barring a breakout season in 2015, his versatility and measurables alone should secure him a spot in the NFL once his eligibility at MSU comes to an end.
Current Draft Projection: 4th to 6th round.
7. Ed Davis, Sr., OLB: Talk about a hard luck injury, I could have envisioned Ed Davis going as high as the 2nd or 3rd round with a big year at strong side linebacker before he suffered a season ending knee injury in practice. If Davis and MSU can convince the NCAA to grant him a 6th season of eligibility, he’d be wise to come back and re-establish himself as one of college football’s best blitzing pass rushers once getting back to full health.
Current Draft Projection: 5th to 7th round.
8. Josiah Price, Jr., TE: Make no mistake, Josiah Price will play in the NFL as a pass catching tight end. While he could make the jump after this season and probably get drafted, Price would benefit from returning to the Spartans for his senior season in order to bulk up and work on his blocking so he can become a more complete player at his position.
Current Draft Projection: 6th or 7th round.
9. Aaron Burbridge, Sr., WR: Michigan State has had a great track record of having their wide receivers get drafted into the NFL. While the Spartans are still searching for their go-to receiver in 2015, Aaron Burbridge will get first shot as their "X" receiver, and has the size and speed to make him an NFL commodity if he can finally live up to his hype.
Current Draft Projection: 6th round to undrafted free agent.
10. Darien Harris, Sr., OLB: Darien Harris has been as solid as solid gets for the Spartans, but is still a bit undersized for the NFL as a non-pass rushing outside linebacker when it comes to his weight. Harris does have the ability to play inside, and could find a home in the NFL as a developmental special teams type player.
Current Draft Projection: Undrafted free agent.