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Michigan State Spartans Football: Week 2 NFL Draft Prospects Update

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NFL Draft Guru Mark Niemi breaks down Michigan State's top rated NFL Draft prospects.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

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. After the season progresses, I’ll also look at some of MSU’s top underclassmen based upon how they’ve been playing.

1. Jack Conklin, Jr., LT: Jack Conklin completely dominated Oregon DE DeForrest Buckner, who was thought by some to be a candidate to go in the 1st Round had he entered the NFL Draft early as a junior after last season. Conklin was absolutely perfect in pass protection, and almost nearly as good as a run blocker. While he seemed to lose one, maybe two run blocking match-ups, that’s not a criticism. That means that Conklin won his run blocking assignment on at least 35 of 37 of MSU’s rushing attempts, and the way that he back peddled on one of those other two plays, I’m guessing that he was letting his man into the backfield by design. Enjoy Conklin while he’s in East Lansing Spartan fans, because he’s one of the better left tackles that we’re ever going to see.

Current Draft Projection: Early 1st round. Up from early to mid 1st round.

2. Connor Cook, Sr., QB: After watching the Oregon game, I think I’m finally getting a grasp on Connor Cook as a quarterback prospect, and it’s not all that different than my initial assessment of him after he came in and lead MSU on a game winning drive against TCU in the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wing Bowl. Cook has a special arm and can fire the football in the smallest of windows, but he’s always going to be a guy who has some accuracy problems. While he’s cleaned up his footwork to some degree, his brain always seems to be ahead of his feet when it comes to going through his progressions, which at times causes him to rush some easy throws when he identifies an open receiver and starts to throw before his feet can change direction and get set. That’s not necessarily a bad thing from an NFL perspective, as many college quarterbacks coming from spread offenses now enter the league not even knowing how to read progressions. Most importantly, Cook knows how to get things done. For you Seinfeld fans, he just seems to have the football "Kavorka."

Current Draft Projection: 1st round. Up from 1st to early 2nd round.

3.  Shilique Calhoun, Sr., DE: Shilique Calhoun had a good all-around showing against Oregon. He padded his stats with a sack, but more importantly, demonstrated some great read and react skills by laying back and using his length to disrupt Oregon’s bread and butter screen passing game. He also made a key stop on 4th down against the Ducks in the 4th Quarter, helping solidify his reputation as a playmaker.

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

4.  Jack Allen, Sr., C/G: Jack Allen may have played the game of his life against Oregon. Not only did he routinely seal and create holes in the interior running game, but he was a stone wall when it came to pass protection. Some of his best efforts came on key plays, with a huge block on Madre London’s game opening 62-yard run on the Spartans’ first offensive possession, and a big surge on Connor Cook’s successful 4th down QB sneak.

Current Draft Projection: 3rd to 4th round. Up from 4th to 5th round.

5.  Malik McDowell, So, DT (not draft eligible until after the 2016 season): As an underclassman, McDowell hasn’t made either of my first two Draft Prospect lists this season. After a dominant performance against Oregon, it’s impossible to keep him off this list even though he’s not even draft eligible until after next season. McDowell is a man child, with the build of an NFL defensive end, but the strength and leverage of a defensive tackle. McDowell has been at his best in big situations, showing some big time penetration and getting low to stop the run on MSU’s key goal line stand in the first half. While he's not yet draft eligible, we should enjoy watching McDowell play his way up to a first or second day NFL selection over the next two seasons.

Current Draft Projection: 3rd to 5th round.

6.  Lawrence Thomas, Sr., DE/DT: Lawrence Thomas officially picked up 1.0 sacks against Oregon, although I think he actually had two half sacks. While Thomas demonstrated the pass rushing skills that I was looking for in my analysis of him last week, he didn’t hold the edge as a defensive end on at least one occasion that resulted in a big gain for Oregon. Much like his pass rushing, his down field pursuit as a defensive lineman was a plus.

Current Draft Projection: 4th to 6th round.

7.  Demetrious Cox, Jr., CB/S:  Demetrius Cox continues to play well at corner, which is not his natural position. Cox has given up a few receptions, but for the most part has shut opposing receivers down. He’s also been Michigan State’s most reliable tackler in the secondary, which should make him attractive as an NFL free safety.

Current Draft Projection: 4th to 6th round.

8.  Josiah Price, Jr., TE: Josiah Price has developed into Connor Cook’s security blanket, and rightfully so given his reliable hands and ability to get open in third down and end zone situations. Price did fail to secure a run block long enough on Damion Terry’s ill-fated red zone play in the first half, but if he can improve his blocking over the next year and a half, his hands should be good enough to make him a day two NFL Draft pick once his playing days at MSU are over.

Current Draft Projection: 4th to 6th round.

9. Aaron Burbridge, Sr., WR: Michigan State needed a go-to receiver to step up this season if they wanted to challenge for a National Championship, and Aaron Burbridge has apparently answered the call. Burbridge upped his draft stock by demonstrating good cuts and great hands against Oregon, and most impressively, by overpowering defenders after the catch on his way to the end zone on his first half touchdown reception. By establishing himself as Michigan State’s top receiver, Burbridge has made himself comparable to the Spartans’ numerous mid-round selections in recent years. He can continue to up his draft value by showing that he can beat coverage over the top in addition to just being a possession receiver.

Current Draft Projection: 4th to 6th round. Up from 6th to 7th round.

10. Joel Heath, Sr., DT: In my pre-season draft projections I had a reader comment that I should have included Joel Heath. While I wanted to wait and see if Heath could play his way into the draft simply by being part of one of the nation’s best defenses, boy was I off! Heath has not only held his own as a starter on the Spartan defense, but he’s been one of their standout players. In mixing in big plays as a pass rusher and in stuffing the run, Heath might have been MSU’s top player on defense against Oregon. Let’s see if he can keep it up.

Current Draft Projection: 4th to 6th round.

11. Riley Bullough, Jr., MLB: Riley Bullough was less impressive in the stat sheet against Oregon than he was against Western Michigan, but much more important to the Spartans when it came to the plays that he made on the field. On Michigan State’s key first half goal line stand, Bullough amazingly shed a blocker to stop Oregon QB Vernon Adams on what looked to be an easy touchdown run on second down. He then proceeded to contribute on key stops just inches from the goal line on 3rd and 4th downs. Better yet, Bullough was much more solid in his tackling than he was against Western Michigan, and seemed comfortable calling out MSU's defensive assignments, which should only add to his NFL value.

Current Draft Projection: 6th to 7th round.

Next up on the draft board: Demetrius Cooper, Darien Harris and Montae Nicholson.