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Michigan State Spartans Football: Week 1 NFL Draft Prospects Update

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Mark continues to keep tabs on the NFL future of MSU's current stars

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Evaluating Michigan State’s Top Draft Prospects

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 is good…Really good. He’s a guy that you usually don’t notice much during a game, which is a good thing when you’re an offensive lineman. As I re-watched the film, Conklin was successfully pulling from the left tackle position, trap blocking, and dominating his man when he stayed at home. You can’t ask for much more than that. It was a thing of beauty.

Current Draft Projection: Early to middle 1st round.

2. Connor Cook, Sr., QB: Connor Cook was plagued by accuracy problems on some rather easy throws against Western Michigan. While there is no shortage of people who will pencil players into the first round of the NFL Draft while they are still in college, scouts will begin to pick players apart for their flaws once they graduate or declare. Cook’s inaccurate throws are going to be an issue that could keep him out of the first round if he can’t find a way to rectify them. On the plus side, his footwork looked better than last year, and he did a good job of keeping the football out of harm’s way, aside from a fumble that he lost after being pursued from behind.

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

3. Shilique Calhoun, Sr., DE: Shilique Calhoun lived up to projections with a sack against Western Michigan, but if he wants to become a first round draft pick, Calhoun needs to do more to show that he’s a star player. After a hot start to his sophomore season, Calhoun has been good, but not dominant. Instead of an occasional sack, we need to see more game changing plays if Calhoun is going to live up to his hype as an early first round pick according to some.

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

4. Jack Allen, Sr., C/G: Jack Allen is a superb center, but he’s a bit undersized, and when you’re undersized, you can’t afford to miss blocks like he did against a team like Western Michigan. Allen has an NFL future, and did an excellent job off pulling and getting to the second level on running plays, but will need to clean up his pass blocking assignments if he wants to go earlier than day three of next year’s draft.

Current Draft Projection: 4th to 5th round.

5. Lawrence Thomas, Sr., DE/DT: Despite his move outside this season, I still see Lawrence Thomas as an inside player in the NFL, either as a 3-4 DE or as a 4-3 DT. Thomas appeared to be playing inside when he deflected a Western Michigan pass, which wound up being intercepted by Montae Nicholson. To up his draft status, Thomas needs to show more in terms of being a pass rusher who can get to the quarterback.

Current Draft Projection: 4th to 6th round.

6. Demetrius Cox, Jr., CB/S:  Seeing his first action at CB, Demetrius Cox looked the part, at least for a college player. While his straight line speed could be an issue at the position going forward to the next level, he was able to recover and make plays even when his man got behind him. While Cox has NFL skills, especially as a projected free safety, he’s an unlikely early entry candidate.

Current Draft Projection: 4th to 6th round.

7. Josiah Price, Jr., TE: Josiah Price not only demonstrated great hands against Western Michigan, with a beautiful touchdown catch on a seam route, but he looked noticeably bigger than he did last season. If Price can continue to bulk up and become an NFL caliber blocker in addition to a pass catcher, he could become a much coveted tight end that goes in the early rounds of the draft once his playing days at MSU come to an end.

Current Draft Projection: 4th to 6th round.

8. Aaron Burbridge, Sr., WR: Michigan State needed somebody to step up as a go to receiver this season, and while Aaron Burbridge didn’t dominate against Western Michigan, he was Connor Cook’s most reliable target. Given MSU’s recent success in sending receivers into the NFL, that should be enough to get him drafted if he can keep catching passes. The key question that remains for both Burbridge and the Spartans is, to what level can he elevate his game by the end of the season?

Current Draft Projection: 6th to 7th round.

9.    Riley Bullough, Jr., MLB: Riley Bullough was all over the field against Western Michigan. He displayed excellent speed, roaming the field from sideline to sideline, and his three sacks against the Broncos are almost unheard of for a middle linebacker. If there’s one criticism I saw on film, it was that Bullough was too aggressive at times, as he overran at least one play where he could have stayed put and made an easy tackle, but ended up giving up a big gain. Middle linebackers rarely get selected high in the draft, and Bullough may currently be a bit undersized to play that position at the next level, but he’s looking more and more like a playmaker at a position where NFL teams are happy to just have a solid player who knows the defense and can make tackles. If you know his family history, that shouldn’t be a problem for Riley. Give Bullough another year to bulk up, and I could easily see him as a second day selection in the NFL Draft.

Current Draft Projection: 6th to 7th round.

10. Darien Harris, Sr., OLB: Darien Harris is a good football player who had a poor game against Western Michigan. On multiple occasions Harris either hesitated or took poor angles in pass coverage, allowing his man to break free. Not only was Harris burned for a touchdown in the 4th quarter, but he would have given up another one if his man didn’t drop a wide open pass on a simple wheel route in the first half. At this point I have to question Harris’ foot speed, and Michigan State would be wise to bring in a speedier option at the STAR position like Drake Martinez (once healthy) in passing situations as they have frequently done in the past. Unfortunately, being just a two down outside linebacker doesn’t bode well for your draft position heading into the NFL.

Current Draft Projection: Undrafted free agent.

Next up on the draft board: Malik McDowell, Joel Heath and Montae Nicholson.