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Michigan State Preseason NFL Draft Big Board

An in depth look at Michigan State football’s top NFL Draft prospects

With a background as a nationally rated NFL Draft prognosticator, I’ll be taking a weekly look at Michigan State’s Big Board of top rated prospects for the NFL Draft. As the season progresses, I’ll break down each player’s weekly performance and how it may affect their overall draft status.

1. Malik McDowell, Jr., DT: Malik McDowell is one of the most touted interior defensive linemen in the country, having been named preseason 1st Team All-American by nearly every major media outlet. At 6’6 and 276 pounds, McDowell is much taller and leaner than most defensive tackle prospects, but he has no problem overpowering opposing blockers due to his ability to play low and his freakish strength and motor. McDowell is an elite 1-gap pass rusher from the defensive tackle position, but as I surmised last season, Michigan State may look to move him around and utilize his skills as their boundary defensive end at times to take advantage of his athleticism. That movement would only enhance McDowell’s resume, as he has the skill-set to become an elite 3-technique defensive tackle or base end in a 4-3 system, or a 5-technique end in the mold of J.J. Watt in a 3-4 scheme.

Current Draft Projection: Early to mid 1st round.

2. Riley Bullough, Jr., MLB: Riley Bullough keeps getting better and better at middle linebacker, which unlike the case for his older brother Max, was not his natural position. Bullough not only can make the right calls at the line of scrimmage and plug the right gaps, but he is a force from sideline to sideline in tracking down receivers in coverage. At this point, Bullough is nearly as good as his big brother was in diagnosing plays, and is already much more athletic in pursuit, making him more coveted as a potential three down player in the NFL. Listed at 6’2 and 227 pounds, scouts will want to see if Bullough can add another 15 pounds without losing any of his quickness before the NFL Scouting Combine so he can sustain the physical rigors at the next level. If he’s able to do that, he could work himself into a day two pick at a position that is not highly valued in the NFL.

Current Draft Projection: 4th or 5th round.

3. Josiah Price, Jr., TE: Josiah Price is a proven commodity as a red zone target and as a receiver who can get open against zone coverage. Price needs to work on his strength at the line of scrimmage and route running heading into his senior season, as he was not big enough to be a factor as an inline blocker last season, nor was he fast enough to stretch the seam of opposing defenses as an option out of the slot. If Price can add some bulk to his 6’4, 248 pound frame and add some craftiness to his already solid hands, he should eventually find a place on an active NFL roster.

Current Draft Projection: 5th to 7th round.

4. Demetrious Cox, Jr., CB/S: While Demetrious Cox has the versatility to play both cornerback and safety, his future at the next level is at free safety. Forced to play cornerback for much of last season in the injury riddled Spartan secondary, Cox hardly disappointed, although he was exploited at times by quicker/faster receivers. While the Spartans typically use their free safety in press man coverage, Cox should be better protected at that position against the deep ball, which was his biggest weakness while playing corner. Cox also has the skill-set to move up in the box and read and react against the run, making him an NFL caliber prospect who may have more to gain this season than any other Spartan player in terms of upgrading his draft stock.

Current Draft Projection: 5th to 7th round.

5. Ed Davis, Sr., OLB: Ed Davis is a curious Michigan State draft prospect. Not only are the Spartans still awaiting word on his eligibility following a petition to the NCAA for a 6th season of eligibility, but he’s barely over 12 months removed from knee surgery to repair a torn ACL. Prior to his knee injury before the start of last season, Davis was a 1st team All-Big Ten selection after coming off of a 7-sack season in 2014. In addition to his eligibility concerns, questions remain as to whether or not Davis will be physically ready to resume his role as Michigan State’s starting star linebacker to begin the season, especially considering MSU’s depth at outside linebacker. When healthy, Davis is an athletic game changing playmaker who can rush the passer and cause havoc behind the line of scrimmage. At this point Davis would be worth a late round pick by a NFL team willing to gamble on his health, but if he’s deemed eligible and returns to health this season, he certainly has star potential.

Current Draft Projection: 6th or 7th round.

6 Demetrius Cooper, Jr., DE: Last season Demetrius Cooper was the understudy to star MSU defensive end, Shilique Calhoun. As an edge speed rusher, I don’t see any reason why Cooper can’t come close to matching Calhoun’s 10.5 sacks from 2015. Calhoun fell to the 3rd round of the NFL Draft last season primarily due to concerns about his ability to stop the run as an NFL defensive end, and while Cooper is nearly the exact same size as Calhoun, he could develop into an elite NFL pass rush prospect if he’s able to add the bulk over his next two seasons in East Lansing that Calhoun was unable to come up with to solidify his anchor against the run.

Current Draft Projection: 6th or 7th round.

7. Montae Nicholson, Jr., S: At 6’2 and an extremely athletic 219 pounds, Montae Nicholson has the ideal peripheral numbers to be an NFL safety. While Nicholson seemed to struggle early last season with his confidence/play recognition, he put in some in season work in the film room and finished the year much stronger. Assuming that his off the field work continues to progress, Nicholson could become a playmaker in MSU’s secondary, but he still needs to improve his tackling, both in terms of his angles and his ability to wrap opponents up to move up NFL draft boards.

Current Draft Projection: 6th or 7th round.

8. Vayante Copeland, Jr., CB: Vayante Copeland could be the next in line to become one of Michigan State’s highly drafted cornerbacks. Unfortunately, he lost nearly all of his sophomore season to a fractured vertebrae in his neck, which was similar to an injury that he suffered in high school. At 5’11 and 190 pounds, Copeland certainly has the size that NFL teams covet, but we’ve had very little film or field experience to watch from him at this point. Injury history aside, I’ll certainly be curious to see if the internal reports I’ve heard about Copeland’s talent from fellow MSU players are correct.

Current Draft Projection: 6th or 7th round.

9. Kodi Kieler, Sr., T/C: If there was a reason that Jack Allen went undrafted last season despite his tenacity, intellect and having been named an All-American, it was his lack of size. Size won’t matter for the 6’6, 319 right tackle convert, Kodi Kieler. To be honest, I never thought that Kieler had the quickness to be much more than an average right tackle, where he started for much of the last two seasons. However, a move to center should benefit the hulking Kieler, where he can hide his lack of athleticism and become an inside mauler, which is something much more suitable to his skill set.

Current Draft Projection: 7th round.

10. L.J. Scott, So., RB: While Michigan State may have two NFL caliber running backs this year in L.J. Scott and Gerald Holmes, Scott is by far the most complete back on their roster. The 6’1 and 230 pound true sophomore has the size, power and speed to be a three down back. Better yet, his vision and instinct to find the hole are reminiscent of Le’Veon Bell, who has gone from MSU star to the best running back in the NFL.

Current Draft Projection: (Not draft eligible until after the 2017 season).