Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Big Ten bracing for first-round NFL draft shutout

Another sign of the Big Ten's eroding football depth should be displayed before a large television audience Thursday night.

If the first round of the NFL draft goes as analysts think -- always a massive if -- no Big Ten player will hear his name called during the first round. The projected shutout will follow a year when the conference didn't have a player selected until the Lions snagged Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff with the 23rd overall pick.

Extended draft waits are becoming the norm for the conference's top prospect. The Big Ten's last top-10 overall selection was Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, the No. 1 overall pick by the Dolphins in 2008.

Drab Big Ten offenses, known as afternoon snooze buttons before the 3:30 p.m. and prime-time SEC games on Saturdays, aren't enthralling NFL general managers and scouts. The conference hasn't produced a top-10 overall offensive skill player since 2007, when the Dolphins used the ninth pick on Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. 

Quarterback and wide receiver play among the Big Ten's upperclassmen ranked somewhere between poor and awful in 2012. In fact, a Big Ten hasn't produced a first-round quarterback since the Carolina Panthers selected Penn State's Kerry Collins fifth overall in 1995, the same year heralded Ohio State freshman J.T. Barrett was born.

And, yes, we know Tom Brady (sixth round, Michigan) and Drew Brees (second round, Purdue) are ticketed for Canton. But the lack of highly-draft quarterbacks being groomed raises questions about the talent entering the conference and how that mediocre talent is being developed.

So, who will be the first Big Ten player to come off draft boards this week?

Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins was a projected first-round pick, but his stock seemingly falls by the day. Purdue's Kawann Short is an athletic defensive tackle whose production dropped in 2012 because of shoddy play around him. Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell is near the top of a lousy group of running backs, although Wisconsin's Montee Ball, the NCAA's all-time touchdown leader, won't sniff the first round.

Drama and suspense should fill this year's first 32 picks. But if you're a Big Ten dreamer looking for a boost after going 1-4 in Jan. 1 bowls, then you might want to spend Thursday night watching "The Office."

- Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy


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