PISCATAWAY, NJ - OCTOBER 06: Reggie Corbin #2 of the Illinois Fighting Illini runs in for a touchdown against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second quarter at HighPoint.com Stadium on October 6, 2018 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

The NFL Draft process is far from perfect. Scouts must evaluate each player’s traits, personalities, combine results, as well as considering some production numbers. This is the reason for the variation in draft rankings. Some scouts can value traits more than others, while others can fall in love with elite combine scores. Regardless, the variation is what makes the process so fun.

In my experience scouting prospects, player traits and combine scores are the two most important things in player evaluations; assuming no red flags. Red flags can generally consist of reoccurring injury problems or run-ins with the law. Even though those two aspects may be the most important factors in my player evaluations, there has been a pattern over the past few years that is hard to ignore.

The Big Ten has had some dominant players within the conference who have been over-evaluated while taking the next step. Over-evaluation is most common when the whole is greater than the sum of each of its parts. So essentially, the game tape may not show traits that stand out, and the combine numbers may not be up to standard, but everything works well together to create a player who is very capable of being a star. With the Big Ten, it’s time to take a look at the pattern to see if a few of this year’s evaluations can be simplified.

2015 Draft

Frank Clark, Michigan (Round 2, 63rd Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Senior Season (41 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, 2 passes defended)

This Season in the NFL: On pace for 30 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 14.0 Sacks, 2 passes defended

Tevin Coleman, Indiana (Round 3, 73rd Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Junior Season (2036 yards, 7.5 yards per carry, 15 touchdowns)

This Season in the NFL: On pace for 786 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, 4 touchdowns

Adrian Amos, Penn State (Round 5, 142nd Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Junior Season (41 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 6 passes defended)

This Season in the NFL: On pace for 75 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 9 passes defended

2016 Draft

Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland (Round 3, 69th Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Junior Season (37 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 13.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble)

This Season in the NFL: On pace for 23 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks

Joe Schobert, Wisconsin (Round 4, 99th Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Junior Season (76 tackles, 20.0 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, 4 forced fumbles

This Season in the NFL: On pace for 104 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, 11 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles

Jordan Howard, Indiana (Round 5, 150th Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Junior Season (1213 yards, 6.2 YPC, 9 touchdowns)

This Season in the NFL: On pace for 817 yards, 3.4 YPC, 9 touchdowns

2017 Draft

Chris Godwin, Penn State (Round 3, 84th Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Sophomore Season (69 receptions, 1101 yards, 5 touchdowns)

This Season in the NFL: On pace for 66 Receptions, 859 Yards, 7 touchdowns

George Kittle, Iowa (Round 5, 146th Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Senior Season (22 receptions, 314 yards, 4 touchdowns)

This Season in the NFL: On pace for 73 receptions, 1230 yards, 5 touchdowns

Desmond King, Iowa (Round 5, 151st Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Junior Season (72 tackles, 8 interceptions, 13 passes defended)

This Season in the NFL: On pace for 53 tackles, 5 interceptions, 12 passes defended

2018 Draft

Josey Jewell, Iowa (Round 4, 106th Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Senior Season (132 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 11 passes defended)

This Season in the NFL: On pace for 44 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2 passes defended

Maurice Hurst, Michigan (Round 5, 140th Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Senior Season (59 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 2 passes defended)

This Season in the NFL: On pace for 37 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 5 passes defended

Ja’Whaun Bentley, Purdue (Round 5, 143rd Pick)

Most Productive College Season: Senior Season (97 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sacks, 1 interception, 3 passes defended)

This Season in the NFL (Placed on IR after three games, 16 game projection): 75 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 5 interceptions, 5 passes defended

2019 NFL Draft Big Ten Gems

Reggie Corbin, Illinois

Reggie Corbin is a junior running back at the University of Illinois. He did a good job carrying the ball for the Fighting Illini as a freshman, averaging a tad over six yards per carry. His touches diminished in his second season, but now as a junior Corbin is making a name for himself.

In ten games this season he has already reached the endzone nine times. Corbin breaks plays loose regularly and he has the size to transfer his game to the next level. He has had runs of 25 yards or more in all but two games this season. In one of the two games he had also left early with a foot injury. He also has yet to score more than twice in a game this season, which may not be a good thing on the surface, but it means that he is consistently scoring throughout the season.

He’s unlikely to get the opportunity to play a 13th game with Illinois needing wins against both Iowa and Northwestern to clinch a bowl game. In the latter half of the season though Corbin has showed tremendous improvement. He is not a guarantee to declare for the draft, but if he does scouts need to take a real look at his ability. His lateral quickness and big play ability are very reminiscent of early second round draft pick Ronald Jones.

This Season in College: On pace for 1214 yards, 8.9 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns

Tyler Johnson, Minnesota

Tyler Johnson is a junior at the University of Minnesota. By media hype, it would seem like Johnson is the most likely of these three players to declare for the draft this season. Johnson has been making a difference since his freshman season. He has improved on his statistical every year, and this year he is a complete menace for defenders.

For the second straight season, Johnson is averaging more than 15 yards per catch. He gets downfield with 4.4 speed and comes back to the ball with strong hands. He shakes defenders on slant routes with ease, seemingly picking up first downs every time he touches the ball.

Johnson also has nine touchdowns on the season to this point. He is a threat in the red zone with his big frame, standing at 6’2, 200 pounds. He also beats defenders regularly for touchdowns with impressive route running and not just with his size. The Golden Gophers may not see a bowl game either, needing to take a game off of Northwestern or Wisconsin. Either way, Johnson has made his case for the NFL.

This Season in College: On pace for 74 receptions, 1138 yards, 11 touchdowns

Kenny Willekes, Michigan State

Kenny Willekes is a junior at Michigan State University. A former walk-on, Willekes has defied all odds by dominating one of the best conferences in the country. He broke out as a sophomore, finishing with more than 10 tackles for loss and five sacks. He has improved once again this season, and looks dominant against constant double teams.

Willekes was put on the Ted Hendricks Award preseason watch list for the nation’s best defensive end. Unofficially, Brian Burns and Clelin Ferrell may be the front runners for the award, but Willekes has been incredibly impressive this season. Michigan State has clinched a bowl game, giving him the chance to show out when it really matters. He has impressive size but will become even more dangerous when he packs on some weight for the NFL.

This past week against Ohio State, Willekes was hard to miss against some NFL talent offensive linemen. He didn’t force the fumble, but Willekes blew through the offensive line on a dropped snap and made a play on the quarterback that prevented Ohio State from recovering the fumble. Scouts have been sleeping on Willekes since his high school days. Don’t make the same mistake this time around.

This Season in College: On pace for 83 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 5 passes defended

Conclusions

It’s important not to box score scout for the NFL Draft. There is unquestionably more that goes into evaluations than just statistics. With recent years suggesting that some dominant players from the Big Ten will be drafted in the late rounds before making a big difference at the next level, it is a pattern to watch out for. None of these players are guaranteed to take the next step this offseason, but should they declare, remember their names.

There will be tons of high draft picks to come out the Big Ten, and these players do have the chance to be drafted at the top as well. Basing the projections off of media rumblings, it seems as though these three players are more likely to be later round steals. The NFL may pass on these players a few times, but it would be irresponsible to be surprised when their names becomes popular again at the next level.

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