NFL Draft Preview: Nebraska vs. Michigan State
This Big Ten showdown could determine the winner of the conference and has plenty of big time NFL prospects on both sides of the ball, especially the skill positions.
Connor Cook, Junior, Michigan State
Cook is a super intriguing quarterback prospect in a year with a very uncertain second tier of QBs. Cook is listed at 6’4 220 pounds and it is apparent how he towers over his skill position players while on the field. He is not asked to win games by himself at Michigan State (he only thrown more than 13 passes in one of MSU’s four games this year,) but possesses some big physical talents. He has solid zip on the ball and a good NFL arm. He does have trouble with his ball placement and accuracy down the field, but makes up for this with his presnap adjustments and play action prowess. Cook could be an underrated QB if he declares and develop into an NFL starter. He is key if the Spartans want a win against Nebraska.
Check out On the Clock NFL Mock Draft Simulator for Free!
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
Abdullah has raced onto the national scene this year and is pushing for a Heisman campaign on the undefeated Corn Huskers. He has been insanely productive, running for over 200 yards in three games this year as well as scoring a touchdown in every single game he has played in. Abdullah has a lethal combination of quickness and power allowing him to push a pile at the college level as well as make defenders miss in open space. He is also a decent pass catching option and has returned kicks throughout his four years at Nebraska. He is a touch undersize at 5’9 195 pounds and isn’t a speed demon, likely around the 4.50 mark for his 40 time, but he does get up to speed very quickly and that acceleration can prove valuable in the NFL. Abdullah has captured the national attention, and if Michigan State can’t stop him, being showcased in this big game could help his draft stock. He may not be drafted up to his press clippings, but is a definite top 100 pick. The question will be if he is a 3 down between the tackles back or merely a diverse weapon in a committee at the pro level.
Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
Langford is almost a polar opposite to Ameer Abdullah. He has a bigger build (6’1 208 pounds,) and was expected to be more of a workhorse RB this year for the Spartans. With the emergence of the smaller senior RB Nick Hill, there has been more of a split in carries, hurting some of what Jeremy Langford an impressive prospect. Last season, he had 292 carries and averaged almost 5 yards a carry while also catching 28 balls. He is Le’Veon Bell lite as a prospect (not the current version of Bell,) with slow acceleration and speed, but does avoid tacklers and catches passes to make a big impact. Langford is the type of RB prospect who won’t be for every team, and may be a fringe top 100 pick, but if a team wants a committee back between the tackles with some versatility, Langford could be their choice. Expect a heavy workload against Nebraska.
Kenny Bell, Nebraska
Bell, affectionately nicknamed “Afro Thunder” is Mr. Reliable for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, especially on 3rd downs. At 6’1 185 pounds, Bell has a slight frame but good hands and route running ability to be relied upon in big game spots. With Nebraska’s offense centered around the run, Bell doesn’t get a ton of opportunities to showcase his abilities. He won’t burn you deep, he won’t break a ton of tackles after the catch, but the reliability makes Bell an ideal late round candidate in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Tony Lippett, Michigan State
Lippett, the go to WR for the Spartans, is a jack of all trades that is drawing solid NFL Draft grades. A QB in high school, Lippett’s 6’3 height makes him an ideal red zone target while his speed paves way for big play action passes down the field. He is on the thin side, and it shows, but he has taken some big shots and punishment and kept going. With a good rest of season and combine, Lippett could be a top 100 pick with a good combination of productivity, metrics, and big play ability that will endear him to NFL teams. A big Lippett touchdown could help lift the Spartans over the Cornhuskers.
Shilique Calhoun, Junior, Michigan State
Calhoun came into the season with one of the top defensive line grades in the country, but has struggled to get pressure so far this year. Last season, Calhoun had 7.5 sacks, 14.0 tackle for loss, as well as 3 TDs (2 fumble returns and 1 interception return). This season, Calhoun has 2 sacks, 1 against Jacksonville State and 1 against Wyoming, while struggling when the Spartans played Oregon earlier this season. Calhoun has super long arms to match his 6’5 256 pound frame and has shown excellent abilities to shed blocks and get into the back field. Offensive lines have adjusted to him and when double teamed with TE or back help, he doesn’t seem to be able to use the same pass rush moves to get by. He is a prototypical 4-3 Left End and has a shot for the first round with his production and athletic ability, but needs to show dominance as a junior to meet those expectations.
Randy Gregory, Junior, Nebraska
Gregory is another potential 1st round DE who is off to a fast start this season. Gregory was a JUCO transfer who had a dominant sophomore season for the Cornhuskers with 9.5 sacks and 16.0 tackles for loss. He has reeled off 4.5 sacks in the last two games against Miami (FL) and Illinois. His fast first step is his calling card. When Gregory gets off the snap, he can duck around the tackle and be in the big field almost immediately. He has a variety of pass rush moves, making him extremely difficult to block. Add in scheme versatility at the next level as a 4-3 LE or 3-4 OLB, and Gregory will be mighty appealing to NFL teams. He may not have the run stuffing skills or coverage skills, but as long as he keeps getting to the QB, NFL teams won’t care. Gregory terrorized MSU last season and should get at least a sack again this year.
Marcus Rush, Michigan State
Rush has been passed over due to Calhoun’s dominance, but he is a pretty good DE in his own right. A bit on the small side at 6’2 245 pounds, Rush could be an ideal candidate as a reserve 3-4 OLB at the next level. He already has 2.5 sacks through 4 games and uses leverage to get past offensive linemen. His big game was against Oregon, getting into the back field to stop the run often as well. Rush isn’t a super athlete, doesn’t have great size nor does he seal the edge extremely well, but he does everything pretty good. A midround pick to look out for in April.
Taiwan Jones, Michigan State
Jones has been rock solid in the middle of the Spartan defense and is an intriguing mid-late round pick in the NFL Draft. Jones is stout at 6’3 252 pounds and is a solid thumper in the middle with some pass coverage skills to boot. He doesn’t give much in the way of pass rush or if asked to go against super athletic players in coverage, but he should be a solid reserve and special teamer at the next level.
Kurtis Drummond, FS, Michigan State
Drummond will compete to be one of the top senior safeties taken in the 2015 NFL Draft. Drummond has big range and size at 6’1 202 pounds and can play the center field position in the NFL. He is a big time playmaker, already with 2 INTs this season, and has very good coverage ability. He isn’t great in the box, but is very capable of playing the run. Drummond could follow in the trend of senior safeties being taken last in the first round unexpectedly.