Michigan Wolverines: Travis Frederick
OK, maybe you weren't nervous. But they were a bit skittish at Big Ten headquarters as the first round of the NFL draft unfolded at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Thirty names were called, none from the Big Ten, which found itself in danger of being excluded from the first round for the first time since 1953. Then, Dallas drafted Wisconsin center Travis Frederick and his prodigious beard at No. 31.
The Big Ten shouldn't be nearly as concerned as the 2014 NFL draft approaches next month. In fact, the league could have one of its better first round showings in recent years.
Earlier this week, the NFL announced that 30 players will attend the draft, including five from the Big Ten: Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier and Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer. If you're invited to the draft, your name likely will be called early, if not in the first round then shortly thereafter. Another likely first round prospect, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, is choosing to watch the draft from his home in Georgia.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has all six Big Ten players going in the first round in his latest mock draft .
The Big Ten might not dominate the top 10 -- Lewan is the likeliest candidate to hear his name called -- but a strong first-round showing is possible.
Latimer is soaring up the draft boards after a strong pro day at Indiana and additional workouts with teams. Some questioned his decision to skip his final season and enter the draft, but it's looking like a good choice now. I've always loved Latimer's combination of length, leaping ability and speed on the outside. He'll be a good pro.
Shazier is another Big Ten early entrant whose draft stock seems to be surging in recent weeks. Many have the former Buckeyes standout going late in the first round.
One good sign: the group of potential first-rounders includes two cornerbacks and a wide receiver. The Big Ten has struggled to produce elite players at both positions in recent years.
If the list of player invites proves prophetic, the SEC and ACC both will have a sizable presence early on May 8. But after quite possibly the worst draft in Big Ten history, the league should have more to celebrate this time.
The Big Ten endured arguably the worst NFL draft in its history last month, and its struggles to produce high first-round talent are well documented.
The league hasn't had a top-10 pick since Michigan's Jake Long and Ohio State's Vernon Gholston went No. 1 and No. 6, respectively, in the 2008 draft. The Big Ten narrowly avoided being shut out of the first round for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger when Wisconsin's Travis Frederick went at No. 31 in April's draft.
Is the troubling trend for the Big Ten more of a coaching/development issue or a recruiting issue? The declining number of first-round picks might have more to do with the Big Ten footprint than the Big Ten Conference.
As CoachingSearch.com's Chris Vannini points out, certain states in the Big Ten footprint, namely Ohio, have seen a drop in producing first-round picks in recent years. Vannini looked at where first-round picks from the past eight drafts played their high school ball.
Not surprisingly, Texas (17) and Florida (12) produced the most first-round picks between 2010-13, followed by Georgia (10) and California (8). Florida, Texas and California also were among the top producers in the previous four drafts (2006-09).
Pennsylvania is the top producer in the Big Ten footprint with five first-round picks since 2010. Michigan (4) and Wisconsin (4) are next, along with future Big Ten state New Jersey (4).
Where's Ohio? Way down the list with just two first-round picks since 2010. It comes as a surprise as Ohio is celebrated for its high school football and serves as the starting point in recruiting for many Big Ten programs.
Ohio produced nine first-round draft picks between 2006-09. New Jersey also saw its total drop from 10 (between 2006-09) to four (between 2010-13).
Pennsylvania and Wisconsin both produced three more first-round picks in the past four drafts than the previous four. All four Wisconsin products -- J.J. Watt, Gabe Carimi, Kevin Zeitler and Frederick -- played for the Wisconsin Badgers during their run of Rose Bowls. Michigan saw a slight increase in recent years, Illinois held steady and Indiana dropped from four (2006-09) to two (2010-13). Minnesota had one first-round pick in 2012 after none from 2006-09, while Nebraska and Iowa aren't on the board for either span.
What about the Big Ten's other new territory, the Washington D.C./Maryland/Northern Virginia region? Maryland's total dropped from four (2006-09) to three (2010-13), Virginia's went from seven (2006-09) to three (2010-13) and Washington D.C. failed to produce a first-round pick from 2010-13 after having two between 2006-09.
What does this mean for the Big Ten? First-round draft picks are only one way to gauge the strength of a league or a region, but the numbers reinforce that much of the nation's elite talent grows up far from Big Ten campuses. Big Ten schools have to spread their wings in recruiting and invest more time and resources in states like Texas, Florida and Georgia. Many programs already do this, but there's a greater sense of urgency.
The Ohio total is a bit alarming, but I'd be surprised if the state produces so few first-round picks in the next four years. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Wisconsin total under a new Badgers coaching staff.
I still like the Big Ten's new additions, Rutgers and Maryland, from a recruiting standpoint, but the declining totals of first-round draft picks from both areas are a bit unsettling as the two programs prepare to move to the Big Ten in 2014.
Here are our picks for the 2012 preseason All-Big Ten team:
QB: Denard Robinson, Michigan
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
RB: Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
RB: Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State
WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
OT: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
OT: Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
OG: Spencer Long, Nebraska
OG: Chris McDonald, Michigan State
C: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
DE: John Simon, Ohio State
DE: William Gholston, Michigan State
DT: Kawann Short, Purdue
DT: Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
LB: Gerald Hodges, Penn State
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
LB: Jonathan Brown, Illinois
CB: Johnny Adams, Michigan State
CB: Ricardo Allen, Purdue
S: Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
S: Jordan Kovacs, Michigan
K/P: Brett Maher, Nebraska
KR: Raheem Mostert, Purdue
Thoughts: The first thing that likely jumps out at you is that we have three running backs and just one receiver on our first-team offense. No, we haven't forgotten the rules of football. It's just that we continue to feel the wide receiver crop is weak this season, and no great candidates for the second spot leap out at us. Perhaps Keenan Davis of Iowa or one of Northwestern's many receivers will have a great season, but no one has proved anything on a consistent basis. We'd rather have Bell -- who we believe is primed for a huge year -- on the team than any of the receiver candidates. Plus, isn't running the ball what Big Ten football is all about? ... Some of the toughest omissions came at linebacker, where Michigan State's duo of Denicos Allen and Max Bullough and Wisconsin's Mike Taylor were among those left out. At least we know we'd have an outstanding second-team unit at that position. ... Fiedorowicz is a bit of a projection pick, but we love the way he finished last season and how he fits into Greg Davis' new scheme. You certainly could make a strong case for Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen or Ohio State's Jake Stoneburner there as well. ... Some of these players won't live up to expectations, and others will explode on the scene this fall. But for now, we'd feel pretty good about throwing this team on the field.
On Friday, we ranked the top individual players at the position. These unit rankings reflect star power as well as depth. We're heavily weighing these on last year's performance, along with potential for the 2012 season.
Away we go:
1. Wisconsin: Sure, the Badgers lost two All-Americans (Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz) from last year's line. But they've earned the benefit of the doubt for their ability to reload up front. Left tackle Ricky Wagner is an Outland Trophy candidate, and center Travis Frederick should be one of the best in the Big Ten. The key will be how the new-look right side with Rob Havenstein and likely Robert Burge moving into starting roles.
3. Michigan State: This could be the best offensive line Mark Dantonio has had in East Lansing. Six players who started games last year are back, and there will be depth and competition at several spots. Third-year starter Chris McDonald is one of the league's top guards, while tackles Dan France and Fou Fonoti are dependable.