The Top Pro Prospects in Saturday's Ohio State-Michigan State Matchup

By Mike Young on November 19, 2015 at 4:10 pm
Three great Americans: Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Darron Lee

If the implications of Saturday's game aren't exciting enough, the talent on the field should be. Few matchups can showcase as many professional prospects – especially outside the SEC.

Naturally, NFL personnel will flock to Ohio Stadium:

According to CBS Sports' 2016 NFL Draft rankings, a combined 20 Buckeyes and Spartans received a draft-worthy grade. Eight could go in the first round. Most of those are Ohio State players, but more Michigan State players will go on the second or third day.

Few draft sites are as thorough as CBS, so using their rankings, here are the top prospects:

Joey Bosa (No. 1)

He may not fit a need for every NFL team, particularly when accounting for different schemes at the next level – although Ohio State's rushmen package should ease concerns about his versatility. Most agree he is still the No. 1 prospect. 

NFL draft twitter spent Wednesday arguing over comparisons for Bosa. The most common is J.J. Watt. Bosa disagrees.

"The style, the way I play, I feel like I get the comparisons because I'm a big white dude and he's a big white dude playing defensive line," he said, last year, via "He has a crazy motor, he's a physical freak and, I don't know, I guess I just look at myself different."

According to NFL execs, Michael Strahan or Jared Allen come to mind. Regardless, he's the most disruptive lineman in college football, even if the sack totals don't indicate as much.

Ezekiel Elliott (No. 13)

Modern draft strategy eschews running backs in favor of other positions. Thanks to Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, the 2015 draft featured a resurgence at the position in the first round. Two more could go on day one this year: Alabama's Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott.

The Buckeye tailback only enhanced his stock after a dominating playoff performance. He's on pace to catch more passes – through 10 games, only four fewer total receptions. Plus, as of a month ago, Pro Football Focus graded Elliott a perfect pass blocker.

Despite inconsistent offensive line play, Elliott remains as consistently great as ever. 

Connor Cook (No. 15)

Taking a quarterback in the first round signals a massive change of direction for NFL franchises. Cook is considered a consensus first round pick, but where he goes depends on how desperate teams in the middle of the first round are for an upgrade.

He doesn't have the physical tools of a Paxton Lynch or Jared Goff's accuracy. Cook does have four years of experience efficiently running a pro-style offense, which can't be discounted. His shoulder injury – regardless of what he says publicly – may prevent him from performing at his best in front of all those scouts, Saturday.

At this point, though, there's enough tape on Cook to determine how his game might translate to the next level.

Taylor Decker (No. 19)

As a unit, Ohio State hasn't consistently fared well in pass protection. Taylor Decker isn't necessarily to blame – whatever shortcomings he has against edge rushers he more than makes up for by creating run lanes for Elliott. 

Like Cook, interested teams already have extensive game film on Decker. Saturday will give those teams an indication of how much he's improved this year. At times, we'll see him matched up against Shilique Calhoun – although MSU will undoubtedly try to match Calhoun up against Chase Farris on the opposite side more often.

Michael Thomas (No. 24)

His top-end speed and inconsistent play at QB are the only things preventing Michael Thomas from being the top wide receiver prospect in the upcoming draft. As our Kyle Jones illustrated earlier this week, Thomas' physicality and superb instincts off the line make up for his supposed lack of athleticism. 

So, really, the lack of opportunities in the passing game hurt him. Thomas fares well against the top corners in college and we know he won't see anyone as talented as Kendall Fuller, Saturday.

Jack Conklin (No. 25)

It's truly been an atypical season in East Lansing. They're still winning but, this year, it's in spite of the secondary and offensive line play. 

Conklin is still holding down the left tackle spot for the Spartans. He battled through a knee injury to this point, crucial because of all the other injuries along MSU's o-line.

Scouts say it's unlikely he plays left tackle at the next level. A strong performance against Tyquan Lewis may sway some, but he'll still face doubts about his abilities in pass protection. 

Adolphus Washington (No. 30)

Bosa's disruption benefits Adolphus Washington the most – certainly in terms of boosting his NFL stock. Scouts already considered him an early-round draft pick, but he may be first round material after dominating one-on-one on the inside this season. 

Washington is the ninth-best interior lineman in college football according to Pro Football Focus' grading system. Entering the Illinois game, only Oregon’s DeForest Buckner earned a higher pass-rushing grade. Only some minor blips against the run cost him a higher overall grade.

It's also tough to doubt Diesel's athleticism after this:

Darron Lee (No. 40)

The redshirt sophomore is not guaranteed to enter the draft. Darron Lee could benefit from another year in college like Washington, although it's unlikely teams will start scheming towards him. 

"I wouldn’t say slow down; I’d say go the other way," Lee said, via our Tim Shoemaker. "It is what it is. As long as we’re coming out on top, I can’t really complain. I’m not greedy for stats or anything."

For what it's worth, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay ranks Lee as the second best linebacker in the upcoming draft. His stats aren't overly impressive but, clearly, the tape doesn't lie. 

Others without a first round grade

  • Shilique Calhoun (No. 43, 2nd round)
  • Vonn Bell (No. 46, 2nd round)
  • Joshua Perry (No. 51, 2nd round)
  • Pat Elflein (No. 78, 2nd or 3rd round)
  • Cardale Jones (No. 81, 2nd or 3rd round)
  • Braxton Miller (No. 95, 3rd round)
  • Nick Vannett (No. 114, 3rd or 4th round)
  • Jack Allen (No. 166, 5th round)
  • Aaron Burbridge (No. 168, 5th round)
  • Joel Heath (No. 190, 5th or 6th round)
  • RJ Williamson (No. 274, 7th round or FA)
  • DeAnthony Arnett (No. 342, 7th round or FA)
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