Hey, I've been very blessed to start a new feature for MnB. It'll include new articles every time and interesting football-related links. Look for it on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and let me know how I'm doing. Okay, let's get to some football, shall we.
NFL Draft Talk
The NFL Draft (May 8-10) can't come soon enough, and when it does it will turn the page on a 2013 draft that was historically bad for the B1G. In fact, a good case could be made it was the worst that the Big Ten has ever produced - for one, it came close to being shut out (for the first time since the draft's inception in 1936) of the first set of 32 picks. For another, only 7 players were taken in the first 96, and fewer were taken overall than in any draft in the last 20 years, back when the league had fewer teams.
Luckily, this year's draft will include much better representation. Taylor Lewan, Darqueze Dennard, Ryan Shazier, Ra'Shede Hageman, and Allen Robinson could all be picked in the first round. So could Carlos Hyde or Bradley Roby, though Roby's stock is falling. There's also a deep crop of offensive linemen, linebackers, and a few nice defensive backs. While no one knows exactly how many will go in Rounds 4, 5, and 6, the talent is certainly there for a nice showing.
Talent doesn't always equate to success, of course - just ask Alabama, who's still feeling the loss to Oklahoma - and some of the better players to ever play started their NFL career by getting ditched on draft day. In fact, it's one of the great subplots of the NFL Draft. Yeah, there are the Jake Longs and the Peyton Mannings in there, but there are also the Tom Bradys, the Russell Wilsons, the Karl Mecklenburgs. You don't know it right away if you struck gold, but it's been said that Super Bowl-winning teams are built on the later rounds.
So, with that in mind, let's take a look at some of the other B1G players who could get drafted, who haven't been talked about as much but could still make a great career for themselves. Here are my three picks.
1. Christian Kirksey, Iowa
Iowa had three good linebackers last year who are in the mix to get drafted, but Kirksey is the highest-rated among them and a potential 4th- or 5th-round pick. In college he was a Leo linebacker and spent a lot of time covering slot receivers and short throws in the flat. When playing against good athletes, you often saw him get beat, but I believe he only needs small corrections, like taking a better angle to a ball-carrier or to play in tighter coverage while still looking back at the quarterback. I think he'll be called on to do more of that in the growing pass-happy league that loves putting pressure on linebackers in space.
All of Kirksey's weaknesses line up in run coverage - being able to shed blocks around the line, even from wide receivers, having good upper-body strength to man the trenches and holding his gap discipline. But what Kirksey does well is exactly what NFL teams love - nice agility and athleticism, works well in traffic and is small (6'2") but long-armed. He's a little like a strong safety with some more physicality around the line, and I think a team will be able to pick him up and really use him. I could see him turning into a long-time starter as a linebacker if he works on his game and gets comfortable playing around faster offensive guys. He'll always struggle with Ray Rice-types, but he only has to be the first guy there.
2. Jeremy Gallon, Michigan
Jeremy Gallon has been projected to go undrafted, which would mean a harder road to success - undrafted free agency. However, as Michigan fans can attest, Gallon has all the immeasurables similar to a Tyrann Mathieu, and he plays a lot better than his size and speed. He knows how to get open in space, plays hard, bails out his quarterback and understands the game as well as anyone. Kirk Herbstreit put it nicely; he's the best pound-for-pound receiver in the game.
The NFL has started integrating smaller players into slot positions or as punt returners, but those guys tend to have blazing speed. Why Gallon isn't being looked at as a high draft pick is, besides his height, and besides teams being down on the Big Ten, he's not Denard-fast. He's quick, for sure, and you see that whenever you watch him play. But you're also not going to see him outrunning anybody for long stretches in the NFL, which is the cream of the crop in terms of athletes.
But I honestly believe he'll be a great player. He's a veteran-minded, football-mentality guy, and he'll be fine in the slot or in manipulating zone coverage (or anything else a defense tries to do). A lot of people can't imagine their teacher outside the classroom; I can't really imagine Jeremy Gallon not on a football field. The dude knows how to play, like most people know how to speak their first language. Immediately after the draft is over, teams start fighting over the UFAs, and I think Gallon, if he's not drafted, will be one of the first to go. I also think the adjustment to the pro game is one he'll make seamlessly.
3. Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
In the day and age of taller cornerbacks, I'm picking a 6'3" converted wide receiver to be given every chance to succeed there. You could say this is an easy gamble. And the closer you look at Stanley Jean-Baptiste's stats and measurables, the more there is to like. Still, right now, he's only a 3rd- or 4th-round project who is unpolished and inexperienced at his position.
Baptiste came to Nebraska hoping to just catch the football, but by his senior year he was the top cover corner for the Huskers and led his team with 12 pass-breakups. He's very athletic and uses his instincts to his advantage, getting good jumps on the ball and using his size and leaping ability to bother receivers. He's not the absolute fastest or the absolute strongest, and he needs to work on developing his instincts on defense, but I think he'll see a football field early and get plenty of interceptions, and yes, make a lot of Pro Bowls.
Hitting the Links Travels West
This is reaching back, but if you're starved for football, this is a good popcorn snack of cool football plays. I think the best is #11.
...on top of $90 million already invested. It's impressive a middle-of-the-pack school like Kansas State can do that.
One Foot Down is going through their 2014 opponent review, and what do you know, we happen to be playing them.
"Fun" fact: in last year's draft, Michigan failed to have someone go in the first four rounds for the first time since 1968. I wasn't alive in 1968.
His Arizona team, which has gone 8-5 each of his two years, is pulling in talent from LSU, Texas, and Notre Dame. I didn't know RichRod knew there was a defensive side to the ball.
The Eagles haven't had a winning season in 18 years. They also hired a coach who's never had a losing season.
For anybody who doesn't pay attention to the rest of the B1G, it is very important to have talent-producing teams that give the Big Ten some tough match-ups and go out and beat up everybody else. And Minnesota, under Jerry Kill, is starting to do that.
This is one of the better pieces I've read about Nussmeier's challenges with the offense, but it's also old hat for Michigan fans.
If you have four and a half minutes, this is a pretty interesting video with Stanford's offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren and special teams coordinator Pete Alamar.