2014 NFL Draft: Big Ten Conference Sleepers to Watch

Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough may be overshadowed by the other top linebackers in the 2014 NFL Draft. (Photo: USA Today Sports Images)

BBD Staff Writer: Joseph Curtis

The Big Ten Conference had an uncharacteristically low amount of players selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. In 2013, only 22 Big Ten players were selected, although their average for the previous five drafts was 32.

As the penultimate pick of the first round, Travis Frederick was the only Big Ten selection of the first round. Had two more selections passed without a Big Ten pick, it would have been the first time the Big Ten didn’t have a first-round selection since 1953.

The outlook for the 2014 draft, however, looks better. Led by Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, it won’t be long before a Big Ten player hears their name called next May.

Lewan and Roby are potential top-10 draft picks, but there are many more Big Ten prospects to watch as well. Let’s take a look at some of the conference’s sleeper prospects.

Christian Bryant, S, Ohio State

Within the strong Ohio State secondary, it is likely someone would get lost in the shuffle. Strong safety Christian Bryant may not get the recognition of junior cornerback Bradley Roby or even senior safety counterpart C.J. Barnett, but Bryant should see himself playing on Sundays next year.

Listed at 5’10” and 192 pounds by Ohio State’s official athletics website, Bryant is smaller than most safety prospects, but he has a stocky build to him. Despite his size, he isn’t afraid to play physical.

His physicality and aggressiveness need to be more consistent, however. The fierceness he displayed against Michigan last season needs to be displayed consistently, not just when playing his team’s biggest rival.

Still, he showcased the ability to put big hits on players across the middle and could jar the ball loose. His technique delivering these hits needs work though. He led with his head on several occasions, which will get him flagged in the NFL and on his defensive coordinator’s bad side.

Bryant’s inconsistent coverage skills are his most concerning weakness. He needs to trust his instincts and break on opposing receivers quicker. This will allow him more time to play both the receiver and the ball, rather than having to make up lost ground.

His ball skills are lackluster. He has only recorded one interception in 31 career games. Though he is the team’s second-leading tackler over the past two seasons, he also has some tackling issues. He needs to regularly wrap up players rather than going for the big hit.

Bryant showcases the ability to succeed in both tackling and coverage, but he lacks consistency. He is likely a mid-to-late round selection in the 2014 draft. If he can be more consistent, clean up his tackling technique and play better in coverage, he should see his draft stock rise.

Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State

It is difficult to call a player who had 111 tackles last season and named a first team All-Big Ten selection a sleeper, but that is what Max Bullough is.

Listed at 6’3″ and 242 pounds, Bullough is a big, physical linebacker with NFL size who definitely looks the part. He has a great feel for the game and is very instinctual. He does a great job of reading defenses and breaking down plays. He is a disciplined player who stays in his gaps and knows his assignment every play.

Bullough is a solid tackler with great technique. He takes plays head-on. His great closing burst allows him to consistently get to the ball carrier and make plays.

He is surprisingly good in coverage. He does a good job of reading the quarterback’s eyes, and takes good positions on receivers. Like most linebackers, he’ll have issues if left on an island with a faster receiver, but he holds his own otherwise.

Bullough comes from a football family. His father, Shane, played at Michigan State as did his grandfather, Hank, while his other grandfather, Jim Morse, played at Notre Dame according to Michigan State’s official athletics website. He also has several uncles who have played at either Michigan State or Notre Dame.

What makes Bullough a sleeper is the linebacker talent in this draft class. With names like C.J. Mosley, Trey DePriest, Shayne Skov and Andrew Jackson, it’s easy for Bullough to get overlooked.

With a solid senior campaign, Bullough deserves to be a second-round pick at the latest, but it’s possible he’ll get lost in the shuffle, which means one team will pick up a steal.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Big Ten, Christian Bryant, Devin Smith, Glenn Carson, Indiana, Iowa, James Morris, Jeremiah Sirles, Max Bullough, Michael Schofield, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Prspects to Watch, Ted Bolser, Tyler Scott

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