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Top 25 Big Ten 2016 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State Buckeyes

The 2015 NFL Draft is over and more than 400 players have begun the next chapter of their football careers.

So what better time than now to look ahead to next spring and the 2016 NFL Draft. Here are the top 25 prospects that could be drafted from the Big Ten:

1. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State (6-4, 230)

He got no support from his running game or offensive line last fall, but Hackenberg has all the NFL tools to be the best QB prospect in the draft next year. He's a more athletic version of Eli Manning. It's hard to keep elite QBs from being the top pick.

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2. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State (6-4, 265)

The best pure pass rusher in this class, Bosa has already proven himself as one of the best in college football. He is likely to be avoided by most offenses in '15 so the numbers may not improve, but his stock won't go anywhere. He's one of the best players in the nation period.

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3. Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State (6-2, 235)

The freakish redshirt sophomore had a coming-out party in the College Football Playoff, earning MVP honors of the Sugar Bowl. He could blossom into the best linebacker in the nation due to elite speed, instincts and physicality.

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4. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State (6-3, 218)

He's got the size, the arm and is an above-average athlete. He wins games and takes care of the football as well. He's a pure leader who could be on the only team capable of knocking off Ohio State.

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5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State (6-0, 225)

The top Heisman Trophy candidate entering the season was an absolute monster in the Playoffs. He carried his team to a national championship and should be the top back taken if he can stay healthy.

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6. Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State (6-4, 255)

There is a good chance he's the starter for Ohio State when the season opens, and his overall arm talent is what makes him the best QB prospect on the OSU roster. And a second national title could cement his first-round status.

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7. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State (6-5, 255)

Calhoun could have left school early last fall but elected to return. His stock can't change much but as long as he continues to deliver on his tremendous ability on a championship-level defense, he will be a first-rounder.

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8. Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State (6-6, 317)

He struggled some with Shawn Oakman (a potential first-round pick from Baylor) in the Cotton Bowl but has been Cook’s blindside anchor. He’s solid against both the run and the pass and will have a chance to lead MSU to a Big Ten title.

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9. Joshua Perry, OLB, Ohio State (6-4, 254)

The tackling machine isn’t the flashiest or most explosive player on the Buckeyes' defense but he’s one of the most consistent. He led the national champs in tackles last year with 124 and added 8.5 for a loss and 3.0 sacks. There are few players at his position with his size.

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10. Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska (6-2, 300)

Randy Gregory got all of the headlines but Collins developed into a star in his own right last fall as just a sophomore. The disruptive tackle posted 45 tackles, 10.5 for a loss and 4.5 sacks — arguably a better season than Gregory. The sky is the limit for Collins.

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11. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State (6-7, 315)

He’s a massive guy with a long frame who has excelled against some of the best in the business. This offensive line dominated in the national title game and against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

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12. Adolphus Washington, DL, Ohio State (6-4, 290)

With Michael Bennett and Steve Miller gone, more of the D-line onus will fall to this former big-time recruit. He’s got great size and length and makes more plays than the average tackle. He needs to prove he can be the focal point after 48 tackles, 10.5 for a loss and 4.5 sacks.

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13. Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State (5-11, 205)

The former five-star recruit finished second on the team in tackles last year (92) and has proven himself a playmaker in short order. He doesn’t have great size but has the elite athleticism that NFL pass defenses are looking for and he elevated his game in the Playoffs.

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14. Anthony Zettel, DT, Penn State (6-4, 278)

Getting Zettel back this season was a big win for defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and company. The big fellas clogged the middle for one of the best defenses in the league last fall, posting 42 tackles, 17.0 tackles for a loss and 8.0 sacks.

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15. Kyle Carter, TE, Penn State (6-3, 240)

A trio of talented wide receivers and the departed Jesse James took the spotlight from Carter last fall. But make no mistake, he’s got NFL ability. He only caught 16 passes last season but fans in Happy Valley (as well as Mr. Hackenberg) are expecting a big leap forward in ’15.

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16. Tyler Marz, OT, Wisconsin (6-5, 321)

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The next in a long line of UW blockers with NFL upside. Guards and centers from Madison have had better careers in the NFL but Marz will lead what is once again one of the best running games in the nation.

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17. Theiren Cockran, DE, Minnesota (6-6, 257)

He’s rangy and versatile. He can play outside backer in a 3-4 but has excelled as a true end for Jerry Kill. Should the Florida native blossom into an All-Big Ten player, his stock could soar come draft day.

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18. Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin (5-11, 210)

Wisconsin knows how to run the ball and the next guy in line is Clement. He’s not as gifted as Melvin Gordon but could be just as productive. He’s rushed for 1,496 yards and 16 touchdowns on 7.0 yards per carry as a backup over the last two years behind Gordon.

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19. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State (6-2, 225)

Scouts aren’t sure what to make of Barrett. He’s a solid athlete with a solid arm and has great size but does he do anything at an elite, NFL level? There is no doubting his leadership and production, however, after 45 touchdowns in 12 games as a redshirt freshman starter last fall.

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20. Dan Voltz, C, Wisconsin (6-3, 311)

The highly-touted center prospect enters his redshirt junior year as a Rimington Trophy watch list member. The former freshman All-American missed the second half of the season last year and if he can prove he’s fully healthy, he will move up this list quickly.

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21. Eric Murray, CB, Minnesota (6-0, 196)

Murray is an incredibly productive cornerback for the Gophers. He totaled 69 tackles last fall for a team one half of football away from winning its division. All Minnesota players are well-coached and he could be the best player on the team in ’15.

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22. Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State (6-1, 200)

He’s smart, savvy, hard-working and very athletic. He’s long and rangy as well. Apple proved to be a big playmaker from the corner position. He registered 5.5 tackles for a loss, 10 pass breakups, three interceptions and 53 tackles.

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23. Darius Hamilton, DL, Rutgers (6-4, 255)

He can play in multiple schemes but likely projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. Hamilton was one of the top recruits in school history and he delivered with 45 tackles, 11.5 for a loss and 6.0 sacks last fall. A step forward in ’15 could push him into the top three rounds.

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24. Wayne Lyons, DB, Michigan (6-1, 193)

Folks in Ann Arbor will learn his name quickly after transferring in from Stanford. Lyons played in 41 games with the Cardinal, posting 126 tackles and three interceptions before coming to Michigan. He instantly makes this defense better and he is a potential All-Big Ten selection.

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25. Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State (6-1, 212)

If Miller wants to put together a year of tape for NFL scouts, he will likely have to play wide receiver. He might be able to play QB for another college program, but he’s not an NFL signal-caller. But should he prove he can make the transition, his stock could rise quickly.

Best of the Rest:

26. Jordan Lucas, CB, Penn State (6-0, 198)

27. Leonte Caroo, WR, Rutgers (6-1, 205)

28. James Ross, LB, Michigan (6-1, 225)

29. Kyle Kalis, OL, Michigan (6-5, 292)

30. Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State (6-3, 210)

31. Blake Countess, CB, Michigan (5-10, 185)

32. Jack Allen, C, Michigan State (6-2, 295)

33. Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana (6-6, 300)

34. Michael Caputo, S, Wisconsin (6-1, 212)

35. Nick VanHoose, CB, Northwestern (6-0, 190)

36. Chris Carter, DT, Ohio State (6-4, 342)

37. Vincent Valentine, DT, Nebraska (6-3, 320)

38. Nyeem Wartman, OLB, Penn State (6-1, 236)

39. Sojourn Shelton, CB, Wisconsin (5-9, 180)

40. Alex Lewis, OT, Nebraska (6-6, 290)