Another NFL Draft has come and gone, and the 2016 edition was a big year for the Big Ten, specifically the Ohio State Buckeyes. Looking forward in time, however, and it looks as if next year could be big for Ohio State's archrival, the Michigan Wolverines.
Power Five Conference 2017 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch
ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC I Notre Dame
Because it is never too early to turn the page and look ahead to the 2017 NFL Draft, here is a look at 25 of the top players from Big Ten, in alphabetical order, that could be hearing their name called a year from now.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State (Jr., 6-2, 225)
After having to win the starting job during the 2015 season, Barrett is now in sole possession of the quarterback reigns in Columbus. A junior, it is unknown if Barrett will make the leap to the NFL in 2017, but if he turns in a solid season in Urban Meyer’s offense, he could be one of the names to watch in the draft conversation.
Riley Bullough, LB, Michigan State (Sr., 6-2, 230)
Michigan State’s fifth-year senior linebacker will benefit from another year of starting experience, and that could see him end the year as one of the Big Ten’s best at the position. Bullough earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2015 and should finish his time in East Lansing as one of the conference’s top defenders, regardless of position, this fall.
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan (Sr., 6-6, 250)
Butt is already one of the top tight ends in the nation, and there is no reason to suspect that will change in 2016. Butt will continue to be a reliable passing option for Michigan’s offense and that should help prepare him to be one of the first tight ends off the board in 2017.
Jehu Chesson, WR, Michigan (Sr., 6-3, 200)
Chesson took the next steps in his development under Jim Harbaugh in 2015 by coming through for 764 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. The senior should remain one of the top offensive players for Michigan in 2016, which could be a promising season for the Wolverines. He can even dabble in some special teams work.
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin (Sr., 5-11, 214)
A dreaded sports hernia injury put Wisconsin’s featured running back on the shelf for the bulk of the 2015 season, so Corey Clement will be itching to make up for lost time this fall. He has 1,000-yard potential as Wisconsin’s top running back, which should help him jump back into what will be a deep pool of running backs in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Demetrious Cox, CB, Michigan State (Sr., 6-1, 198)
The pilot of Michigan State’s no-fly zone returns for a fifth year in East Lansing, his second season as a projected starter. Cox can play multiple positions in the secondary, having already lined up at safety and cornerback.
LeShun Daniels Jr., RB, Iowa (Sr., 6-0, 225)
Iowa’s second-leading rusher in 2015 will take on the leading role in Iowa's running game, giving him a terrific opportunity to prove what he can do on the field when he gets a chance to run the football.
Pat Elflein, OL, Ohio State (Sr., 6-3, 300)
Ohio State’s top offensive guard was a first-team All-Big Ten player according to the coaches and media in 2015. Expected to slide over to center this season, protecting J.T. Barrett while serving as the quarterback of the offensive line should only help Elflein’s stock for the 2017 draft.
Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana (Sr., 6-4, 310)
The big offensive lineman figures to be a solid addition to any NFL roster but he has one more year with the Hoosiers. One of the top Big Ten offensive linemen, Feeney has received first-team All-American honors in addition to being named to the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award watch lists as well as a team captain.
Nate Gerry, SS, Nebraska (Sr., 6-2, 210)
Over the past three years, Gerry has established himself as a true leader for the Nebraska defense, and he will enter this coming season as one of the top safeties in the Big Ten. Gerry has nine career interceptions and 199 career tackles to his credit.
Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa (Sr., 6-4, 310)
Iowa’s defensive line was tough to get by in 2015, and defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson was part of the reason why. After starting all 14 games for the Hawkeyes last season, Johnson recorded 45 tackles and four sacks for Iowa. A solid follow-up performance and Johnson will be ready to go in the draft.
Desmond King, CB, Iowa (Sr., 5-11, 203)
Iowa’s consensus All-American in 2015 could have easily turned pro this year, but he opted to return for his final season with the Hawkeyes. The Jim Thorpe Award winner should be one of the top cornerbacks on the big board in 2017.
Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan (Sr., 5-10, 175)
Michigan’s first-team All-American returns for his senior season in Ann Arbor. He may also be one of Michigan’s top NFL prospects. Lewis has started 19 games at cornerback for Michigan and was a Jim Thorpe Award and Chuck Bednarik Award semifinalist last fall.
William Likely, CB, Maryland (Sr., 5-7, 175)
Maryland’s top defensive playmaker joins a promising class of defensive backs from the Big Ten in the 2017 NFL Draft. His playmaking ability on special teams also could boost his stock.
Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois (Sr., 6-5, 225)
Illinois could have one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten this season, and playing under Lovie Smith could be a nice boost to Lunt’s NFL hopes. Smith has plenty of experience at the NFL level and may be able to help Lunt become more pro-ready as his college journey comes to a close.
Erik Magnuson, OT, Michigan (Sr., 6-6, 305)
A three-year letterman in Ann Arbor, Magnuson continues to improve and become one of the top offensive linemen the Big Ten has to offer. Magnuson has appeared in 32 games entering the 2016 season, including 24 starts.
Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State (Jr., 6-6, 280)
McDowell had a breakout 2015 season on Michigan State’s defensive line with 41 tackles and 13 tackles for a loss. Back for another year helping to anchor the defensive front, McDowell should continue to impress and gain momentum to a possible jump to the NFL.
Raekwon McMillan, ILB, Ohio State (Jr., 6-2, 240)
The Buckeyes have developed a history of producing linebackers for the NFL, and McMillan should be one of the next heading to the league in 2017. McMillan led the Buckeyes in tackles as a sophomore last season with 119 tackles.
Jabrill Peppers, S/CB, Michigan (Jr., 6-1, 208)
The crown jewel of Michigan’s 2014 recruiting class, Peppers continues to grow and become a defensive threat. A second-team All-American in 2015, Peppers should end the season as one of the top defensive backs in the nation.
Jonah Pirsig, OT, Minnesota (Sr., 6-9, 316)
The mammoth offensive tackle brings plenty of size to Minnesota’s offensive line, and a productive year should keep him in the running to be among the first tackles off the board in 2017. The redshirt senior brings experience to the line, which should lead to a promising fall.
De’Veon Smith, RB, Michigan (Sr., 5-11, 228)
Michigan’s leading rusher in 2015 is coming off a season with 753 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Smith may need to show an ability to increase that production a little bit to improve his draft stock, but being the leading man on the ground for a Harbaugh-coached offense will not go unnoticed.
Dan Voltz, C, Wisconsin (Sr., 6-3, 301)
After earning second-team All-American honors in 2015, Voltz returns to Madison to stand firm in the middle of Wisconsin’s offensive line. Voltz has put together a solid reputation around the Big Ten and should easily be one of the top centers in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Anthony Walker, ILB, Northwestern (Jr., 6-1, 235)
A consensus first-team All-Big Ten linebacker in 2015, Walker could make the jump to the NFL next year following his redshirt junior season. Walker was second in the nation in 2015 with 19.5 tackles for a loss as the leader of the Wildcats’ gritty defense.
Nyeem Wartman-White, ILB, Penn State (Sr., 6-1, 252)
Linebacker-U’s top candidate for the 2017 NFL Draft will be fifth-year senior Wartman-White. His 2015 season was cut short with a season-ending injury in Penn State’s season opener, so look for a big bounce-back season this fall.
Chris Wormley, DE, Michigan (Sr., 6-5, 303)
Back for a fifth year of eligibility, the big lineman should lead the way in the trenches for the Wolverines’ defense. Wormley appeared in 12 games last fall and made 10 starts on his way to earning third-team All-Big Ten honors.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com, TheComeback.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.