The Michigan State Spartans were relatively quiet during the 2014 NFL Draft, with only one player on the reigning Big Ten champs being selected (granted, Darqueze Dennard was one heck of a prospect). Now you can take that as they were either a team overachieving with mediocre talent (not the case) or they were just a young team that was getting better as they aged (the actual case). Don’t worry Spartan fans, your outlook for the 2015 NFL Draft looks far more promising, particularly if a few underclassmen decide to head off to the pros early. So who are the top NFL Draft prospects for the Spartans in 2014? We’ll start on offense.
Junior QB Connor Cook looks like he might be even better than his predecessor Kirk Cousins, who was an early 4th round pick in ’12. He has many of the attributes you want in a professional signal caller: good size (6-foot 4, 220-pounds), arm strength, accuracy, speed (4.8 40), poise in the picket, ability to throw on the run, intelligence (Academic All B1G) and is a winner with natural leadership qualities. I think the thing he needs to work on most is being more consistent with his progressions. Sometimes he makes multiple reads, goes through his progressions and finds the open man, sometimes he stares down his target without making any progressions at all. Still, I really like his upside and pro potential.
One constant for MSU under HC Mark Dantonio has been pumping out tailback prospects, and senior Jeremy Langford will be the fourth for the Spartans drafted since ’09. The 6-foot 1, 210-pounder has a natural downhill running style with deceptive speed and solid hands out of the backfield. En route to a 1,422 rushing yard season (with 18 TD’s) in ’13, Langford was a model of consistency, particularly down the stretch where he pumped out eight 100+ yard games in the Spartans last nine contests before the Rose Bowl.
Up front for the Spartans are two highly intriguing underclassmen in junior center Jack Allen and redshirt sophomore LT Jack Conklin. Allen is the leader up front with decent enough size for the position (6-foot 2, 300-pounds) and plays with a nasty streak that coaches love. He’s a durable, tough, blue-collar kind of player who loves mixing it up in the trenches. Allen’s a smart player who picks up blitzes well and is solid in both run and passing games, and has the versatility of being able to play either center or guard at the next level.
Conklin just might be the most talented Spartan OT prospect since Flozell Adams in ’98. In a span of only two years, Conklin has gone from walk on to 1st team Freshman All-America to arguably the second best OT in the B1G after Iowa’s Brandon Scherff. Conklin was very impressive in ’13, starting 13-games (10 at LT, 3 at RT), and looks even better heading into fall camp after totally transforming his body over the last couple of months.
Last fall and even in the spring, Conklin was playing around 330-pounds on his 6-foot 6 frame, now he’s at a lean 303. Conklin already was a force in the run game and used his long arms well, now his mobility and footwork should be greatly improved carrying less weight, and he was already very good at getting to the second level. One thing he needs to improve on is his flexibility and knee bend; too often last year he wouldn’t play with good leverage and would get stood up.