2020 Big Ten Preseason Summer Scouting Preview

Tony Pauline continues his early look at the 2021 NFL Draft with his 2020 Preseason Summer Scouting Series. This week he examines the Big Ten Conference.

Michigan State Spartans

The Michigan State program is in flux after Mark Dantonio’s surprising decision to step down as head coach in February. Underclassmen defensive backs led the way in the draft for Michigan State the past two years, and that trend could continue in 2021.

Cornerbacks Justin Layne and Josiah Scott were the first players from MSU selected in the past two drafts, but next April it will likely be a safety leading the way.

Xavier Henderson is a ball-hawking safety with great range, athleticism and instincts. He’s terrific against the pass and can play over the slot receiver and make plays sideline to sideline. Henderson also gives a lot of effort against the run.

I like Matt Allen as a player, as he’s tough as nails, smart and solid at center. But as a prospect, I grade him as a late rounder as Allen is likely to measure under 6-foot-2.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Except for Antoine Winfield Jr. this past April, it has been primarily late rounders coming from Minnesota. It will be the same in 2021, although one special junior will crack the top 45.

Receiver Rashod Bateman has all the necessary tools to develop into a number one receiver at the next level. He has nice size, excellent playing speed and outstanding hands. He regularly makes both the routine catch and the highlight catch and has the ability to take over games.

I’ve liked Conner Olson the past three years and have him graded much higher than scouts. He’s a tough, versatile blocker who can line up at center or guard.

If there is one Gopher who could move up draft boards, it’s cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, who is often ignored by scouts. St-Juste has excellent size at over 6-foot-1 and shows terrific ball skills, and he plays aggressive football.

Reminder: To view my grades and projected draft rounds for Big Ten draft-eligible prospects, scroll to the end of the article.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

Nebraska continues to fight back from obscurity, and 2020 could be the Cornhuskers’ breakthrough season. They still lack a premier next-level prospect, though the offense has three blockers I like a lot.

Brenden Jaimes is a massive college left tackle who will likely move to the right side in the NFL. He’s big and powerful, but he also blocks with solid fundamentals. Jaimes lacks the footwork and ability to slide laterally to stay at the left tackle spot in the NFL.

I grade fellow senior Matt Farniok higher than most scouts, and I don’t believe there’s a big spread between the teammates. Farniok is slightly smaller and less athletic than Jaimes, but I believe he’s tougher and more instinctive and would be equally effective at guard or tackle.

Keep an eye on defensive back Dicaprio Bootle, an underrated corner who can also play safety. Bootle lacks classic size, but he has terrific ball skills.

Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern is always competitive and consistently puts players into the late part of the draft. This year, they could have a Day 2 pick on their hands.

Left tackle Rashawn Slater is graded by some scouts as a potential top-45 choice. And while I like his game, I like him a little later on Day 2 and feel he’s better suited at guard.

Slater is technically sound, tough as nails and relatively athletic. He shows the ability to slide in space as well as block in motion, and I would expect to see Slater at the 2021 Senior Bowl.

Paddy Fisher is highly regarded in some areas outside the scouting community, but I grade him as a mid-Day 3 pick, which seems to be the consensus of scouts. Fisher is tough, instinctive and solid in all areas. I believe he’ll have a long future in the NFL despite being a third-day selection.

Lots of people grade quarterback Peyton Ramsey — a graduate transfer from Indiana — as a second-day selection, but I’m not high on his next-level potential. He’s a terrific playmaker at the college level, but he’s more of a sandlot quarterback who must learn to become a passer. When everything is stripped down, Ramsey is a poor man’s Baker Mayfield in my opinion.

Reminder: To view my grades and projected draft rounds for Big Ten draft-eligible prospects, scroll to the end of the article.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Since 2018, Ohio State has had four different players who were top-four selections and has placed multiple prospects into the first round of every draft since 2016. Were it not for Alabama, OSU would be the most dominant program in the NFL Draft, and its impact will be felt in 2021.

The prospect talk at Ohio State begins with Justin Fields, a quarterback I find very impressive. While he’s shorter and smaller than I usually like in a signal caller, Fields has all the other skills to be a dominant starter in the NFL. He’s a talented passer with great patience and poise. He possesses a next-level arm, and while he needs to improve his pass placement, Fields has next-level accuracy. Fields is also a threat to run with the ball, but he does so only when completely necessary.

Related | Quarterback Charting: Can Justin Fields be the first pick?

For comparative purposes, Fields is a much better passer than Kyler Murray and a much better physical package than Baker Mayfield.

Ohio State has put seven defensive backs into Round 1 in the last decade, and Shaun Wade will be the eighth. He’s the total package at the position and combines size, speed and ball skills to make a terrific cover corner. Wade’s physical brand of football is also eye-popping.

Receiver Chris Olave is likely to compete to be a first-round pick when he enters the draft. Olave was as complete as any receiver on the OSU depth chart last year and brings game-breaking speed with him.

Pete Werner lacks great size, but he’s tough, athletic and incredibly instinctive. He possesses the versatility to be used at several linebacker spots in a variety of schemes.

Wyatt Davis is a tremendous zone-blocking guard who dominates on the move. Davis does not display great strength at the point despite weighing over 300 pounds, but that will come.

Josh Myers shows great strength at the point of attack and can be dominant, though he’s not overly effective in motion. There are some in the scouting community, those who grade underclassmen, who have already stamped Myers as a second-round prospect.

Page 1: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan
Page 2: Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State
Page 3: Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin

Tony Pauline is the Chief Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Tony’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @TonyPauline.


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