In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 13
2012 NFL Draft picks: 6 – DT Jerel Worthy (2nd round, 51st overall), QB Kirk Cousins (4th round, 102nd overall), WR Keshawn Martin (4th round, 121st overall), FS Trenton Robinson (6th round, 180th overall), WR B.J. Cunningham (6th round, 183rd overall), RB Edwin Baker (7th round, 250th overall)
Michigan State is coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons, but to best understand the impact head coach Mark Dantonio has had in East Lansing, look no further than the Spartans' 2012 NFL Draft class. After producing just four draft picks the last three seasons (2009-11), Michigan State had six players selected this past April, the most Spartans drafted in a single year since 2000 and double the number of Wolverines taken.
The Spartans are forced to replace numerous impact starters from last season, including their leading passer (Kirk Cousins) and top four receivers (B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin, Brian Linthicum, Keith Nichol). But the cupboard is far from bare as Michigan State should contend for another double-digit win season in 2012. And although a long-shot to match the school record of 10 players drafted (1973), the Spartans should exceed six draftees next April with a solid senior class, but even more promising group of underclassmen. While it was tough to leave several Michigan State prospects off this list, including TE Dion Sims, OLB Chris Norman and MLB Max Bullough, it wouldn't be surprising to see them among the Spartans top prospects six months from now.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. DE William Gholston (6-7, 280)*
Blue chip high school recruits out of the state of Michigan usually end up in Ann Arbor or another big time program like USC (Nick Perry) or Alabama (Mark Ingram). But the much heralded Gholston (pictured above), who had offers from just about every program in the nation, landed in East Lansing and has slowly but surely come into his own as one of the top defensive linemen in the Big Ten. He spent his true freshman season as a back-up defensive end/linebacker, but a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely. Gholston returned as a starting sophomore defensive end last year and set several career-bests with 70 tackles, 16.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks and one forced fumble, earning Second Team All-Big Ten honors. However, his 2011 season wasn't without some controversy as Gholston was suspended for Michigan State's last second Hail Mary win over Wisconsin because of a few dirty plays against rival Michigan a week earlier (punching left tackle Tyler Lewan and twisting quarterback Denard Robinson's helmet). With the full support of the coaching staff and zero off-field incidents, it would be unfair to label Gholston as a bad character prospect, but his football focus and on-field demeanor is a question mark that the NFL won't ignore. At 6-7 and 280-pounds, he has the size, length and physical skills to maul blockers coupled with the athleticism to play in space and beat linemen with quickness. But he plays too stiff and needs to develop a better array of pass rush moves, too often relying on his natural tools and not technique. With only 5.5 career sacks, Gholston, who is the cousin of former Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston, has lackluster production over his first two seasons and needs to dispel any doubts about his work ethic and motor. Similar to Jerel Worthy last season, Gholston isn't the “elite” defensive lineman that some believe, but he does have pass rush ability and has yet to reach his ceiling. The Spartans haven't had a first round pick since wide receiver (and NFL bust) Charles Rogers in 2003, but Gholston will try and change that with a breakout season in 2012.
2. OLB/SS Denicos Allen (5-11, 225)*
Not yet a household name, Allen had a breakout sophomore season in 2011 and was quietly productive in his first year as a starter, ranking among the conference leaders in both tackles for loss and sacks. Listed at 5-11 and 225 pounds, He looks more like a safety and is vastly undersized for his strongside linebacker position, but Allen uses his size to his advantage to avoid blocks and disrupt plays in the backfield. Allen was a little-known linebacker recruit out of Ohio, choosing the Spartans over Illinois, Cincinnati and Toledo and redshirting in 2009. After spending the 2010 season as a reserve (18 tackles), he started all 13 games at SAM linebacker last year and led the team in sacks (11.0) and tackles for loss (18.5), adding 83 tackles. Allen earn Second Team All-Big Ten honors was named the team's most improved player. He is a heady, competitive player with a nose for the ball, making decisive movements to stay a step ahead of the offense. Allen has outstanding closing speed and initial burst to keep blockers off-balance and chase down the ballcarrier, using excellent angles. His lack of size shows up in a crowd and he struggles to disengage blocks once engulfed, but he is an extremely explosive and is a tough defender to slow down on the football field. A year ago, even most Spartan fans didn't know who Allen was, but fast-forward to the present and it's tough to find a watch list for most defensive awards that doesn't include the productive linebacker. Although he doesn't have the growth potential or upside as Gholston, it wouldn't be surprising to see Allen pass him on this list as not only the Spartans' top rusher, but also their best NFL prospect.
3. CB Johnny Adams (5-11, 175)
The top Michigan State senior on this list, Adams is entering his third year as a starting boundary corner for the Spartans and has a chance to be drafted in the first 100 picks next April. Nicknamed “Mr. Excitement” in high school, he was a receiver, cornerback and return man at the prep level in the Akron-area, but moved primarily to the secondary once he arrived in East Lansing. Adams started two games and recorded a pair of interceptions as a true freshman in 2008, but missed most of the 2009 season due to a shoulder injury, earning a medical redshirt year. He returned as a sophomore in 2010 and started all 13 games, finishing with 50 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 10 passes defended and three interceptions, earning Second Team All-Big Ten honors. Adams again started 13 games last season as a junior and recorded a career-best 51 tackles with three interceptions, averaging 47.0 yards per pick-off return including a touchdown. He earned First Team All-Conference honors last year and has garnered pre-season All-American and All-Big Ten attention leading up to the 2012 season. Adams has a lean frame with limited strength and muscle tone, but is an aggressive hitter in run support and can do a lot because of his versatile, physical playing style. He has better than average speed, range and body control for the position, but isn't a quick-twitch mover and needs to improve his body positioning downfield in coverage. Adams has good focus and ballskills, showing the athleticism to do something with the ball in his hands after the interception and could see some reps at receiver in 2012 for the Spartans. Adams plays tight, physical coverage and stays disciplined on the field, but he is best-suited for zone coverage and needs a big senior season to earn the top-50 billing that some have given to him.
4. RB Le'Veon Bell (6-2, 245)*
With former Penn State back Silas Redd now at Southern Cal, the distinction of top underclassman running back in the Big Ten is wide open, but the favorite is Bell. He has shared the bulk of the backfield duties each of his first two seasons, recording only one career game with at least 20 carries, but should see more of a workload as a junior in 2012. Bell flew under the recruiting radar out of Ohio, receiving only one scholarship offer from a BCS program (Michigan State). He saw immediate action, leading the team in rushing in the 2010 season opener, but finished his freshman season No. 2 on the team in rushing with 605 yards and eight scores. Bell came off the bench again as a sophomore last season, but started the final six games and finished with a team-best 948 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, adding 35 catches for 267 receiving yards. With Edwin Baker leaving Michigan State early for the NFL, Bell is expected to be the starter again in 2012, but needs to be more productive after only two 100+ rushing yard performances last season. Listed at 6-2 and 245-pounds, he has an intriguing blend of size, power and speed, showing the ability to run away from defenders or also run over them. Bell, who is also a reliable receiving target, carries his weight well and has the footwork to make would-be tacklers miss, but also isn't afraid to lower his pads and deliver some blows, keeping his legs churning through contact. He needs to be more productive and show more consistent vision between the tackles, but he has intriguing tools and could move up draft boards with a big 2012 season.
5. DT Anthony Rashad White (6-2, 330)
While it will be tough to replace Jerel Worthy and his production on the interior of the defensive line, the Michigan State coaching staff believes that White is up to the task. He has played in 26 games the past two seasons, but has only four career starts and limited production on his collegiate résumé thus far. A native of Battle Creek, Michigan, White has had a roller coaster journey since high school, attending a community school in 2007, followed by two seasons at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. He transferred to Michigan State in 2010 and spent his sophomore season as Worthy's back-up, recording 17 tackles. White saw more playing time last season as a junior (four starts), finishing with 25 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss and a crucial blocked field goal on the final play in overtime to beat Georgia in the bowl game. Now up to 330-pounds, he is a load to handle and does a nice job anchoring at the point of attack to clog run lanes, requiring the occasional double-team. White has limited range and doesn't have the same get-off burst as Worthy, but he does a nice job of battling through the whistle and using his hands to fight through blocks. He doesn't have the name recognition of Worthy from a year ago or several other defensive tackle prospects for next April, but it wouldn't be surprising to see White move into the mid-round range with a breakout senior campaign.
RB Larry Caper (5-11, 220)
TE Dion Sims (6-5, 280)*
OT Fou Fonoti (6-4, 300)
OG Chris McDonald (6-5, 300)
DE Marcus Rush (6-2, 250)*
DT Tyler Hoover (6-7, 295)
OLB Chris Norman (6-1, 230)
MLB Max Bullough (6-3, 250)*
CB Mitchell White (5-11, 180)
CB Darqueze Dennard (5-11, 190)*
FS Isaiah Lewis (5-10, 195)*
For all of NFLDraftScout.com's team-by-team previews of the top prospects to watch in the 2012 season in preparation for the 2013 NFL draft, click here.
Photo credit: US Presswire