The Big Ten always gets a lot of criticism for being a weaker conference compared to the SEC and Pac-12, but the Big Ten Championship Game will highlight some of its best players that will likely be heading to the NFL after this season.
The Ohio State Buckeyes are currently undefeated, and they have a shot at going to the BCS National Championship with a win. However, a win isn't guaranteed, as the Michigan State Spartans are a talented team with one of the best defenses in the country.
While the game itself is bound to be a good one, it will also give us a chance to check out some top-tier talent with a number of NFL prospects. Let's take a look at a few of them, breaking these players down and projecting where they could possibly land in May.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
There were questions about Carlos Hyde as an NFL prospect heading into this season, but he's quickly answering those concerns with some great play this year, and his draft stock just keeps rising.
On 165 carries this season, Hyde has run for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 7.8 yards per rush. Although he didn't play in the team's first three games, he's still been one of the best running backs in the country, putting up 589 yards and seven touchdowns in the team's last three contests.
At 6'0'' and 242 pounds, Hyde is the biggest of the top running back prospects entering May. With that size, many were concerned with his speed and durability, but both have been answered this season. He's shown some serious burst and is able to get to the second level quite easily with his field vision, giving him the opportunity to break off big plays at any time.
Hyde is quickly climbing up draft boards, and for a number of good reasons. He has the skills to be a feature power back in the NFL, but some teams may still stay away from him and grab smaller, more athletic backs.
Still, with how good he is, Hyde is still worth a second or third-round draft pick.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
It seems like there are a lot of strong cornerbacks heading into this year's draft, but Darqueze Dennard has a real chance to move ahead of a lot of prospects with a big game this Saturday against the Buckeyes.
With four interceptions, eight passes broken up and 56 total tackles, Dennard is one of the most reliable defensive backs in the Big Ten. He recently accepted his invitation to the 2014 Senior Bowl, just showing that his hard work has payed off this year.
Dennard has a relatively thin frame at 5'11'' and 188 pounds, but he's a surprisingly physical corner that can shut down opposing receivers. He can cover a lot of space very quickly thanks to some nice speed and fluid hip movement while also showing a nice ability to track the ball.
The senior cornerback can also wrap up well and make big tackles in the open field, although he struggles to do it on a consistent basis. Still, he's an all-around talented cornerback, and with the right coaching staff, he could develop into a strong starter.
As of right now, Dennard would likely go somewhere in the third round, but with a big game here against Ohio State, it's not crazy to think he could become a top-five corner and be a possible early second-round pick.
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Anthony Barr and C.J. Mosley are the top NFL prospects at linebacker for this year. However, with how well Ryan Shazier has played, he's right behind them and is one of the most talented overall prospects coming out of the Big Ten.
It seems like Shazier is in on every play, and the numbers seem to agree with that. He's registered 123 total tackles, 22 of them for loss, seven sacks and four forced fumbles.
While stats don't tell the whole story, they certainly give you an idea of what Shazier can do. He has a great burst and aggressive mentality that helps him disrupt the opposing offenses, and while he doesn't have the most ideal size for a linebacker, he has the range and toughness to make big plays.
Shazier isn't the best player in pass coverage, but he's versatile enough to play inside or outside linebacker. Bradley Roby looked like the team's top prospect at the beginning of the year, but Shazier has taken that title with his tremendous play. Expect him to go somewhere in the first round, perhaps as early as a top-10 pick if he keeps playing well.
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