ESPN ranks Michigan biggest winner, Michigan State biggest loser of Big Ten's early NFL draft departures
Fortunately for the conference, only six of them came from the Big Ten. Unfortunately for Michigan State, half of those were Spartans.
According to ESPN.com Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg, that made Michigan State the biggest loser of early draft departures in the Big Ten.
"The Big Ten had a smaller than normal group of early NFL departures, but Michigan State accounted for 50 percent (3-of-6) as running back Le'Veon Bell, tight end Dion Sims and defensive end William Gholston all made the jump," Rittenberg wrote Tuesday. "None of the early exits comes as a major surprise, as Bell led the nation in carries (382) and ranked third in rushing average (137.9), Sims flashed next-level potential and Gholston clearly has the physical skills to succeed in the NFL.
"But the departures of both Bell and Sims really sting an offense that lacked consistently productive players. Bell accounted for 92.3 percent of Michigan State's rushing yards and 38.4 percent of MSU's total yards, while Sims had 36 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns despite missing time with an ankle injury. A Spartans offense that struggled mightily for most of the season enters the offseason with even more question marks."
Meanwhile, down the road, Michigan came up as the biggest winners of the ever-increasing tendency of early departures.
"Almost everyone expected Wolverines left tackle Taylor Lewan to enter the draft after earning Big Ten Offensive Linemen of the Year honors and other accolades as a junior. Lewan had been projected by many as a top-15 pick, if not a top-10 pick, and his departure seemed like a foregone conclusion after he held up well against Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl," Rittenberg wrote. "But Lewan delivered the biggest draft decision surprise -- and a delightful one for Michigan fans -- when he announced Jan. 9 that he'd return to Ann Arbor for the 2013 season. He provides a huge boost for a Wolverines offensive line that endured an up-and-down season and loses three starters.
"Lewan certainly is gambling a bit, as an injury or a drop in performance could hurt his future earning potential. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio reportedly was 'taken aback' by Bell's decision to leave, and some thought Gholston would have benefited from another season after falling short of preseason expectations. But aside from Lewan, the players who left were mostly expected to leave."
Dantonio may turn out to be right about Gholston, but Bell continues to be projected as a possible second round pick.
"Bell was a high-volume productive back for the Spartans," wrote the Sporting News, who recently ranked Bell the No. 24 underclassmen in the 2013 draft. "In a class that's overall weak on running backs, he should get some second-round consideration."
Outside of Michigan State's three early entries, other Big Ten underclassmen declaring for the draft included Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, Wisconsin center Travis Frederick and Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence.
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