As usual the Big Ten is expected to impact the early part of the 2014 NFL Draft.  And as is usually the case, many of the same programs have the top prospects.  Here’s  breakdown of insider notes on Big Ten prospects.

Illinois

– I expect Illinois to continue to struggle in the coming campaign.  The move to rid themselves of coach Ron Zook is likely to look worse and worse.  Their top NFL prospects really underachieved last year, including linebacker Jonathan Brown (#45).   The one time highly thought of prospect looked a fraction of himself in 2012 and really needs to up his game this season.

Indiana

– Running back Stephen Houston is a prospect who really intrigues me.  He’s a big bodied back with a smooth style.  Houston can be tough to tackle and has the ability to carry the pile.  Unfortunately on film it looks as though Houston does not play to his size or get the most from his ability every time he’s involved in the action.

–  Cornerback Antonio Marshall is a prospect to keep an eye on.  The JC transfer showed flashes of skill last season and has the size and athleticism to develop into a legitimate late round prospect.

Iowa

–  Brandon Scherff really looks like the next big time offensive line prospect from Iowa.  He has the dimensions and skill set necessary to hold down the left tackle spot and comes with a good degree of upside.

– Though CJ Fiedorowicz is an impressive looking specimen, he’s not a tight end for everyone.  He has great size and catches the ball very well but is not the true down field threat many teams want.

– I really like the game of linebacker James Morris.  He’s not a great athlete rather tough as nails and does the little things well.  His instincts are key as Morris does a great job reading and diagnosing.  Morris is likely to be under drafted but there’s a definite place for him at the next level.

– Finally Brad Rogers is an impressive lead blocker.  He’s strong at the point and possesses the speed and quickness to take out linebackers or defensive backs on the second level.  He’s really not much of an offensive threat but will have a role as a traditional lead blocker.

Michigan

– While I like Jake Lewan I fully expect him to face many of the questions his predecessor Jake Long was challenged with when he entered the draft; does he have the athleticism and foot quickness necessary to play left tackle in the NFL?  I think so but you can expect detractors.

– Meanwhile I think Michael Schofield is overrated.  He’s a small area blocker with limited upside.  His feisty play and ability to hold down several offensive line positions will make him attractive to NFL teams.

Safety Thomas Gordon is someone I like.  He’s not a flashy safety yet a solid defensive back with a complete game.  In many ways he reminds me of former Wolverine Steve Brown.

Michigan State

– Cornerback Darqueze Dennard is a prospect I could see getting first round mention if everything falls right for him.  Dennard has the size and skill to start at the next level and has shown the ability to consistently shut down opponents.

– Similar things can be said about safety Kurtis Drummond.  He plays a complete game and has enough ball skills to line-up over the slot receiver in man coverage.  Drummond lacks classic safety size and right now I think he’s more a round two prospect.

– I do not love Max Bullough as much as most.  He’s a rough and tumble linebacker yet a two down defender who struggles making plays outside the box.

Minnesota

– The Gophers have several legitimate zone blocking prospects including senior tackle Ed Olson as well as juniors Josh Campion and Caleb Bak.  They don’t possess great size yet are very athletic, quick and move well on their feet.

–  Talk to NFL scouts and you’ll find defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman all over the place.  One of the concerns I hear is where do you play him?  Three technique tackle?  Two-gap end?  That sort of versatility is one reason I like Hageman, though I feel he must elevate his game this season.

Nebraska

– I am really disappointed in the lack of development from cornerback Andrew Green.  Early on he showed me a lot of flashes but Green has yet to put it together.

– When I watched the Nebraska film I saw a lot of late round picks and players who, like Green, never elevated their game or played to the potential I thought they had.

Northwestern

– There are a lot of people who really like Venric Mark, myself included.  He has size limitations but plays hard and gets the most from his ability.  I definitely see Mark making an NFL roster as  third down back/return specialist if he continues to progress.

­- Chance Carter is a junior to watch.  He’s very a-typical of Northwestern defensive lineman; a bit on the small side but very quick, competitive and fluid on his feet.  I doubt Carter develops into anything other than a middle round prospect but I can see him having a decent career at the next level.

Ohio State

– While some agree with my assessment of Ryan Shazier, many of the masses scorched me on Twitter over my last round ranking of the junior linebacker.  Fair enough but I just don’t see someone as small as Shazier who’s scheme limited being anything other than a late rounder.

– On the other hand I’m probably one of the few who give Christian Bryant, another size limited prospect, a middle round grade.  On film Bryant has a terrific game; very complete and athletic.  He’s a much better version of former OSU safety Kurt Coleman, whose had some next level success.

– As I’ve previously posted, I think very highly of cornerback Bradley Roby.  I was high on him after his redshirt freshman season and the way Roby elevated his game last season blew me away.  He has a complete game and is very polished in all areas.  In conversations with friends in the scouting community after the draft the consensus was Roby would have been the first cornerback selected had he entered last April’s event.  I posted several times in December that Roby was struggling with the decision whether or not to enter the draft and in the end he felt he was not ready to make the jump.  Assuming Roby continues to play at the level he’s displayed the past two seasons, a top three pick is in the offing in 2014.

– Another player heading in the right direction, though not as highly rated as Roby, is signal caller Braxton Miller.  He’s a terrific athlete with the arm strength to make all the throws but must improve his mechanics and become a passer.  I’ve heard good things about his throwing fundamentals in the off season and hope it holds true for Miller during the upcoming campaign.

–  Corey Brown is a receiver who impresses me.  He’s not flashy or a real playmaker rather a very reliable wide out who can line-up in a variety of offensive systems.

Penn State

– When I watch offensive tackle Donovan Smith I’m just awed.  He’ a big left tackle with terrific movement skills and ability in pass protection.  Smith easily gets out off the edge handling speed rushers and also shows skill blocking in motion.  One red flag I consistently see with Smith is the lack of killer instinct and desire to really finish off opponents.

Purdue

–  Scouts speak highly of cornerback Ricardo Allen and tight end Gabe Holmes but I just don’t see it.  On film Allen looks like he underachieves while Holmes is very ordinary.

–  There is a lot to like in Bruce Gaston.  He’s a quick, mobile defensive tackle who can occupy the gaps or make plays in the backfield and down the line.  Gaston will be the focus of attention this season and has a lot to gain from a big campaign.

Wisconsin

– Safety Dezmen Southward has been given a seventh round grade by scouts which I don’t understand.  On film Southward is big, rangy and very effective in centerfield.

–  Similarly I struggle to understand how guard Ryan Groy received a third round grade from scouts.  When I watch Groy I see a small area blocker best in a phone both.  Then again Wisconsin put a pair of big, sloppy interior lineman into round one the past two drafts, so who am I to argue?

–  On the field you have to love Chris Borland and what the linebacker brings on every snap.  A year ago I heard medical redflags may pop up on Borland upon closer scrutiny, which is something to take into account.