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Big Ten First-Rounders Could Be Just A Trio

Two days ahead of the NFL Draft, the SEC is expected to dominate the first round. But the Big Ten will also have its fair share of first-round selections on Thursday. According to BetOnline, the over/under for Big Ten players selected in the first round is set at 5.5, with the over favored at -175.

We take a look at the players from the Big Ten who are expected to be first-round selections, as well as the ones who are on the bubble, to figure out whether the over or under will hit.

Locks

A few players from the Big Ten will hear their names called very early, with all of them possible top 10 picks.

Ohio State defensive end Chase Young is the consensus projection to be the second overall pick and the first player from the conference selected. Heralded as an elite athlete and pass-rusher, Young is perhaps the best overall prospect in the draft, even ahead of the projected number one pick Joe Burrow.

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Young’s teammate, cornerback Jeff Okudah, shouldn’t be on the board long after Young. Okudah is the top cornerback in the draft and has been mocked as high as third to the Lions. Even if Detroit passes on Okudah for some reason, he shouldn’t fall outside of the top 10.

The last lock to go in the first round is Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs. Wirfs is in the mix to be the first lineman off of the board, with a chance to go as high as fourth overall. Either way, his ability to play either tackle or guard should get him a pretty early selection come draft day.

On the Fence

With only three players from the Big Ten widely expected to be first-round picks, that leaves several guys who are in the conversation but not guaranteed.

EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa: After just one year as a starter, Epenesa was a productive pass rusher and solid run defender, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. The junior earned double-digit sacks in each of the last two seasons and is one of the top pass-rushing options after Young.

Epenesa’s draft projections have varied quite a bit. The Patriots, who own the 23rd overall pick, have been rumored to have interest in him, and also have a need for a pass-rusher. Another team like the Ravens at 28th overall makes sense for Epenesa, but it seems that a pick before the 20s is unlikely. Currently, at BetOnline, Epenesa is favored at -165 to be a first-round pick.

EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State: Joining Epenesa on the first-team All-Big Ten is Gross-Matos. The junior started the last two years for the Nittany Lions and earned at least eight sacks both seasons. As one of the top athletes among the defensive end class, Gross-Matos is also in the same draft range as Epenesa.

One team that has recently been linked to Gross-Matos quite a bit is the Cowboys. Dallas owns the 17th pick in the draft, and are looking to address their defense in some capacity. If LSU edge-rusher K’Lavon Chiasson is off of the board, perhaps the Cowboys could draft Yetur instead, or even trade down in the first and still select him.

Another option is the Seahawks at 27, although they may trade out of the first round. Gross-Matos may have more of a chance to be a first-rounder than Epenesa, as BetOnline has him at -175 to be selected under pick 27.5.

RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin & J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State: This year’s running back class is highlighted by three names, two of which come from the Big Ten. Both Taylor and Dobbins are expected to come off of the board by the middle of the second round, but either may sneak into the first round.

Taylor has the impressive college resume, winning back-to-back Doak Walker Awards while being named a unanimous All-American in each of the last two years. Dobbins was also a three-year starter for the Buckeyes, and in 2019 set the single-season school record for rushing yards in a season.

Teams like the Dolphins, who own three first-round picks including the 26th overall selection, may address running back with either of these players. The Vikings, who have two first-round picks in the 20s and only have Dalvin Cook under contract for one more season, could be an option as well, along with a team like the Chiefs picking at the end of the first.

However, it seems the likelihood of these running backs being first-round selections is slimmer than the aforementioned pass rushers. Currently, Taylor is -450 not to be a first-round choice, and Dobbins isn’t even listed. There is also a very high chance that only one running back gets selected in the first round at all, with the under 1.5 set at -1500.

Long Shots

There are also a few long shots to be first-round selections. Michigan center Cesar Ruiz is considered by many to be the top center in this year’s draft. But with centers not holding the same amount of value as tackles, he could be a day two selection.

Another Michigan standout, Josh Uche, could find himself as a surprise round one selection too. The pass-rusher has been getting some buzz recently, as has Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun, about being a possible first-round selection. Finally, a sleeper wide receiver who a team like the Packers could be interested in late is Penn State’s K.J. Hamler.

Verdict

We know of three Big Ten stars who, for sure, will be taken on Thursday. Based on the latest reports and the odds, it’s safe to say Gross-Matos will also hear his name called during the first round. Epenesa also seems somewhat likely, but the rest of the players mentioned don’t seem to be considered as likely.

Of the longshots, I think Ruiz has the best chance to be a first-rounder, perhaps even more than both Taylor or Dobbins. But there seems to be a lot of fringe guys right now, and as top-15 players slide, they will take precedent over the players on the cusp. So as it stands, I’m taking the under 5.5 at +135 in regards to the number of Big Ten players drafted in the first round.

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