How Minnesota’s, Purdue’s, Illinois’ and Northwestern’s NFL draft picks might fit
In April’s draft, the Big Ten churned out 47 draft picks through the seven rounds. That still trailed the SEC’s 51, but it beat out every other league and topped the previous year’s total by 12.
This is the final part of a series that takes a look at the Big Ten’s draft picks and how they might fit in early on with their NFL teams.
Today, we continue with the rest of the Big Ten West, picks from Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue:
Minnesota — 2 draft picks
Round 4, Pick 8: Eric Murray, CB, Kansas City Chiefs — The Chiefs have become one of the best teams at drafting and developing talent, which should bode well for Murray. The 5-foot-11, 199-pound corner enters the NFL as experienced as anyone, having started his final 39 games at Minnesota. The Chiefs were likely drawn to his demonstrated press-cover skills, something that will bode well in an attacking defense looking to replace savvy press cornerback Sean Smith, who left for the Raiders in the offseason. He’ll have to prove he’s physical enough to do it against the giant receivers the NFL has to offer, though, and he’ll have to do battle with the team’s third-round pick, Notre Dame corner KeiVarae Russell, to be able to make an impact as a rookie.
Round 4, Pick 17: De’Vondre Campbell, OLB, Atlanta Falcons — Falcons coach Dan Quinn is trying to stock his roster with the kind of range and athleticism that boosted his Seahawks units to being the best in the league. At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, Campbell’s mix of size and speed should be exciting for any defensive-minded coach, but his instincts need all kind of work. The NFL is a difficult transition, so expect him to start out on special teams with a chance to work his way toward a potential outside linebacker spot if he can get his play diagnosis and pursuit angles where they should be.
Illinois — 3 draft picks
Round 2, Pick 13: Jihad Ward, DE, Oakland Raiders — The Raiders have become liberal at taking the best talent on the board, even when they seem loaded up at the position. They did it with quarterback Connor Cook in the fourth round, and they did so again here. Ward’s size (6-5 and 297 pounds) and effort level were attractive to a team that’s been building through the trenches lately, and the Raiders will use talented starting defensive ends Mario Edwards Jr. and Khalil Mack to allow Ward to develop the instincts that have been lacking ever since he played in junior college. Ward also has some potential to play inside, where he has some college experience and where Oakland has a greater need, but he’ll need to develop more of a mean streak before he’s nearly as feared there as he is at defensive end.
Round 6, Pick 46: Ted Karras, OG, New England Patriots — Seven members of the Karras family have played Big Ten football, with four of them heading onto the NFL. Ted Karras will hope now to follow in the footsteps of his great uncle Alex, who was a Pro Bowler, although it will be a challenge with the traits he’s working with. At 6-foot-3 and 307 pounds, Karras fits better as a 4-3 defensive tackle than in the 3-4, and the Patriots could run a little of both. His strength and effort gives him a chance to work his way onto the roster at one of the organization’s thinner position, but better athletes will make his trek difficult.
Round 7, Pick 24: Clayton Fejedelem, S, Cincinnati Bengals — Fejedelem is another player whose strength, effort and attitude help make up for some deficiencies in crucial parts of his game. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound thumper proved at Illinois to be a force across the middle but an inconsistent tackler and a real liability in coverage. That makes it challenging in today’s NFL, with more deep balls and penalties against dangerous hits. His power and downhill speed make him a threat on coverage units, so special teams should be in his immediate future. Luckily for him, safety is the thinnest position on the Bengals roster right now after former starter Reggie Nelson’s departure in free agency and with their lack of reliable depth.
Northwestern draft picks — 2 draft picks
Round 4, Pick 39: Dean Lowry, DE, Green Bay Packers — At 6-foot-6 and 296 pounds but with shorter arms and smaller hands, Lowry was a bit of an enigma as a potential fit as a 3-4 defensive end. The Packers took the bait in the fourth round, likely impressed by his tremendous burst, sound pad level and consistent motor. Long-term, he’ll gun for the five-technique position in Dom Capers’ defense. Mike Daniels has one spot on lockdown for now, but Datone Jones enters the final year of his rookie contract.
Round 6, Pick 22: Dan Vitale, FB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Vitale was one of three fullbacks who heard his name called in this year’s draft. His opportunity is an intriguing one in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers just re-signed Doug Martin, who finished second in the NFL with 1,402 yards. His main obligation will be as Martin’s lead blocker, but his responsibilities will go far beyond just that in an offense geared by Jameis Winston and Mike Evans. Vitale made his name with the Wildcats as a “superback,” and he’ll need to serve as the same reliable receiving, blocking and occasional running threat to justify his spot on the field in today’s vertical game.
Purdue — 1 draft pick
Round 6, Pick 14: Anthony Brown, CB, Dallas Cowboys — Jerry Jones is a sucker for athleticism, which is how Brown appealed to a Cowboys team in bad need for secondary depth. Brown posted the second-best 40-yard dash time among cornerbacks at the Scouting Combine in 4.35 seconds. His maddening inconsistency and mental mistakes at Purdue kept him from being the type of player with a chance to start as a rookie, but his speed and strength make him a strong candidate to contribute on special teams and to try to work a reserve role.