Michigan State had an NFL draft out of the ordinary, featuring one of the draft’s biggest risers as well as one of its biggest fallers. Jack Conklin wound up as the banner selection, showcasing the program’s commitment to the trenches in recent years. And quarterback Connor Cook’s fall was both surprising and disappointing.
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 third 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 Spartans:
Michigan State — 5 draft picks
Round 1, Pick 8: Jack Conklin, OT, Tennessee Titans — Conklin seemed to fly under the radar in the pre-draft process due to a supposed lack of range, but his athletic tests and the meanness he showed on tape made him the trade target for a Titans organization trying to build around a smash-mouthed rushing attack. In Tennessee, he’ll bookend former Michigan first-round tackle Taylor Lewan to set a scrambling edge for Marcus Mariota and power what should be one of the more prominent running games in the league. On an offensive line with little depth, not much should stand in Conklin’s way of starting on the right side, a position that’s becoming more and more prominent in a league of mismatches.
Round 3, Pick 12: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Oakland Raiders — Undersized at 6-foot-4 and 251 pounds, Calhoun’s draft landing wasn’t going to match the damage he inflicted on Big Ten offensive fronts. However, he found a nice fit in Oakland, an ascending pool of young talent that plays a hybrid defense that can allow Calhoun to find a role in time. Playing time won’t be easy early with guys like Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards demanding rush opportunities. Calhoun’s specialty should be as a situational pass rusher until he develops other parts of his game, such as dropping into coverage and playing the inside run.
Round 4, Pick 2: Connor Cook, QB, Oakland Raiders — Cook joined Calhoun with the Raiders after becoming the draft’s big surprise faller, possibly due to personality issues and leadership questions. If that’s the case, he’ll be in an OK spot as a backup behind Derek Carr, where he can fade out of the spotlight and quietly work on the decision-making that sometimes hurt him at Michigan State. Cook has the right size (6-4, 217) and footwork to be a starter down the road, but with the 25-year-old Carr’s emergence and Matt McGloin’s apparent stranglehold on the second-string spot, it might have to come via a trade.
Round 6, Pick 38: Aaron Burbridge, WR, San Francisco 49ers — Burbridge’s lack of great speed gave him an apparent ceiling, and his draft spot reflected it despite a monstrous final year in East Lansing in which he rolled up 1,258 yards and seven scores as the Spartans’ leading receiver. That was his only year of significant production, however, which made him a bit of a wild-card. He’ll try to first make the team in San Francisco, but if he can, he’ll have room to move up the depth chart after the offseason departure of Anquan Boldin left the 49ers’ receiving corps as arguably the worst in the league. Burbridge’s experience in a pro-style offense in college was supposed to set him ahead of the curve in the NFL, but that advantage will be less so in Chip Kelly’s quick-hit, combination-based spread offense.
Round 7, Pick 3: Donovan Clark, OG, San Diego Chargers — After he spent his final college season holding together one of the best but most injury-riddled offensive lines, Clark will head to a San Diego line in dire need of some of that versatility. Following a rash of injuries, the Chargers boasted one of the worst-graded lines in recent memories, according to Pro Football Focus. Clark’s lack of range will likely bump him inside, but experience at tackle and guard should help him step into the fire of an NFL camp. If he can show enough versatility to make the 53-man roster, a season in the wings should help build the strength to better hold blocks. All in all, he’ll be one of five rookies competing for spots on San Diego’s offensive line this summer.