Saturday, June 6, 2020

Michigan State NFL draft guide

April 21, 2020
<p>Freshman running back Anthony Williams Jr. (34), senior defensive end Kenny Willekes (48) and senior linebacker Joe Bachie (35) during the game against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium on Oct. 12, 2019. The Spartans lost to the Badgers 38-0. </p>

Freshman running back Anthony Williams Jr. (34), senior defensive end Kenny Willekes (48) and senior linebacker Joe Bachie (35) during the game against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium on Oct. 12, 2019. The Spartans lost to the Badgers 38-0.

Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

This year’s NFL draft will be anything but normal in the age of a global pandemic as the draft will be held virtually instead of on a large stage in front of fans. But it is expected that an MSU Spartan will be drafted for the 80th consecutive year. Here’s an outlook at some of the guys who might have their name called in this year’s virtual draft. 

ILB Joe Bachie

Strengths: Bachie emerged as one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten after a strong sophomore campaign, racking up 100 tackles in 13 starts. He continued a strong level of play into his junior season with 102 tackles on the year. If you were to go back and look at the tape, you will rarely find Bachie in the wrong place on defense, especially in the run game. Teams looking for a player with a high football IQ and someone who will shore up their run defense will look at Bachie in the later rounds. 

Concerns: Where the concerns lie however is in pass coverage. Bachie’s size and athleticism do not allow him to consistently stay on top of some of the faster wide receivers or some of the larger tight ends in man coverage. In addition, a suspension occurring midway through his senior season for the use of performance enhancing drugs raises questions on his off-the-field habits. 

Projection: His production in East Lansing will raise eyebrows of NFL scouts, and rightfully so. I think Bachie will have the chance to be a guy in the regular rotation of linebackers on an NFL squad, and will be drafted anytime on the last day of the draft between the fourth and sixth round. 

OL Tyler Higby 

Strengths: A staple in an offensive line that has struggled in the last few seasons, Higby has an NFL frame at 6-foot-5 and 300 lbs. Due to injuries on the line, Higby played at multiple positions in his time in East Lansing, including four games at left tackle before his season was shut down due to injury. Higby is a versatile athlete and has surprising quickness for his size. 

Concerns: Like much of the Spartan offensive line, injuries plagued Higby’s career. NFL analyst Lance Zierlein was also critical of his motor and described his play as “mild-mannered” in an NFL Draft profile on NFL.com. 

Projections: Higby probably won't be on too many draft boards because of those injuries and an overall poor overall performance from the offensive line over the years. His size and versatility will draw some looks, and I think a team takes a chance on him as a free agent following the draft. 

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QB Brian Lewerke 

Strengths: Lewerke was looked at as a solid NFL prospect after his breakout sophomore campaign. Lewerke, in his time at MSU, was a dual threat quarterback who could beat you with his legs and adequate arm strength to beat you in the air. Listed at 6-foot-2 and with the largest hands (10 5/8 inches) of any of the quarterbacks in the NFL combine, his frame is well suited for the NFL level. 

Concerns: However, Lewerke began to falter after his sophomore season. A shoulder injury derailed his junior campaign and Lewerke never seemed to gain back his confidence in throwing the football. Lewerke’s accuracy and decision making was a major question mark as well in his time at MSU, throwing 24 interceptions in 23 starts. 

Projection: Lewerke got a lot of flak from the fanbase in his final two seasons, but I think a team will take a chance to rekindle that sophomore-year magic in the sixth or seventh round. 

CB Josiah Scott 

Strengths: Scott has top-end speed, running a 4.42 at the NFL combine. This allows him to keep up with any receiver he’s tasked to cover, and the ability to recover if beaten at the first step. Scott also has the versatility to play man and zone coverage when asked. Despite not covering slot receivers much for the Spartans, he could fill that role nicely as a nickel corner. 

Concerns: Listed at only 5-foot-9, there are concerns whether Scott can cover some of the larger, more physical wide receivers. Scott also missed the first eight games of his sophomore campaign because of a meniscus tear and missed two games for other smaller injuries.  

Projection: Teams will be concerned about his size and injury history, but that speed and versatility will peak teams' interest around the fourth round, and no later then early in the sixth. 

WR Darrell Stewart Jr.

Strengths: One thing going for Stewart is his size as a slot receiver. Stewart has a 6-foot-2, 212-lb frame that will raise eyebrows, especially with his athletic ability. Stewart, in high school, played many roles on offense including running back and quarterback. In other words, give the ball to him in space and he’ll make things happen. 

Concerns: The questions get raised in his mechanics. Drops were a major issue in his senior year and his routes lacked break away ability, forcing Stewart to try and out run the coverage. Stewart also missed a few games with nagging injuries throughout his career.  

Projection: The drops and route running might prevent Stewart from being drafted, but he will also be a guy who a team might take a chance on and bring him on as a free agent because of his size and speed in the slot. 

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EDGE Kenny Willekes 

Strengths: Motor will never be a question for Willekes on whoever ends up selecting him this week. Willekes began his career as a walk-on, and by his junior year was the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year. His mechanics are sound and he was a constant producer with 8.5 sacks in his junior year and 10.5 in his senior season. 

Concerns: The one knock on Willekes is not having a stand-out athleticism at the next level. Willekes attempted to put this to bed with an impressive video showcasing his athletic ability. 

Willekes is more athletic than he is credited for but doesn’t have top-end athleticism to raise him into a surefire second day draft pick in the second or third round. 

Projection: Willekes, before breaking his leg, was looked at as someone who could rise to the first or second round in last year’s draft. If a team falls in love with him, Willekes might rise to the third round but will probably be somewhere in the fourth round. 

IDL Raequan Williams 

Strengths: Williams is a massive athlete, listed at 6-foot-4 and 308 lbs. Williams was integral in Michigan State’s rush defense that has been among the best in the country in recent years, swallowing up running lanes for opposing running backs. Williams also shows incredible poise and leadership, as Mark Dantonio said he may become the mayor of Chicago one day. 

Concerns: Williams returned to get his degree and improve as a pass rusher. He ended up with a career high five sacks in his senior year, but questions remain whether he’ll ever be someone who can be a consistent pass rusher at the next level. 

Projection: Whoever takes Williams will instantly get a guy who will plug holes in the defensive line in the run game, but can he be a consistent pass rusher? That will hold him back from being taken on Day Two but will have his name called on Day Three sometime in the fourth or fifth round. 

Cody White 

Strengths: White, at first glance, is an eye opener at 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds. At Michigan State, the junior wide receiver showed quality route running ability and a large catch radius. NFL Draft analyst Lance Zierlein said to NFL.com that, “White looks comfortable getting through his routes and making catches in space against zone or off coverage.” 

Concerns: White had a somewhat disappointing combine, running a 4.66 forty-yard dash, and concerns lie in his ability to compete with some of the more physical defensive backs in the NFL. 

“However, once he's pressed by strength and athleticism, it tends to come unraveled,” Zierlein said to NFL.com. “He has NFL size, but had better learn elite level hand-work to help slap his way past press because his release isn't very sudden and a committed defender can ride on him for the full five yards.” 

Projection: White’s size and production at MSU will draw looks on the third day of the draft, but he’ll either be selected sometime in the sixth or seventh round, or be a free agent following the draft for somebody. 

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