In what has been a topsy-turvy process since the official delay of its fall season, the Big Ten announced on Wednesday morning that it would return. After weeks of random and somewhat blind speculation, the conference explained that it would return with each member playing an eight-game schedule plus a championship week, which will include all teams playing a ninth game based on their standings within the conference.
With the highly anticipated season set to kick off on October 24, that left many other questions that went well beyond the surface level of the conference's return to the field of play. COVID-19 testing and protocols were clearly outlined, but concerning the NFL draft process, there were multiple players that had already opted out of the upcoming 2020 season after the original postponement of the fall season on August 11.
Notable prospect names such as Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, and Michigan offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield have already opted out and signed with the agency of their choice for representation in anticipation of their pro careers. On the flip-side, other potential early-round draft selections such as Ohio State standouts Shaun Wade and Wyatt Davis as well as Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore and Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth announced their intentions to opt out, but didn’t officially make known their decision of which agency that they chose.
Signing with an agent and accepting any type of gift violates their status as an amateur, which would then result in them being ineligible to compete as a collegiate student-athlete. With that being said, and with the up in arms status of the season in the Big Ten, we are all still awaiting word on how the NCAA will handle this unconventional situation. Davis, a reigning first-team all conference selection, has decided to reverse course and made it known that he’s “working now” on his attempt to return to Columbus to suit up for the Buckeyes for what most likely will be his final season.
According to a source close to the situation, Parsons and Davis had settled on Athlete’s First as their representation of choice while Moore was close to finalizing his representation with Houston based agency Select Sports Group. Mayfield, who is deep into the process, has already signed with CAA and has already started preparations for his pre-draft training.
With all of these Big Ten prospects in not only a unique set of circumstances with their playing status, but also on possibly on the fence with their eligibility as well as the decision to return, I went through each prospect and analyzed whether they should remain in the 2021 draft pool or reap the benefits of the conference's nine-game schedule.
Stay In Draft Process:
Micah Parsons, Linebacker, Penn State
Size: 6-foot-3, 244 pounds, Junior
It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Micah Parsons' standout game against Memphis in the Cotton Bowl would be his final time suiting up for the Nittany Lions. Racing to be awarded with the McKnight Trophy (best defensive player) following the game, the projected first-round linebacker finished the contest with a game-high 14 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, and two forced fumbles. The type of stat sheet-filling game is what scouts come to expect from a prospect of his caliber. There isn’t much more that Parsons could prove with another season of tape that would further improve his draft status. Already projected as a potential top-10 pick, he has all of the requisite traits that could make him a franchise centerpiece on the defensive side of the ball.
Wyatt Davis, Guard, Ohio State
Size: 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Junior
On September 11, Davis expressed his intentions of entering the 2021 NFL Draft amid the uncertainty of the Big Ten season. After the conference announced its return on Wednesday morning, he became the first known athlete to backtrack from his original plan. Even if he never plays another down of college football, Davis has a legitimate argument to finish as the top-ranked interior offensive lineman of the crop. Although he isn’t known as a blocker who will gain significant push off of the line of scrimmage, his finishing ability combined with his awareness as both a pass protector and run blocker is what has created a heavy amount of intrigue with the Buckeye guard.
Rashod Bateman, Wide Receiver, Minnesota
Size: 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Junior
There wasn’t a record that Bateman didn’t come close to challenging during his sophomore season. After totaling 60 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, he felt as if there wasn’t more to prove from his standpoint, as he opted out of the season on August 4. With the latest news, that decision is expected to remain the same. Even though scouts wanted to see how he would respond now that all of the attention from defenses would center around him with Tyler Johnson gone to the NFL, Bateman has a lot of desirable traits before and following the catch point. Already earning comparisons to the Chicago Bears’ Allen Robinson, he’s cut from a similar cloth in that he’s a diverse route-runner with strong hands, but faces some challenges after the catch as a creator. Despite that flaw, there are overwhelming opinions that he will finish as a top-50 pick, but many of those beliefs center around his potential performance at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Rashawn Slater, Offensive Tackle, Northwestern
Size: 6-foot-4, 308 pounds, Senior
A prospect that has somewhat flown under the radar during all of the turmoil surrounding the conference is Slater. Before it’s all said and done, there could be a debate about the Wildcat offensive tackle being the first non-QB offensive player drafted from the group. A starter of 37 games over the past three seasons of his career, he has experienced 26 starts at right tackle prior to making another 11 on the opposite side last season—one in which he didn’t allow a sack. The son of Reginald Slater, who was an eight-year NBA veteran, that type of athleticism shines throughout his film. Last year's contest against Ohio State is the first game that many evaluators reference when mentioning Slater, as he displayed plenty of nimbleness, strength at the point of attack, and awareness on multiple levels. The guard vs. tackle debate will be prevalent throughout his pre-draft process, but he only has experience as a tackle and intriguing film to back up his case to remain at that spot on the next level despite his lack of length.
Return To School:
Jalen Mayfield, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
Size: 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, Junior
An opt-out that caught some by surprise, the Wolverine offensive tackle elected to forgo his remaining eligibility and begin early preparations for the draft. Those plans have remained the same, as his father has already come out and made comments that Mayfield will not reconsider his decision. Already signing with CAA, the junior blocker's decision is already set in stone. Being that he’s only a one-year starter—he started in 13 games a year ago—“inconsistent” has been the one word that has been repeatedly said while mentioning him with scouts.
Mayfield will enter the NFL as a 20-year-old rookie as he doesn't turn 21 until next May. His body, frame, and maturation of his game remains a work in progress. Watching Mayfield last season against Wisconsin, Penn State, and in the bowl game against Alabama, it’s evident that his game remains a work in progress. He's a prime example of a player that could go on to be what is called a “trial and error” prospect as there will be lots of bumps in the road during the early portions of his career due to his inexperience.
His pass sets are smooth and his body movements remain efficient, it’s his strength and hands that remain the most concerning parts of his game. Prior to engagement points, Mayfield has shown the propensity to widen them in order to strike and leverage defenders instead of vertically punching to then eventually latch on with his hands. Those types of issues you remain hopeful can be worked out with the increased amount of reps, but those next experiences won’t come until his first NFL action.
Shaun Wade, Cornerback, Ohio State
Size: 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, Redshirt Junior
The Buckeye corner showing up in this category may come as a bit of a surprise, but only experiencing 56 snaps as an outside corner will be a tough sell for some teams to select in the first round. With a bulk of those reps coming against Rutgers due to an injury to Damon Arnette, we are left with lots of question marks about Wade on the outside against quality opponents. Already knowing that he has plenty of likable traits as a nickel defender, it is rare to see a team select players at that position prior to the earlier portions of Day 3. That’s not to say that he will be selected in that range, but in order to stamp his status and continue the lineage of Ohio State producing first-round corners, Wade will need to play a bulk of his reps on the perimeter. Already displaying that he provides lots of versatility and physicality as a nickel, if he proves to be what some evaluators think he’s capable of on the outside, we are now potentially talking about a prospect that could enter the conversations to be a top-15 pick.
Rondale Moore, Wide Receiver, Purdue
Size: 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Junior
Another early-round prospect that may be a bit of surprise to see in this category, Moore had as prolific of a true freshman season for a wideout that you will ever see. In 13 games played (10 starts), he tallied 114 passes for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns. With heightened expectations as a sophomore, he suffered a hamstring injury during the fourth game of the year that sidelined him for the rest of the season—he finished with 29 catches for 387 yards and two touchdowns. Outside of his standout first season, the injury is the lasting image that we have of the talented Boilermaker target.
Coupled with his size, there will be some teams that aren’t comfortable with taking him prior to the early stages of Day 2. Moore also dealt with a series of drops, as he recorded 13 in his career. Showing that he’s back to full strength as well as improving the consistency with his hands could go a long way with improving his draft stock overall.