Ohio State QB Braxton Miller leads Big Ten seniors to watch


Spring practice has started at universities across the country, and we're using the kickoff of spring drills to help get you reacquainted with some of the top college players in the nation.

Specifically, we're taking a look at notable seniors on a league-by-league basis. Today, it's the Big Ten.

The league adds two members (Maryland and Rutgers) in the fall and will have two seven-team divisions. Luckily, the league did away with the nonsensical "Leaders" and "Legends" division names and now will be divided into the East and West divisions.

The league's top two seniors are linemen, one on each side of the ball. The Big Ten also will be the home of a stud free safety and two intriguing quarterback prospects, both of whom must become better passers.

Tuesday, we'll look at the SEC.

A reminder that this is a list of notable *seniors *that are on the radar of NFL scouts. And by no means is this an all-inclusive list.

10 Big Ten seniors to watch

RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

Particulars: 5-foot-9, 190 pounds

Buzz: He said he never seriously considered entering the draft despite rushing for 2,827 yards and catching 50 passes the past two seasons. He lacks elite speed, but is fast enough to have had eight rushes of 30-plus yards in 2013. Fumbling issues have been a problem, though.

WR Kenny Bell, Nebraska

Particulars: 6-1, 185

Buzz: You wonder what Bell, who sports one of the best Afros in the nation, could do if he worked with a quarterback who was a high-level passer. He has good, but not great, speed, is a willing blocker and is able to get deep. He has 102 receptions in the past two seasons, with 12 touchdowns. His dad, Ken, was a kick returner for the Denver Broncos from 1986-89, and Kenny has high-level return skills, too.

DT Michael Bennett, Ohio State

Particulars: 6-3, 285

Buzz: Bennett was a reserve in each of his first two seasons, playing end and tackle. He became a starter in 2013 and quickly emerged as one of the best interior linemen in the league. Bennett is aggressive and physical. He moves well laterally, too. And there aren't many tackles nationally with his type of pass-rush skills. He had 38 tackles, seven sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in 2013. He should be one of the top three tackles nationally and the leader of what easily should be one of the nation's top three defensive lines.

DE Frank Clark, Michigan

Particulars: 6-2, 273

Buzz: Clark is one of the more intriguing ends nationally. He played a multitude of positions at perennial prep power Cleveland Glenville and was recruited by most schools at either wide receiver or linebacker. Michigan signed him in 2011 to play linebacker; he was 6-2 and 210 pounds at the time. He remains raw when it comes to technique, but his athleticism is appealing. He had five sacks last season and has the potential to hit double digits in that category. He has had off-field issues, though.

DT Carl Davis, Iowa

Particulars: 6-5, 315

Buzz: He's from the Detroit area and, man, it should tick off Wolverines coaches (and fans) that Michigan didn't sign him. Davis started for the first time last fall and proved stout against the run. He has the athleticism to cause some problems as a pass rusher.

FS Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State

Particulars: 6-1, 200

Buzz: Drummond is heading into his third season as the starter and was a vital cog in a unit that led the nation in total defense in 2013. He was second the team with 91 tackles and showed a willingness to deliver a blow in run support. He also tied for the team lead with four interceptions and added six pass breakups. He has solid ball skills and decent speed -- he should vie for All-American honors.

QB Devin Gardner, Michigan

Particulars: 6-4, 210

Buzz: Gardner had some games last season where he looked like a sure-fire first-round pick, in a win over Notre Dame and a one-point loss to Ohio State in particular. But there also were outings, most notably against Connecticut and Iowa, where he looked like he would go undrafted. He suffered a foot injury in the loss to Ohio State, missed the bowl loss to Kansas State and will be extremely limited during spring practice. That hurts because the Wolverines have a new offensive coordinator, Doug Nussmeier. Gardner never seemed comfortable in previous coordinator Al Borges' offense. That shouldn't be that surprising, as Gardner is a spread quarterback playing for a coach (Brady Hoke) who wants a pro-style attack. But there can be a middle ground, and it's up to Nussmeier to make sure Gardner is comfortable. Gardner has a strong arm and is mobile, but there is an alarming lack of proven playmakers on offense.

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QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State

Particulars: 6-2, 215

Buzz: He flirted with turning pro after his junior season, but he smartly decided to return; he likely wouldn't have been one of the first 10 quarterbacks selected. He is a great fit for coach Urban Meyer's spread offense and is a true dual-threat quarterback. Still, he must improve as a passer. The better he becomes in that facet of the game, the earlier he will hear his name called in the 2015 draft. He should go into this fall as one of the top five Heisman contenders.

LB Jake Ryan, Michigan

Particulars: 6-3, 240

Buzz: Ryan led the Wolverines in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss in 2012, then blew out a knee during 2013's spring practice. But he returned quicker than expected and played in Michigan's final eight games last fall. If healthy, he will challenge for Big Ten defensive player of the year and All-American honors. He is an extremely heady player with good pass-rushing skills.

OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa

Particulars: 6-5, 315

Buzz: He's from small-town Dennison, Iowa, best-known for being the birthplace of actress Donna Reed. Pretty soon, it also will be known as the birthplace of NFL starting left tackle Brandon Scherff. Scherff is strong, physical and can run -- he should join recent Iowa linemen Bryan Bulaga, Robert Gallery and Riley Reiff as a first-round pick. Scherff should be one of the top three tackles in the nation this fall.

Five other seniors to watch: SS Ibraheim Campbell (5-11, 210), Northwestern; TE Jeff Heuerman (6-6, 252), Ohio State; TE Gabe Holmes (6-5, 243), Purdue; G Kaleb Johnson (6-4, 305), Rutgers; C Trevor Vitabile (6-3, 300), Northwestern.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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