Michigan State Football: 2020 NFL Draft full of underrated Spartans

EAST LANSING, MI - AUGUST 30: Mike Panasiuk #72, Raequan Williams #99 and Kenny Willekes #48 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrate during a game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Spartan Stadium on August 30, 2019 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State defeated Tulsa 28-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
EAST LANSING, MI - AUGUST 30: Mike Panasiuk #72, Raequan Williams #99 and Kenny Willekes #48 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrate during a game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Spartan Stadium on August 30, 2019 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State defeated Tulsa 28-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

As the NFL Draft approaches, which Michigan State football stars have the hardest path to the league and how are they going to earn their spot on a roster?

I could never quite fully understand why certain players drop on draft boards and others rise up above others. We often find Michigan State on the more negative side of it. This phenomena is easiest to spot in overrated players — one example in the Big Ten being former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Sorry if you’re reading this, Christian, but I always thought you were, well, not good.

Granted, he was drafted by the Jets, so he never really had much of a chance. But regardless, he continued to rise in draft boards despite never really doing anything noteworthy. He was actually Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2013 and eventually broke the Penn State all-time record for passing yards, but I would argue that he did it just from being a volume passer.

The guy had a season where he threw three more interceptions than touchdowns and completed only 53 percent of his passes the season before he declared for the draft.

But how could Hackenberg be so touted as a prospect and considered to be a franchise player while Brian Lewerke, with comparable college stats, is considered a Day 3 draft pick (if that) and likely a practice squad player?

The point I’m trying to make here is not about Hackenberg or Lewerke, but rather how NFL scouts very frequently swing and miss on recruits, and usually for a dumb reason. Some recruits are given the benefit of the doubt, while others are often over-criticized and drop in the draft. One example of that player in this year’s draft is our very own Kenny Willekes.

The path to the NFL for a college football walk-on is not an easy one – Willekes is learning the hard way. No matter what he accomplishes in his career, he’s always going to be that walk-on. The same thing happened to me when I didn’t make the freshman soccer team then went on to make it onto varsity by my junior year. It’s tough for guys like Kenny and I. Add that to being in the same draft as Chase Young, who seems like an unrealistically athletic character from a TV show, and Kenny finds himself being overlooked and not even considered a top ten defensive end by many.

I found this quote on Willekes on WalterFootball.com:

"He is a solid edge rusher with a good motor, but he did not impress at the Senior Bowl or combine."

A part of me wanted to be mad that someone who calls himself a football expert would publish these dumb words, but they probably have to cover a ton of players. Even so, it was fairly obvious that none of this is true. Willekes finished with the second most reps in the Bench Press drill and had an otherwise solid combine performance. In the senior bowl, he didn’t just impress, he was a defensive standout with two sacks.

Expect Kenny to have a long career in the NFL, as he finds himself in familiar territory being overlooked while moving to the next level. In fact, I expect Kenny to be Michigan State’s prized NFL player coming out of this draft as he takes the next steps in his career.

Another Spartan standout who is underrated entering the NFL draft is fellow defensive lineman Raequan Williams. Maybe I’m the dumb one here, but how can the two strongest pieces of one of the best defensive lines in college football over the past few years be so overlooked?

This one makes a bit more sense than Willekes though, as Williams hasn’t collected quite the amount of accolades as his former Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year counterpart. Williams is a strong, durable defensive tackle, reminiscent of former Spartan and current Houston Texans defensive lineman Joel Heath. Williams’ career is likely on a path to mirror Heath’s, with leadership and hard work guiding a path for him.

At this point, I haven’t even scratched the surface with the underrated talent that the Spartans are bringing to this draft. I won’t include Joe Bachie, as his draft stock plummeted for more obvious reasons, but even so, there’s no shortage of talent across the board. Another run stuffer, Mike Panasiuk will likely go undrafted along with a few of his peers.

One prospect from Michigan State who isn’t necessarily “underrated’, but rather undersized, is Josiah Scott. It came as somewhat of a surprise when Scott burned his redshirt by playing in his fifth game of the season, leaving fans to correctly assume that he would be entering the 2020 NFL Draft.

The only concerns for Josiah Scott are due to his size and durability, two things that he has little to no control over. He’s always been small, but he’s still a strong tackler and excellent in one on one coverage. Yes, he could bulk up a bit, but he’s still considered to be an elite prospect, Michigan State’s best by some. Scott is a high risk, high-reward type of prospect and will make whatever team drafts him very happy with their decision.

The last underrated Spartan prospect I’ll talk about his none other than Cody White. The former Michigan Mr. Football was a top receiver for the green and white the second he stepped on the field as a freshman. The reason he’s not projected as highly as he would like falls on his speed and quickness. And this isn’t a mystery to most, White never brought speed or athleticism and never claimed to be fast or quick.

What White brings to the Spartans is less tangible than that. Yes, he brings size and ball skills, he has great hands. But the most important thing that he brought to the table in East Lansing was energy. Every catch, every touchdown, he sparked a jolt of electricity into the stagnant offense that he was a part of.

Next. 5 most painful recruiting misses under Tom Izzo. dark

There isn’t a single Spartan eligible for the 2020 draft with an easy path to the league, each and every one of them will have to earn their spot the hard way.