Big Ten Prospects

Dan Meylor

Over the last couple weeks, we’ve covered some of the best prospects coming out of the Big Ten this year including Allen Robinson and Jared Abbrederis as well as Carlos Hyde and C.J. Fiedorowicz, but there’s still some talent worth noting.  Let’s get started.

Jeremy Gallon, WR MICH

gallonThere are many interesting prospects coming out of the Big Ten this year.  Perhaps none are more thought-provoking from a fantasy perspective than Jeremy Gallon, who’s relatively unknown to many that don’t follow the conference closely.  That may change as we get closer to the draft however.

As a fifth-year senior, Gallon caught 89 passes on his way to setting the school’s all-time record for receiving yards in a season with 1,373.  He also hauled in nine touchdowns on the year.  It’s rare that a wide-out can fly under the radar after putting up numbers like Gallon did in 2013, especially when that player has shined so brightly in big games.

In the Wolverines’ first test of the season against the 14th rated Fighting Irish, Gallon set career highs with three touchdown catches and 184 receiving yards on eight receptions.  His first touchdown of the evening was one of the most impressive catch-and-runs I saw all year.  Running a simple 15-yard in route against Notre Dame’s zone defense, he found the opening in the coverage, caught the pass, headed up field and took on three defenders, spinning away from all of them and gliding into the end zone.

Another example of Gallon’s ability to come through in the spotlight came in his final game in the Big House against the third ranked Buckeyes.  He caught nine passes for 175 yards and a beautiful touchdown on a jump ball over a much taller defender, C.J. Barnett.  Although the pass was thrown behind him, he adjusted to it in the air very well and made the catch.

In his last collegiate game, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Kansas State, he came through once again.  Even though the Wolverines struggled to get the ball downfield without starting quarterback Devin Gardner, Gallon was consistently open underneath.  He played the part of a possession receiver out of the slot for much of the evening, catching nine passes for 89 yards.  Perhaps most impressively, he threw a two point conversion late in the game on an end-around.

What’s most remarkable about Gallon’s season may be that none of the games mentioned here were his best of the season.  In the middle of October against Indiana, he had the type of day that receivers can only dream about.  He tallied 14 catches for a Big Ten single game record 369 yards and two touchdowns in Michigan’s 63-47 win against the Hoosiers.  Had it not been for the Wolverines’ offense suddenly finding their running game late in the contest, he may have broken Troy Edwards’ NCAA record for receiving yards in game (405).

The reason Gallon hasn’t received the attention from draft pundits that other receivers who have put up similar numbers is most likely due to his size.  He stands 5’8 and is listed at 184 pounds on the Wolverines’ official website.

Gallon will have to make his living in the slot at the next level.  Something he did regularly in college with success.  Although many will be concerned about his size, or lack thereof, he plays much bigger than he looks.  He seems to be fearless going across the middle and is always willing to leave his feet to make leaping catches.  He also has shown the ability to adjust to the ball in the air on back-shoulder throws or arrant passes.

The most important thing about Gallon’s game as he prepares to take on the role of a slot receiver in the NFL is that he runs excellent routes, especially on double moves and has a knack for finding the holes in zone defenses.  Once he gets the ball in his hands he’s incredibly effective, often looking like a punt returner while weaving through the defense.  He’s very quick and shifty, but doesn’t lose speed while making moves in the open field.  I also appreciate how he conducts himself off the field.  He’s humble, always giving credit to his teammates after his biggest games.

So if he’s as talented as all of this indicates, you may be asking yourself why he isn’t expected to be drafted on the first two days of the NFL draft.  After all, Tavon Austin and Brandin Cooks both compare closely in size to Gallon.  Austin was picked eighth overall last year and Cooks, from Oregon State, is expected to be drafted much earlier than Gallon this year.

It’s simple, while he’s incredibly quick, Gallon just isn’t fast enough.  Austin ran a 4.34 second 40-yard dash at the combine last year and Cooks is rumored to be shooting for a 4.4 second time.  Gallon is expected to run it in the 4.5 second range.

Some have wondered if Gallon could be used in a similar role to that of Randall Cobb for the Packers, but he hasn’t shown the ability to run the ball out of the backfield in college.  He carried 16 times for 102 yards (6.4 YPC) in four seasons at Michigan, but most of them came on end-around and reverse plays.

Gallon also doesn’t qualify as the returner that Cobb or many of the other receivers of his build do, averaging 20.6 yards per return as a part-time kick returner while in college and just 7.1 yards as a punt returner.  As he was asked to take a bigger role on offense, he wasn’t relied upon as much on special teams and didn’t get as many opportunities.  As I said earlier, he looks like a natural returner with the ball in his hands.  I believe he could be a quality return man at the next level which would help him carve out a role early in his career.

Overall, Gallon isn’t the perfect draft prospect but he absolutely doesn’t get the credit he deserves.  Most of that is due to his size but part may be due to him being relatively old for a player about to become a rookie.  He turns 24 on February 9.

Although he’ll go undrafted in most rookie drafts, dynasty owners in deep leagues with extensive rosters and large starting lineups should file Gallon’s name away.  While he’ll most likely never be more than a team’s second best receiving option, he’ll become a dependable, chain-moving slot receiver at the next level much like Lance Moore, who he reminds me of constantly.  For the price of an undrafted rookie free agent in dynasty leagues, he’ll be well worth it.

2013 games watched: Notre Dame, @ Penn State, Indiana (2nd half), @ Iowa, Ohio State, Kansas State (Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)

Jacob Pedersen, TE WISC

Wisconsin is renowned for producing NFL caliber offensive lineman and to a lesser extent, tailbacks.  But another spot in the legue where you’ll find quality former Badgers is at the tight end position.  Owen Daniels, Lance Kendricks and Garrett Graham have all had success in recent years after leaving Madison.  Jacob Pedersen is hoping to follow in those footsteps.

Of the trio of former Badgers mentioned, Pedersen compares closest to Daniels, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL draft by the Texans.  Much like the Houston starter, Pedersen is a reliable pass catcher who knows how to get open, especially in zone coverage.  He has good hands and although he isn’t as athletic as Kendricks or Graham, he can occasionally stretch a defense on seam routes like he did on a 44-yard touchdown reception against Iowa this year.

As far as blocking goes, Pedersen is above average.  Mostly, the Badgers used him as the motion tight end (or H-back) that would often lead through the hole on counters or try to set the edge on perimeter runs.  He’s listed as 6’5 and 240 pounds and uses his size well, always extending his arms to drive back defenders.  Much better at the second level as a run blocker, he’s not as effective when asked to go head-to-head with a defensive end on the line of scrimmage.

Over the past two seasons, Pedersen has been limited by the inconsistent quarterback play by Badgers signal callers, specifically sophomore Joel Stave who often missed open receivers and threw to his first read far too often.  In 2013, he was second on the team behind Abbrederis with 39 receptions for 551 yards and three touchdowns despite missing two games due to injury.  Those numbers would look much better had he played in an offense with the ability to get the ball downfield more, as evidenced by the eight touchdowns he caught as a sophomore with Russell Wilson leading the offense.

As a pro prospect, Pedersen is never going to be confused with Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski.  He’s not especially athletic and will never be accused of being a dominant blocker.  While he’s not great at anything, he’s seems to be good at everything.  Dynasty owners should see his upside equal to Daniels and expect him to have a long, relatively successful career with low-end TE1 potential in 12 and 14 team leagues.  He’s another prospect that’s unlikely to be drafted in most rookie drafts, but absolutely worth monitoring.

2013 games watched: All of them

Brian Wozniak, TE WISC

If you don’t know much about Pedersen, you’ve probably never heard of Brian Wozniak.  Penn State fans may remember him as the lumbering tight end that caught two touchdowns against them late in the season this past year, but he has the potential to be more than that in the NFL.

Let’s get one thing straight before we go any farther.  Nobody will be drafting Wozniak in rookie drafts.  I’m only mentioning him for those in incredibly deep leagues that roster nearly every NFL player.

I won’t say much about Wozniak other than that he’s a dominating blocker at the line of scrimmage, almost to the point that he could be considered an offensive tackle and although he only caught 15 passes for 147 yards and four touchdowns over the last two seasons, he demonstrated soft hands as a receiver.  It should also be mentioned that he’s an incredibly hard worker and because of that, I fully expect him to make an NFL roster.

2013 games watched: All of them

In the final installment of the Big Ten Prospects series, I’ll share my thoughts on Wisconsin tailback James White as well as some others that are making the leap to the pros.

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dan meylor