Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard is projected as a first-round pick in the NFL draft. (Getty Images)
Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan lead a long list of local players who will try to impress NFL teams at the combine, which begins Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Dennard and Lewan are both projected as first-round picks by nearly every NFL draft analyst, and a strong performance at the combine would help cement their status.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Dennard is his favorite cornerback in this year’s draft, and as long as Dennard runs well in the 40-yard dash, Mayock expects him to be a top-15 pick. Dennard or Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert will likely be the first cornerback taken in May’s draft.
“If (Dennard) runs 4.4, would Detroit pull the trigger at 10? Maybe,” Mayock said Tuesday on a conference call. “But, from my perspective, I think both corners are going to go, worst case, between 11 and 20.”
Mayock rates Lewan as the third-best offensive tackle in the draft, behind Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Greg Robinson of Auburn.
“Taylor Lewan gets a little top-heavy at times, but he’s got a nasty finish,” Mayock said. “I think he’s very similar to (Central Michigan’s Eric) Fisher and (Luke) Joeckel from last year, who were the first couple picks.”
Joining Lewan at the combine are Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and offensive tackle Michael Schofield. In addition to Dennard, the Spartans will be represented by safety Isaiah Lewis, wide receiver Bennie Fowler and middle linebacker Max Bullough.
Bullough, a two-time captain, was suspended for the Rose Bowl, and the cause has yet to be revealed publicly. But Mayock said Bullough’s play in his senior year and weight gain — he weighed 265 pounds at the East-West Shrine Game in January — likely hurt more than any off-field issues.
“The suspension hurt a little bit, I think,” Mayock said. “I think it was more the tape wasn’t real good this year. I want to like the kid. He’s strong, he’s tough, he cares about the game, but I didn’t see the quickness. I didn’t see the ability to get to the hole and make a play like I did in prior years.”
Two Division II players from the GLIAC will be at the combine, wide receiver Jeff Janis from Saginaw Valley State and center Matt Armstrong from Grand Valley State.
Other locals who left Michigan for college include Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s), Ball State wide receiver Willie Snead (Muskegon Heights) and Wisconsin tight end Jacob Pedersen (Menominee in the U.P.). Besides Dennard and Lewan, Robinson has the best NFL prospects.
“Allen Robinson, I’ve got a late second-round grade on,” Mayock said. “He’s got a good height-weight-speed combination, and it’s such a deep wide receiver class, most years his grade would be higher.”
Here are all of the local players attending this year’s combine:
■ CB Dennard, Michigan State: A sure first-round pick, according to most analysts. He can improve his stock with a fast time in the 40-yard dash.
■ S Lewis, Michigan State: Lewis is a hard-hitting safety who needs to show he can cover receivers in the NFL. Mayock projects him between the fifth and seventh rounds.
■ WR Fowler, Michigan State (Detroit Country Day): He had his best season as a senior, but Mayock said he “has to make a living on special teams” in the NFL.
■ ILB Bullough, Traverse City (Traverse City St. Francis): Bullough will need to answer questions from NFL teams about his suspension at the combine. Mayock thinks he’s a fifth-round pick.
■ OT Lewan, Michigan: Another likely first-round pick. Lewan doesn’t have the upside of some of his fellow tackles but is a steady presence.
■ OT Schofield, Michigan: Projects as a mid- to late-round pick, but has versatility after playing tackle and guard for the Wolverines.
■ WR Gallon, Michigan: At 5-foot-8, Gallon needs to show he has the speed and strength to compete at the next level. He’s likely a late-round pick or priority free agent.
■ WR Robinson, Penn State (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s): Robinson has ideal size — 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds — for an NFL receiver and could use a strong combine to separate himself from other potential first- and second-round receivers.
■ WR Snead, Ball State (Muskegon Heights): The 5-foot-11 Snead ranked third in the FBS in 2013 with 1,516 receiving yards. He is ranked the No. 40 receiver by ESPN.
■ TE Pedersen, Wisconsin (Menominee): The U.P. native is considered a versatile tight end and a likely mid-round pick.
■ WR Janis, Saginaw Valley State (Tawas Area): Janis has good size at 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, but struggled during the Senior Bowl game. Mayock projects him as a fifth-round pick.
■ OC Armstrong, Grand Valley State (Lansing Sexton): Started nearly four full seasons in Allendale and is rated the No. 13 center by ESPN.