Likely MSU first-rounder Conklin to enter NFL draft

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
NFL analyst Mike Mayock said the Lions should be "thrilled" if Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin is still available at No. 16.

East Lansing — Michigan State will have its share of holes to fill entering the 2016 season, and on Wednesday, it found out another was added to the list.

Junior left tackle Jack Conklin announced he would forgo his final season at Michigan State and enter the NFL Draft.

“The decision to forgo my final year was a very difficult decision,” Conklin said in the statement. “I took time to talk to my family and the coaches to find out what the best decision would be for me. Ultimately, my family and I felt it was time to take the next step and start training for the NFL. I’m excited about it.”

Conklin’s departure is one of many for Michigan State as it comes off an appearance in the College Football Playoffs. In addition to the All-American left tackle, the Spartans lose quarterback Connor Cook, center Jack Allen and defensive end Shilique Calhoun to graduation.

The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Conklin projects to go in the first round, with listing the former walk-on as the 24th overall prospect and fourth-best tackle.

“Jack Conklin is a gifted athlete, who embodies all of the qualities of the ideal left tackle,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. “There’s no doubt that he’ll be an outstanding tackle at the next level. He’s well prepared to transition into the next chapter of his life, and we wish him nothing but the best as he chases his dream of playing in the NFL.

“He’s not only been a major contributor over the last three seasons, but he’s also been a tremendous ambassador for our football program.”

Conklin came from Plainwell, Mich., originally as a walk-on but quickly made an impact. He started 38 of 39 games in his career and as a junior in 2015 earned All-America honors from Sporting News (first team), USA TODAY (first team), Associated Press (second team), FWAA (second team), Walter Camp Football Foundation (second team), Phil Steele (third team) and (honorable mention).

He missed two games this season with a knee injury but was part of two Big Ten championship teams (2013, 2015) and won two bowl games (2014 Rose Bowl, 2015 Cotton Bowl).

“I’m going to really miss being at Michigan State and everything about this place,” said Conklin, who also wrote an open letter to his teammates and coaches. “I’ve loved it. Coach D was great — he gave me a chance to play Division I football when no one else believed in me. For him to give me that chance and to now be in this position is unbelievable. It’s a blessing to have been able to work with Coach D, Coach (Mark) Staten and Coach (Jim) Bollman. They really helped mentor me, especially in the ways of becoming a great offensive lineman. I’ll take everything that they’ve taught me and use it at the next level to help me become even a better player.”

Who steps in for Conklin will be one of Michigan State’s biggest questions to answer heading into next season. His backup, sophomore Dennis Finley, broke his leg in his first start in 2015 and will be just getting back into playing shape entering preseason camp. Right tackle Kodi Kieler could move to the left side and former junior college transfer Miguel Machado could get a shot after struggling early in 2015.

Redshirt freshman Nick Padla could work himself into the rotation while Kyonta Stallworth and Noah Listermann redshirted but could see time, as well.

However it shakes out, Conklin will be missed.

“My first goal is to become a first-round draft pick,” Conklin said. “That’s been my dream since I was a little kid. I feel like I’m in the situation where I have the capability of doing that going into training now. One day I want to be a Pro Bowler; I want to be an All-Pro guy, and those are the types of goals I have set for myself now, but none of that would be capable without the experience I’ve had here at Michigan State and the opportunity I was given.”