Questions abound for UM, MSU players at NFL Combine

Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News

The state of Michigan college football programs will be well-represented at this week’s NFL Combine, where more than 300 prospects will go through the ultimate job interview. That includes 14 players from Michigan, three from Michigan State and three from Western Michigan.

The NFL Draft is April 27-29, and there’s plenty of work ahead for NFL teams and players.

Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) had 34 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks last season, before missing the final three games with an ankle injury.

On-field workouts begin Thursday in Indianapolis with running backs and offensive lineman and concluding Sunday with two sessions of defensive backs.

There are a number of story lines involving the local players heading into the combine, including these:

How fast is Peppers?

Way back last fall after Jabrill Peppers blasted down the Spartan Stadium field returning a botched two-point conversion option pitch, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh wondered aloud about how fast Peppers will run the 40 at the NFL Combine. “It will be so interesting to see what he runs,” Harbaugh said two days after that game. “That’s going to be in the 4.3s somewhere.” Last summer Peppers posted on Twitter that he had just run a 4.34. Peppers, who was invited to the combine as a linebacker instead of safety, was the 100-meter state champion (10.52) in New Jersey while in high school.

McDowell has to make statement

The knock on Michigan State defensive lineman Malik McDowell is he didn’t show off his talent last season like he had as a sophomore two years ago. Mel Kiper has described him as “an enigma” because of his lack of aggressive play in 2016. The 6-foot-6, 276-pounder is loaded with talent, though, and while he has apparently dropped off from his top-five projections before last season, he likely will be a mid-first-round pick. He has great athleticism and versatility to play multiple spots on the defensive line. He had 34 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks last season, before missing the final three games with an ankle injury.

Will he be No. 1?

Corey Davis, Western Michigan’s outstanding receiver, may or may not be the top receiver in this draft class, but it will be close. The 6-foot-3, 213-pound Davis is a sure first-round selection, although some analysts have questioned whether he has played against enough physical competition. Draft analyst Todd McShay has him ranked No. 2 among receivers. ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter has reported Davis underwent minor ankle surgery and won’t run this week at the combine. It is unclear whether he will be healthy enough to run at WMU’s pro day on March 15. He will, however, be ready for rookie minicamp.

Charlton’s climb

By the middle of last season, Taco Charlton might not have been on a lot of first-round radars, but the way he finished the season turned plenty of heads. Charlton could very well be the first player from the in-state schools taken in the NFL Draft, as ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper has him at No. 8 in his most recent mock draft, while Todd McShay has him at No. 11. Last season Charlton had 43 tackles, including 13 for loss. He had 9.5 sacks. He was particularly dominant during the final two games. Against Ohio State, Charlton had nine tackles, three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, and in the bowl game against Florida State he had five tackles, two TFLs, a pass breakup and two quarterback hurries.

Michigan tight end Jake Butt tore an ACL in the Wolverines’ Orange Bowl loss, but still should be a second- or third-round draft pick, according analysts.

Don’t rule out Butt

Jake Butt, Michigan’s former tight end and the Mackey Award winner, ended his college career with a torn ACL in the bowl game last Dec. 30, and while he likely won’t run at the combine, he’s still a second- or third-round projection by most draft analysts. He posted on Twitter two weeks ago a photo of him working out with Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes and wrote: “For those doubting this comeback; you must not know how I handle adversity.” It is his second ACL injury. But his college resume should be enough to secure his spot on an NFL team. Butt has ideal tight end size and will pass block and while he’s not the fastest guy, he his physical and gains separation.

Clark has size at corner

Cornerback Jeremy Clark’s career at Michigan was cut short after suffering a knee injury in the fourth game last season. His petition for a sixth year was rejected by the NCAA. It is unlikely he will run at the combine or at pro day and this likely will affect his draft projections, but what Clark has is size and athleticism. In the three games he started last season while Jourdan Lewis was out with a back injury, Clark had 10 tackles and two pass breakups. He is 6-4, 206, and NFL teams want big corners, so it will be interesting to see how teams size up his situation.

Where will Moton play?

Taylor Moton, the 6-foot-5, 330-pound offensive lineman out of Western Michigan, will find a home in the NFL at either tackle or guard. He worked at right tackle during the Senior Bowl, and that’s the position he played for the Broncos, but he is open to playing guard. In fact, ESPN Draft analyst Todd McShay has him ranked No. 7 among guards. For the second consecutive year, Western Michigan will have an offensive lineman drafted. The Minnesota Vikings took Willie Beavers in the fourth round last year, and Moton is projected as a Day 2 selection.

Make way for Bullough

Former Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough is ranked by Todd McShay as the No. 10 inside linebacker heading into the combine. While Bullough, who is 6-2, 227 pounds, isn’t the biggest prospect, he was MSU’s “Most Inspirational Player” the last two years and is aggressive player. He had 76 tackles last season for the Spartans, despite three games with an injury. He led the team in tackles (106) as a junior.

Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon led the team with 106 tackles last season.

Gedeon the ‘dude’

Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown frequently referred to linebacker Ben Gedeon as a “dude,” which is high praise. After starting only one game his first three seasons, he started all last season and had 106 tackles, including 15.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks, and he won the Roger Zatkoff award as the Wolverines’ top linebacker. The 6-2, 243-pound Gedeon turned heads at the Senior Bowl.

Height not an issue

When talking to former Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis, do NOT bring up his height. But then again, it’s something that more than likely will come up quite a bit when he goes through interviews during the combine. Lewis feels at 5-11, 188 pounds, he’s not too short, and his play is evidence he more than makes up for what some might think he’s lacking in terms of stature. Lewis played 10 games last fall after missing the first three with a back injury that also affected his hamstrings and quads, but he had two interceptions and was one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.