ANN ARBOR — A year ago, three players on the Michigan football team prepared for their final college season.
One had already turned down the riches of the NFL.
Another harbored thoughts of playing in the NFL, though, at the time, it seemed far away and somewhat overshadowed.
A third was about to prove himself as one of the Big Ten Conference’s top receivers.
Taylor Lewan, Mike Schofield, and Jeremy Gallon are ready for the NFL draft, which begins Thursday in New York.
While Lewan spent his senior season as a can’t-miss NFL prospect, Schofield emerged as a surprise draft contender. The 6-foot-6, 301-pound right tackle built his draft stock as the season progressed and had a strong combine showing in Indianapolis. He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.01 seconds — sixth-fastest among offensive tackles at the combine — and CBSsports.com lists Schofield as the 11th-best offensive tackle in the draft and the 128th player overall.
Mel Kiper, Jr., an ESPN draft analyst, projects Schofield as a third or fourth-round pick, and NFL.com described Schofield as a “developmental right tackle with experience playing on the inside and offers versatility as a utility swing backup. Possesses eventual-starter potential, but could always be restricted by athletic limitations and leave teams desiring better.”
“Schofield was a little underrated," Kiper said. "He was pretty much solid all year.”
Gallon, a diminutive wide receiver listed at 5-7, 185 pounds, led Michigan in receiving the last two seasons and set both Big Ten and FBS receiving records. However, his lack of size is noted. Gallon is the 49th-ranked wide receiver by CBSSports.com, and is considered either a late-round pick or a free-agent.
“Gallon ran better than I thought he would [at the combine],” Kiper said. “He made a lot of clutch catches and ran after the catch. He's a slot guy and to me he's a fifth-round pick.”
Lewan chose to forgo the draft last season in favor of a fifth year at Michigan — one that wasn’t without its struggles on the offensive line and off the field. Lewan faces an arraignment May 19 in Washtenaw County 15th District court on three misdemeanor charges (one count of aggravated assault and two counts of assault or assault and battery) stemming from a December incident in Ann Arbor.
Yet in choosing to return to college, analysts believe Lewan lost little NFL stock. This week’s issue of Sports Illustrated has Lewan being taken ninth by the Buffalo Bills, and CBSSports.com pegs Lewan as the No. 3 offensive tackle and No. 8 player overall in this year’s draft. Kiper projected Lewan as high as second in the draft, and in a mock draft released Tuesday, Kiper had the Atlanta Falcons selecting Lewan at No. 6.
ESPN analyst Jon Gruden also billed Lewan as a first-round pick, as did ESPN analyst Todd McShay, who projected Lewan as one of four offensive linemen who could be selected among the top 12 picks, joining Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, and Notre Dame offensive guard Zack Martin.
Lewan, Kiper said, benefited from returning to Michigan for his senior season.
"His pass protection skills have improved, that was a position this year where they weren't beating him," Kiper said. "He battles, he fights, has great feet, great balance. He's got a punch. He can get after you as a run blocker. Lewan's a nasty, tough, street fighter. He's a battler.”