IU’s next crop of NFL Draft entrants could be one of the program’s most talented
The streak is now at eight.
Eight straight years with an NFL Draft pick from Indiana University, that is. Only five Big Ten football programs — Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa — have active streaks that are longer than IU’s, and looking ahead, it seems a good bet that the Hoosiers’ run of NFL talent production will extend to nine next spring.
So which Hoosiers might hear their name called at the 2022 NFL Draft? There are a bunch of candidates as things look right now. Of course, some players not mentioned here could see their stock rise, while others who are included here could see their stock fall. Either way, these are some of the top IU prospects poised to position themselves as pick-worthy in the months to come:
Ty Fryfogle, receiver
The Big Ten Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award winner easily could have jumped into the draft pool after his breakout 2020 season, during which he became the first IU wideout to earn All-America recognition since James Hardy in 2007. Instead, Fryfogle opted to return for a fifth season and build off his production last fall when he snagged 37 catches for 721 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games. The Sporting News ranks Fryfogle at No. 45 overall on its big board of 2022 prospects. Although he doesn’t seem to have elite speed or burst, Fryfogle demonstrated last season that he has the hands to make plays when needed.
Michael Penix, quarterback
Remember when Penix went into Columbus last November and threw for 491 yards — the most against Ohio State at Ohio Stadium since 1985 — and five touchdowns? Yeah, that was fun as hell, wasn’t it? It also helped solidify Penix’s standing on the national radar during a season that saw him earn All-Big Ten second team honors and IU’s team MVP award. This fall, he’ll have opportunities to continue building his NFL profile, beginning with the Sept. 4 opener at Iowa, followed by a Week 3 showdown at Memorial Stadium with Cincinnati and counterpart Desmond Ridder. Durability is obviously the major question with Penix, who is recovering from a season-ending ACL tear and has yet to play in more than six games in a season.
Tiawan Mullen, corner
He can cover, he can blitz, he can do a lot of things. And by next spring, he could be one of the most interesting Big Ten prospects on the board. Mullen was all over the place (in a good way!) during the 2020 season, leading all conference corners in sacks (four), tying for sixth with five breakups and finishing third among league players at his position with three interceptions, per Pro Football Focus. It all helped him become the first first-team All-American corner in IU history, bringing to mind something his high school coach, Gerald Cox, told me the day he committed to Indiana in September 2018: “He’s gonna go to war with the best of them. Size doesn’t matter.” Indeed, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Mullen simply makes plays. And he has good bloodlines, too. His older brother, Trayvon, plays for the Las Vegas Raiders and his cousin, Lamar Jackson, is also known as … well … 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson.
Micah McFadden, linebacker
By now, you know the story. The former two-star recruit is now an All-American in the middle of IU’s defense, rated by PFF as the highest-graded linebacker in the Big Ten and the third-best ‘backer in the Power Five in 2020. He was a PFF darling in his third season last fall, making 58 tackles, whiffing only eight times, and factoring in 33 plays that constituted a failure for the opposing offense. Although he’s not the biggest or fastest linebacker, McFadden has demonstrated an ability to take good routes to opposing ball carriers and play within himself in order to gain an edge.
Peyton Hendershot, tight end
The 2020 calendar year was not exactly a great one on or off the field for Hendershot, who went from posting the third-highest receiver grade among Big Ten regular tight ends in 2019 to recording the third-lowest among his league position mates in 2020, per PFF. Drops were a big part of the problem — only one tight end in Division I had more than Hendershot’s six. And yet, he still caught 23 balls for 151 yards and four scores in eight games, good enough to earn him All-Big Ten third team recognition from the league’s coaches and media. At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Hendershot has the frame and athleticism to be a prospect. This fall, he’ll have more opportunities to add to his resume.
Jaylin Williams, corner
Williams put himself on the radar after a strong third season in 2020, earning All-Big Ten second team honors from the league’s coaches and media after recording the second-most interceptions (four) by a conference cornerback. According to PFF, Williams also allowed only one touchdown on 26 targets defended across 248 snaps in coverage. It was a very good season for the former four-star recruit.
Reese Taylor, corner
Taylor’s versatility could make him an intriguing option for NFL teams to consider. He earned All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition in 2020 as a return specialist after returning nine punts for 73 yards. He was also a reliable cover man on defense. According to PFF, Taylor’s coverage grade ranked 10th and his overall defensive grade ranked seventh among Big Ten corners. No Big Ten corner recorded more quarterback pressures than Taylor’s six.
Who else might play their way onto a draft board next spring? Perhaps one of the recent transfers — receiver D.J. Matthews or defensive lineman Ryder Anderson? Maybe another one of IU’s defenders — Marcelino Ball, Bryant Fitzgerald or Devon Matthews? Someone else? We’ll see.