With the 2019 NFL Draft kicking off on Thursday night, it’s that time of the year when fans of SEC teams will celebrate yet another collective victory. One can only imagine how happy all of these people must be to watch players from rival teams achieving their dreams.
In fact, league propagandists have already taken out an advance on insufferableness.
It's NFL Draft Week!— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 22, 2019
Most Players Drafted by Conference:
Is that good?
Meanwhile, the Big 12 will endure the usual slew of pot shots about the level of talent across the conference, and the numbers don’t lie. The Big 12 only produced 20 total picks in 2018, the fewest of any Power Five conference. Even if you break that down by the average number of picks per team, the Big 12 still comes up short:
- SEC: 3.8
- ACC: 3.2
- Pac-12: 2.5
- Big Ten: 2.4
- Big 12: 2.0
That’s not an aberration, either. The Big 12 has consistently lagged behind the other major conferences in producing draft picks. In fact, it actually closed the gap with the other stragglers relative to 2017:
- SEC: 3.8
- ACC: 3.1
- Pac-12: 3.0
- Big Ten: 2.5
- Big 12: 1.4
If this is the kind of thing that gets your knickers twisted, my advice would be to move on. We’re talking about a structural issue inherent to the Big 12, which has a compressed recruiting footprint compared to the other power leagues.
Recruiting rankings show that teams in the SEC are working with the finest raw materials year in and year out. Last year, the SEC accounted for 10 of the top 25 most talented rosters in the country, according to the 247Sports College Football Team Talent Composite. That’s 71% of the league’s membership.
The Big 12 had just two in the top 25: the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners. That’s the lowest mark in terms of number of teams and essentially tied for last with the ACC in percentage of conference composition.
Most NFL Draft Picks— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) April 25, 2019
499- Notre Dame
444- Ohio State
311- Michigan St
282- Texas A&M
Feel free to point out the handful of programs that produced an outsized draft class full of three-star players that one year if you’d like. The numbers clearly bear out that the programs recruiting the best prospects out of high school generally send the most players to the pros. The Big 12 has fewer teams in that bucket, and that’s not going to change any time soon.
Of course, if you insist on blaming someone for the Big 12’s struggles vis-à-vis the NFL draft, you might start with the folks down in Austin.
The chart above shows the total number of draft picks each current Big 12 team has produced during the last 15 seasons in five-year increments. Back in the salad days from 2004 to 2008, 25 Longhorns were selected in the draft. By the 2014-2018 period, UT saw just 11 players go in the draft, a decline of nearly 60% from the ‘04-’08 period. For some perspective, UT ranked fifth in the Big 12 in NFL draft picks from ‘14 to ‘18, trailing Oklahoma (23 picks), Baylor (14), West Virginia (14) and TCU (12).
In all fairness, the Sooners’ draft production tailed off slightly during the most recent period, too. OU’s decline pales in comparison to what happened to its Red River rivals, though.
Lately, signs point to the Big 12’s two big dogs trending in a positive direction. The Sooners could see three players go in the first round – quarterback Kyler Murray, wideout Marquise Brown and offensive lineman Cody Ford.
Upwards of six more could hear their names called in rounds two through seven – offensive linemen Ben Powers, Dru Samia and Bobby Evans; running back Rodney Anderson; defensive lineman Amani Bledsoe; and kicker/punter Austin Seibert. If all nine are picked this year, it would mark OU’s largest draft class since 2005.
Even though the Longhorns are taking smaller steps than their rivals, they’re still moving forward under coach Tom Herman’s regime. Four Horns went in the 2018 draft, and at least three seem likely to be selected this year – defensive lineman Charles Omenihu, defensive back Kris Boyd and linebacker Gary Johnson. Receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey and a few other UT prospects stand a solid chance of being picked as well. Moreover, UT’s draft crops should start bearing more fruit around 2021 as Herman’s highly touted recruiting classes mature.
Bottom line: If and when the Longhorns snap out of their malaise, the Big 12 should see a little shine restored to its NFL rep.