The NFL invited 11 Oklahoma Sooners to the NFL combine in Indianapolis this year, tied with Alabama for the second-most of any school and behind Georgia with 14. When the actual draft commenced last week, the first OU player selected was Nik Bonitto by the Denver Broncos at the end of the second round.
A program with that many players invited to combine going without a pick in the first round doesn’t happen very often. Of the 27 teams that finished in the top five of combine invites in the last five years, five failed to have a player picked in the first round – OU in 2022, Notre Dame in 2021, Ole Miss in 2019, and Miami and LSU in 2018. Of the 10 teams that sent exactly 11 prospects to the combine during that period, the Sooners joined the 2021 Fighting Irish as the only two without a first-round pick.
You could argue that this stat doesn’t mean much. After all, it’s possible there’s no correlation between NFL combine invites and first-round picks, and combine invitations are far from foolproof assessments of talent. On the other hand, if you’re of the belief that OU’s development of players had fallen off lately, this seems to support your position.
Seven Sooners heard their names called last week. That’s certainly not a bad total – only four schools had more (Georgia, LSU, Penn State and Cincinnati). And it’s definitely better than zero.
But it also marked the second year in a row that OU didn’t produce a first rounder. OU has seen too many talented players pass through the program recently for that to happen.
In February, Jason Kersey made the point in an evaluation of OU’s coaching transition that the Sooners’ on-field product declined slightly in the five-year tenure of Lincoln Riley. The inability in the last two seasons to develop any first-round picks also fits with the perception of a slow erosion on his watch.
Whatever the case may be, not producing first-round picks can make for tough sledding on the recruiting trail. New coach Brent Venables should look to rectify that quickly.
A few other observations about OU’s draft class:
*One important question to consider: Did playing out of position hurt the stock of some OU prospects? Most notably, Perrion Winfrey and Isaiah Thomas.
Winfrey clearly doesn’t have the size to be an NFL nose tackle – his pro future is at 3-tech defensive tackle. Meanwhile, OU frequently slid Thomas down from his natural position on the end to an interior DT.
Both players brought other drawbacks to the table as prospects, but it seems like a question worthy of consideration.
*Overall, the pass rushers in this draft class looked really strong. In other years, Bonitto and Thomas may have gone earlier than they did.
Same applies at wide receiver and Mike Woods.
*Given how the NFL now values running backs, Kennedy Brooks falling out of the draft shouldn’t have surprised anyone. The bet here is that he still enjoys at least a few seasons on an NFL roster.
*The Minnesota Vikings are shifting to a 3-4 base scheme under new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. Obviously, that can mean different things for position assignments, but Brian Asamoah seems better-equipped to play in a 4-3. That assumes the Vikings intend to play him as an inside linebacker, of course.
Anyway, Asamoah’s physical tools and motor make him the Sooner with the highest ceiling of this crop.
*How much did Delarrin Turner-Yell raise his stock with a fast 40-yard dash at the combine? He likely went from undrafted to the fifth round because of it.
*Sooners most likely to hear their names called in 2023 (from most likely to not as likely):
- Marvin Mims, WR
- Jalen Redmond, DL
- Woodi Washington, CB
- Key Lawrence, S
- DaShaun White, LB
- Wanya Morris, OT
- Brayden Willis, TE
- Theo Wease, WR
- Michael Turk, P