Before crushing the Big 12 for its dismal NFL Draft numbers, keep in mind a timing issue.
Having 14 players selected over seven rounds, by far the fewest of the Power Five conferences, isn’t a 2017 issue.
The fourth-year players in this draft were part of the 2013 recruiting class, and the Big 12’s best Rivals.com-rated class that year was Oklahoma at No. 15. Texas was second at No. 24. The SEC had five of the top nine.
One year later, the recruiting class that produced first-year draft eligible players for 2017, the Big 12 had three of the top 33 classes, again led by the Sooners at No. 15. The SEC finished with seven of the top nine.
Other power conferences fared better in recruiting in those and other years, and it’s safe to conclude Big 12 football recruiting hasn’t been the same since realignment.
The Big 12 used to corner the market in Texas. That hasn’t been true since Texas A&M joined the SEC, opening the Lone Star State in a bigger way to that league.
The Longhorns have particularly felt the impact. In 2014, Texas had no players taken in the NFL Draft for the first time since 1938, and that contributed to a league-low 17 Big 12 players selected in that draft.
Running back D’Onta Foreman was the lone Longhorn this year as the league established a new standard for fewest selections.
Also, the Big 12’s one first-round pick, Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II to the Chiefs, matched a league low.
Three of the first six players taken on Thursday — Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas and LSU safety Jamal Adams — played at Texas high schools. Garrett had family ties to A&M, but Thomas and Adams were dissuaded from attending Texas by coaching uncertainty as the program would soon transition from Mack Brown to Charlie Strong.
Oklahoma had four players selected this year, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and West Virginia two each. Other schools with two players selected were Eastern Washington, Western Kentucky and West Georgia.
It wasn’t a great draft for other traditional powers. Nebraska and Georgia each had only one player selected.
Michigan led the way with 11 players selected including the Chiefs’ fourth-round pick, wide receiver Jehu Chesson. Alabama had 10, followed by Miami (Fla.), LSU, Florida and Utah with eight.
By conference, it went SEC, 53 (a record 21 in the first two rounds); ACC, 43; Pac-12, 36; Big Ten, 35; and American Athletic 15. The math disclaimer: the Big 12 had the fifth highest per-school average because of its 10 members.
Were the low draft numbers a reflection of the league’s on-field performance in 2016? It wasn’t a banner year for the Big 12, but it wasn’t the worst of years. The Big 12 went 5-7 against other Power Five conferences. In bowl games, the Big 12’s 4-2 overall record included a 2-1 mark against the SEC.
For the second time in three years, the Big 12 didn’t place a team in the College Football Playoff, and that’s a major concern for the league. So much so that the Big 12 has resurrected the conference championship game because it believes the additional game could boost its champion in the playoff selection committee room.
What will undoubtedly help the conference’s strength is reducing the talent drain during recruiting, and the latest rankings bring mixed signals. Texas posted a top-10 class in 2016 and Oklahoma in 2017. But there was no other Big 12 signing class in the top 30 this year.
The top 30 was loaded with teams from the SEC (11), ACC (six) Pac-12 (six) and Big Ten (five). Three or four years from now, the talent suggests the Big 12 might have a team in the College Football Playoff, but their draft day numbers will again be dwarfed.