Perhaps even bigger news than the fact that the 2014 NFL Draft produced the fewest number players selected to date from the Big 12 was the talented prospects that were left on the board and went undrafted.
Seventeen former Big 12 players were selected over the much-hyped three days and seven rounds of this year’s NFL Draft. That is the lowest number in the 18 years of the Big 12 era. The previous low for the number of players with Big 12 ties drafted in a particular year was 22 last year, when the conference was only 10 teams strong. Four of the 22 selections in 2013 came in the opening round.
The lowest number of draft picks as 12-team conference was in 2004, when 23 players were selected. That year there were four Big 12 picks among the 32 first-round selections, with Texas wide receiver Roy Williams going No. 7 overall to the Detroit Lions.
Other first-round selections from the Big 12 in the 2004 draft year were Oklahoma defensive tackle Tommie Harris (No. 14 overall, to the Chicago Bears), Texas defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs (No. 23 overall, to the Seattle Seahawks) and Rashaun Woods, a wide receiver from Oklahoma State (No. 31 overall, to the San Francisco 49ers).
Not only will the 2014 NFL Draft go down in the record books as one of the weakest drafts as far as representatives from the Big 12, it may also also be remembered for the somewhat surprising number of talented prospects from the conference who went undrafted.
Baylor led all Big 12 schools with five draft selection, but all of them came in the final three rounds on the final day of the draft (OG Cyril Richardson in the fifth round, RB Lache Seastrunk and CB Demetri Goodson in the sixth, and WR Tevin Reese and SS Ahmad Dixon in the seventh and final round). Ahmad Dixon was the 248th player selected overall in the draft. Only eight more players were picked after him.
Four Oklahoma players were taken in this year’s NFL Draft, but those also came in later rounds (two in the fourth: WR Jalen Saunders and CB Aaron Colvin, and two more in the seventh: LB Corey Nelson and FB Trey Millard).
The Big 12′s 17 draft picks in 2014 was 32 less than the Southeastern Conference, the consensus pick as the best football conference in the land and ranked fifth among the football power conferences, behind the SEC (49), ACC (42), Pac-12 (34) and the Big Ten (30).
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, insofar as the Big 12 is concerned, was that Texas was shut out of the draft for the first time in 76 years. It was 1938 the last time that happened, and the NFL Draft was just in its third year.
I’m not sure anyone would have predicted beforehand that the Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year and a 2013 All-American selection, Jackson Jeffcoat, would go undrafted in this year’s NFL Draft.
Jeffcoat also won the 2013 Ted Hendricks Award as the best defensive end in college football. None of that seemed to matter, though. And to add insult to injury, the player with whom Jeffcoat shared his Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Award last season, Jason Verrett of TCU, was taken in the first round by the San Diego Chargers, the 25th player selected overall.
Before we get too revved up over this, though, it is important to point out that an NFL Draft pick is not any more of a guarantee that a player will play in the NFL than signing a free-agent contract, which is exactly what Jeffcoat did, with the Arizona Cardinals.
The odds a probably a little better if you are selected in the draft, but the brutal fact is, you still have to make the team. And Jeffcoat will have the same chance to make the Cardinals 53-man squad as their seven draft selections in this year’s draft.
Mike Davis, a wide receiver, and Chris Whaley, a defensive tackle, are two other Longhorns that some experts had projected would go in the draft, but in later rounds. Davis signed as a free agent with the Oakland Raiders, and Whaley, whose NFL stock might have been downgraded as a result of an ACL injury that cut short his senior season at Texas, is staying home and will try to catch on with the Dallas Cowboys.
Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard, a 2013 Associated Press All-American and three-time All-Big 12 First Team selection, is another surprising draft omission out of the Big 12. The 6-4, 304-pound offensive lineman signed a free-agent agreement with the Tennessee Titans.
Everyone projected that Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro would go within the first two rounds of the draft, and he did (going 49th overall, in the second round, to the New York Jets. There was also consideration for Red Raiders’ defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, an All-Big 12 Second Team selection, but there were no takers over the three days of the draft. Hyder will get his chance, though, with the New York Jets, where he joins teammate Amaro as well as Jalen Saunders of Oklahoma, a fourth-round draft selection by Gang Green.
Tavon Rooks, former Kansas State offensive tackle, wasn’t on many, if any, NFL radar screens prior to the draft. An All-Big 12 Honorable Mention in 2013, Rooks’ name was called late in the sixth round by the New Orleans Saints. Many thought the better NFL prospect, as far as K-State is concerned might be safety Ty Zimmerman, an All-Big 12 First Team selection on defense this past season.
Zimmerman quickly shed the disappointment of not having his name called in the NFL Draft. He will be joining his drafted K-State teammate Rooks as both attempt to make the New Orleans Saints’ team for the coming NFL season.
Cornerback and return specialist Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State was the first Big 12 player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was the eighth player taken overall and the first pick of the Cleveland Browns, who also took Johnny “Football” Manziel later in the first round. Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State’s second leading pass receiver a year ago and an AP All-Big 12 First Team selection in 2013, chose to leave school after his junior season to declare for the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, he was not one of the 256 college players selected.
Stewart is one of eight undrafted OSU players who will pursue NFL careers through free agency, signing with the Tennessee Titans.
It is every college football players dream to have his name called out as an NFL Draft selection. While the draft is the more traditional pathway to an NFL career, it is not the only way. Several notable NFL names who played college ball in the Big 12, were undrafted and have had fairly successful careers in professional football are WRs Wes Welker and Danny Amendola (both from Texas Tech). Welker is with the Denver Broncos and Amendola played last season for New England Patriots. Also, cornerback Chris Harris (Kansas) of the Denver Broncos.
On Wednesday, we will report on where other undrafted Big 12 players are headed for NFL rookie minicamps.