We’ve reached the middle of May, unofficially known as the start of “Dump on the Big 12 Season” in the college football media world. It generally runs through the beginning of preseason practice in August, although some would maintain it never truly ends.
The big talking point this year: The conference had a paltry 14 players selected in the NFL draft this year. Even on a per-team basis, that stinks.
2017 NFL Draft Picks Per Team
Big Ten: 2.5
Big 12: 1.4
The 2017 crop continued a downward slide for the conference that makes sense in the context of conference realignment. The Big 12 lost some of its better recruiters in the earlier part of the decade when Nebraska, Texas A&M, Missouri and Colorado split. TCU and West Virginia are solid programs, but, historically, they don’t amass highly rated recruits at levels on par with the four defectors, particularly NU and A&M.
A decline in the talent coming into the conference naturally leads to fewer NFL-caliber players going out. That checks out.
However, closer inspection of the numbers from the last 15 years suggests a huge blockage also developed in the Big 12's NFL pipeline: Bevo.
To get a better handle on trends in NFL output, I divided the Big 12 members into four separate categories: Original Six, New Two, Oklahoma and Texas. When you compare how the Big 12 members have performed since the league downsized, it becomes quite clear that Texas’ lack of NFL development is the primary culprit for the league's overall decline.
The last five-year period includes the stretch in which the conference's membership shifted. A look at how that time span stacks up for teams in the Big 12 against the previous five-year cycles captures UT's role in the conference's downswing.
This group consists of six of the original members of the Big 12 that remain in the conference today: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech.
All have gone through some significant swings in the last 15 years. On the whole, though, this group has been fairly consistent in sending players to the big leagues.
NFL Draft Picks, Original Six
In the five drafts between 2013 and 2017, the Original Six averaged eight draft picks combined every year. That’s down from the 2008-2012 cycle (8.8) and the 2003-2007 period (8.6), but not by much.
As such, it looks as though shifts for programs, such as Baylor’s rise and KU’s fall in the 2010s, seem to offset each other over time.
Ironically, newcomers TCU and West Virginia have actually added some luster to the Big 12’s NFL pipeline. From 2013 to 2017, the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers sent more players to the NFL than any school in the Original Six except for Baylor.
NFL Draft Picks, New Two
The New Two produced a combined 5.2 draft picks per season since coming to the conference. That’s down slightly from the previous half decade (5.8), although it far outpaces the 2003-2007 cycle’s combined yearly average of 3.4.
If you add the Original Six and New Two together, the eight teams averaged 13.2 draft picks combined per season in the last five years. Historically speaking, that falls short of the 2008-2012 mark of 14.6. However, it does the 2003-2007 annual combined average of 12.
It's fair to say these eight Big 12 teams are performing in line with historical trends.
When it comes to putting players into the NFL, the Sooners have shown themselves to be about as reliable as it gets.
OU averaged 5.4 draft picks per year in both the 2003-2007 and 2008-2012 cycles. That average dipped to five between 2013-2017, or 25 total picks over the five years versus 27 in each of the previous five-year cycles.
Now let's add OU’s contribution to the New Two and Original Six.
NFL Draft Picks, Original Six + New Two + Oklahoma
An average of 18.2 picks per season from 2013 to 2017 is slightly off the 2008-2012 pace of 20, which represents a decline of 9 percent. You'd rather see an upswing than a drop-off there, but the difference is fairly minimal.
It should come as no surprise that as the Longhorns bumbled their way to not-nearly-good-enough records for the better part of a decade, their NFL production dried up.
From 2003 to 2007, Texas averaged 4.8 draft picks per season. That average dipped to 4.4 in the following five years.
In the 2013-2017 period, though, UT saw an average of just two players drafted in each class. Ten total Longhorns were drafted between 2013 and 2017, 14 fewer than the preceding five-year stretch. That’s a decline of almost 60 percent.
What did that do to the Big 12's numbers as a whole?
NFL Draft Picks, Entire Big 12
So, in the 2013-2017 period, the 10 Big 12 programs saw their annual combined average of draft picks fall by more than four from the 2008-2012 period. That represents a decrease of nearly 20 percent. Texas accounted for nearly 60 percent of the total shortfall.
To be clear, the Big 12 as currently constituted will never be some NFL factory. It lost too may of its stronger programs to realignment.
Nine of the conference's 10 programs are performing about up to par with history, though. Texas, on the other hand, isn't coming close.