Bummed about the Big 12’s draft woes? Wait till next year, analysts say

There’s no spinning the facts when it comes to the Big 12’s recent draft woes.

Last week, there were 14 Big 12 players selected out of 253 who heard their names called over the NFL draft’s three days and seven rounds. The other Power Five conferences nearly tripled what the Big 12 had — the SEC had 53, the ACC had 43, the Pac-12 had 36 and the Big Ten had 35. Even the American Athletic Conference, with 16 picks, could brag about a better draft.

But that bodes well for the Big 12 since two of the AAC’s former coaches, Baylor’s Matt Rhule and Texas’ Tom Herman, each had three players drafted from Temple and Houston. That placed them ahead of every conference coach this side of Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops.

But there are better Big 12 drafts on the horizon, starting as soon as next April. Keep in mind, of course, that 2018 NFL draft speculation is still a year out and can’t project injuries, surprise seasons or knucklehead moves by players. Or early departures by underclassmen; Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes II gave up a year of eligibility and zoomed from a one-time third-round grade before the NFL scouting combine to a top-10 selection.

Who’s the hottest Big 12 prospect for 2018?

Maybe it’s a quarterback. After all, next year already is being billed as the “year of the quarterback.” The most mentioned names are USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. You can also add Wyoming’s Josh Allen with his prototypical NFL arm and physique.

But you can make a case for Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph. Sports Illustrated listed him as the 20th pick in its first 2018 mock draft. CBSSports.com also has Rudolph in the first round, at No. 16.

Its analysis of Rudolph: “… a mobile enough quarterback with a big arm, Rudolph will get questioned for playing against Big 12 defenses, allowing him to throw to a lot of open receivers.”

About those questions about Big 12 defenses: Here’s the game tape scouts will watch — Oklahoma State’s Alamo Bowl victory over Colorado. The Buffaloes had three defensive backs drafted in 2017. Rudolph threw for 314 yards in the Cowboys’ 38-8 thumping of the Buffs.

Another trendy quarterback pick could involve a former Big 12 player — Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham. He hasn’t played since 2015, when he was a budding star at Baylor, but could be the best quarterback in the mighty SEC, which leads all conferences with 270 picks over the past five drafts. West Virginia’s Will Grier, a transfer from Florida, also may figure into the draft talk.

And no one knows how scouts might view Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, a Heisman finalist entering his third season as a starter.

If it’s not Rudolph carrying the Big 12 first-round banner, maybe it’ll be an offensive tackle like Texas’ Connor Williams or Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown. This year’s draft was a down one for tackles, normally a first-round priority. Only two were taken in this year’s first round, at No. 20 and No. 32.

Williams was an All-American as a sophomore last season. The mammoth Brown, who is listed at 6-7, 340 pounds, also would have to give up eligibility if he goes pro next spring.

Another hot pick is Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay unveiled his “way-too-early” 2018 mock on Thursday. He’s listing Jefferson at No. 6 overall.

The Longhorns haven’t had a top-10 pick since 2006, when quarterback Vince Young (No. 3) and safety Michael Huff (seventh) were selected. Over the past five years, they rank fifth in the Big 12 with 10 players drafted.

Jefferson, though, would have to declare early and this projection may be rooted most in his lofty recruiting rankings coming out of high school. Long-time draft analyst Matt Miller said Jefferson is the most “NFL ready” of any of the prospects at linebacker and says he has both the most potential and the biggest question marks.

The state of Texas also should be well represented. SMU receiver Courtland Sutton could be vying to become the Mustangs’ first first-rounder since 1986. And Texas A&M, which just produced top pick Myles Garrett, could extend its streak of first-round selections to eight straight years with either receiver Christian Kirk or safety Armani Watts.

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