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Big 12 stars make moves up NFL boards

3/12/2013

The NFL scouting combine changed plenty of Big 12 players' fates, highlighted by West Virginia's Tavon Austin, who made a big move up Todd McShay's latest mock draftInsider.

His teammates, Geno Smith, also validated his status as the No. 1 quarterback on the board ... for now. We'll see if Matt Barkley's pro day changes anything, but my bet is Smith hangs on to his status on the strength of his huge senior season in 2012.

McShay has Smith going No. 7 to the Arizona Cardinals, the first Big 12 player taken in the draft. Like most (myself included), he's not exactly on board with Smith as a top-10 talent, but the importance of quarterback play in the changing NFL means their stock often gets a boost as the draft gets closer and teams talk themselves into passers who maybe wouldn't go as high in a year when the quarterback pool was a bit stronger.

McShay says he doesn't have a first-round grade on Smith, which is a lot more down on him than I would be, but if he turns out to be a big talent, nobody's going to mind taking him in the top 10.

Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson is turning heads with his athleticism and sky-high potential after a strong 2012 season but very little experience at the position. McShay has the former junior college quarterback going No. 11 to the San Diego Chargers.

The Big 12 looked like it might get shut out of the top 15, but moves from Smith and Johnson have changed that a bit. Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro is slotted at No. 13 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a player McShay calls the most complete safety in the draft.

West Virginia's Austin is still behind Cal's Keenan Allen as the first receiver taken, but he passed up Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson to grab the No. 16 spot to the St. Louis Rams. That's a really interesting mix, and one former Sooner Sam Bradford would like to see. Mardy Gilyard did little before being cut, and Bradford needs weapons fast. Austin clearly qualifies. Riding Danny Amendola as the lone star receiver isn't good enough in the NFL.

Landing four first-round picks would be a solid finish for the Big 12 in a down year. Johnson and Austin's stock is sky-high, and Vaccaro and Smith's stock has remained relatively constant. We'll see what happens as pro days start to take place.