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Big 12's night sees Austin rise, Geno fall

As his dream-turned-nightmare neared its end just before midnight in New York City on Thursday, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith told ESPN's Suzy Kolber he wasn't surprised that his name wasn't called during the NFL draft's first round.

His own words and tweets throughout the week would suggest otherwise, but Smith, who was projected as high as No. 4 in some mock drafts as late as Thursday, was the story of the first round, forced to sit and watch 32 names go off the draft board while cameras filmed him enduring what's surely one of the most painful nights of his life (which, coincidentally, was his mother's birthday as well).

Smith told Kolber he won't be sticking around for the second round of the draft later tonight, declining an on-camera interview but telling Kolber that "those who believe in him still know what he has to offer" and that the chip on his shoulder had only grown.

Smith's always been an intriguing, intelligent guy, but like any player whose draft stock plummets for whatever reason, his play on the field this fall will decide how this night -- and his decision to leave New York City before being drafted -- is ultimately viewed.

He faced an embarrassing dilemma of staying and proving nothing by being the lone player enduring a second night in the green room, or leaving and, to those who want to believe it, looking like a sore loser who wanted to take his ball home and pout. Search for either, and you can find it, but no one will care about any of this if Smith lands in a good spot and starts writing his NFL story this fall. Even Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who endured his own embarrassing draft fall in 2005 before becoming a Super Bowl-winning passer, reached out with an encouraging word via Twitter. "Hang in there Geno, 'good things come to those who wait' -Paul Tagliabue," Rodgers tweeted.

Thursday will be a night Smith would love to forget, but I'm guessing his mental makeup won't allow it. He'll no doubt be motivated by it, but will that produce results? If it does, an embarrassing Thursday night will quickly fade away and look a whole lot more embarrassing for the NFL than it will for Smith.

West Virginia made a good headline on Thursday when receiver Tavon Austin went slightly higher than projected, at No. 8 to the St. Louis Rams, where he'll catch balls from a guy readers of the blog might remember: Sam Bradford.

"They showed me all the positions that I did when I played for Coach [Dana] Holgorsen. They’re going to use me in the backfield," Austin told reporters, adding that he'll also be used on punt and kick returns. "[Rams] Coach [Jeff] Fisher talked to me about special teams and I’m definitely a slot receiver. So, they definitely have a plan for me."

Austin said he's never met Bradford, but that's probably not the case for the Big 12's No. 1 player off the board: Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson. Johnson, an All-Big 12 second-team lineman last season, shot up draft boards when he showcased his agility as a former quarterback and his ability to block like an NFL lineman. His stock was never higher than it was these past couple days, and the Philadelphia Eagles cashed in on Johnson's upside, making him the third offensive tackle off the board in the top four picks.

"It doesn't surprise anyone on our staff that Lane was a high first-round selection. Lane worked relentlessly from the moment he stepped on campus and took advantage of every avenue to improve during his time with us," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said in a release. "While it took a while to find the right position for him to maximize his athletic potential, I have no doubt that he has a huge upside and will only get better with more experience playing tackle."

Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro was drafted in the middle of the first round as expected, going to the New Orleans Saints at No. 15.

"I got chills when I looked at my mom after my name was called. We've been through so much, and she's been there for me all the way," Vaccaro said in a release. "It was special to share the moment with her and my family."

That's what it's all about.

Here's how the Big 12 ranked by conference after the first round:

  • SEC – 12

  • ACC – 6

  • Pac-12 – 5

  • Big 12 – 3

  • Independent – 2

  • MAC – 1

  • C-USA – 1

  • Big East - 1

  • Big Ten - 1

Should be plenty more intrigue at the draft over the weekend. We'll have you covered once it's wrapped.