Big 12: Danny Watkins

ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has two Big 12 players -- Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson and Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro -- potentially going in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.

Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.

So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.

Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.

That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.

How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.

2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.

2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.

2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.

2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesThe Big 12's 2007 draft class wasn't huge, but did feature 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
2009: Every Big 12 player selected in the first round in 2009 has produced and appears to be poised to continue to do so. Only Jason Smith didn’t have a start last year. But the offensive lineman still played in all 16 games for the New York Jets. Michael Crabtree, Brian Orakpo, Josh Freeman, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew and Ziggy Hood are all starters for their respective teams.

2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.

2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.

2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.

2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.

2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.

Booms and busts of 2009 recruiting class

February, 11, 2013
Colleague Jake Trotter ran down some big surprises and busts in the Big 12 recruiting class of 2008 last week, but let's take a closer look at the class of 2009 this morning.

We'll take a look at the top half of the Big 12 now, and the bottom half later today.


Best surprise: OL Danny Watkins (British Columbia)

The Canadian firefighter was new to football, but Baylor gave him a shot after a strong juco career in Canada. How did Watkins repay them? He was a productive two-year starter at left tackle who the Philadelphia Eagles made a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

Biggest bust: WR Skyler Scott (Lancaster, Texas)

Scott, the nation's No. 53 receiver and the class' No. 3 overall signee, was arrested on gun possession charges in early 2010 and had little impact for the Bears.

Iowa State

Best surprise: LB A.J. Klein (Kimberly, Wisc.)

Klein was the nation's No. 116 linebacker and more highly rated than just four of Iowa State's four-year signees. He matured into a strong three-year starter and won the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2011.

Biggest bust: OL Aaron Moore (Frisco, Texas)

Moore was the class' top signee and the nation's No. 41 offensive tackle. He redshirted his freshman year, played three games in 2010 and left the team the following spring.


Best surprise: CB Tyler Patmon (Cedar Park, Texas)

Patmon left the team in December, so it's hard to really laud him too much as a Jayhawk, but you can't ignore his contributions, despite being unranked at his position coming out of high school. He redshirted in 2009 but was a three-year starter in the secondary and one of the better players for KU's struggling defense in each of those seasons. He had three interceptions in 2012.

Biggest bust: LB Prinz Kande (Euless, Texas)

Kande was the class' top signee, but has yet to make a big impact heading into his senior season. He's been a reserve on the Jayhawks defense before finally emerging to make his first start last season in a loss to Rice. In that loss, though, he suffered a season-ending injury. He's had fewer tackles in every season since taking the field at KU.

Kansas State

Best surprise: S Ty Zimmerman (Junction City, Kan.)

Zimmerman was unranked coming out of high school but made an immediate impact and earned Freshman All-American honors in 2010 after redshirting. He's been a starter since and was one of three K-State defenders with five interceptions this season.

Biggest bust: S Thomas Ferguson (Grand Prairie, Texas)

Ferguson was the class' highest-ranked signee and was the nation's No. 23 safety but failed to notch double-digit tackles in any season on campus. He played in six games this year and had just six tackles.


Best surprise: OT Lane Johnson (Groveton, Texas)

Johnson was a junior college quarterback who moved to tight end and came to Oklahoma where he promptly put on almost 40 pounds and became a tackle after a stop at defensive end in 2010, too. He earned All-Big 12 honors in 2012 and now has earned some hype as a possible first-round pick for the Sooners in April.

Biggest bust: DE Justin Chaisson (Las Vegas, Nev.)

Chaisson was one of a handful of players who signed with the Sooners out of Las Vegas, joining players like Ryan Reynolds and DeMarco Murray for the Sooners. Chaisson was plagued by legal issues, though, and the nation's No. 8 defensive end and No. 100 player overall in the class left the team before the 2010 season after redshirting in 2009.
We'll move on to the cornerbacks today in our position rankings across the Big 12.

Here's what we've covered so far:
This group is subject to more change during the season than perhaps any other position. You never quite know how chemistry will develop, and in these rankings, you really have to rely heavily on experience, similar to quarterbacks. It's not the only factor, but you have to acknowledge that it's a major one.

So, here's how I rank them:

[+] EnlargeLevy Adcock
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtOklahoma State's Levy Adcock, 73, is among the Big 12's best returning offensive linemen.
1. Oklahoma State: This is a no-brainer. The Cowboys broke in four new starters last season, but became a big reason why OSU's offense was one of college football's best. Despite throwing 532 passes, third-most in the Big 12, the group surrendered just 10 sacks. All five starters return, too. Running back Kendall Hunter also rushed for more than 1,500 yards. Right tackle Levy Adcock headlines the unit as the league's best overall lineman.

2. Baylor: The Bears might be a bit of a surprise here, but Baylor's strong skill-position talents wouldn't look nearly as good without this group, which lost a first-round pick at left tackle in Danny Watkins. However, Philip Blake is one of the league's best centers and four starters return from a line that helped Baylor finish second in the Big 12 last season in yards per carry, just behind Nebraska but nearly a half-yard more than Oklahoma State, the third-place team.

3. Missouri: The Tigers suffered a big loss in center Tim Barnes, a three-year starter and the offensive line's leader, but they return four starters from last season line and have the most career starts on the line of any team in the Big 12, with 105, which ranks 11th nationally.

4. Texas A&M: A&M's rising sophomore tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, had to learn on the go last season, but their development should be fun to watch this season on an offensive line blocking for the Big 12's best overall collection of skill-position talents. The line returns four starters, replacing only center Matt Allen.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners' goal-line problems last season cost them a game at Texas A&M, but this line was very solid the rest of the season and has plenty of upside. Likely starter Jarvis Jones won't be available until perhaps October, so the Sooners will turn to touted redshirt freshman Daryl Williams at right tackle in the interim. Center Ben Habern and tackle Tyler Evans add a lot of experience.

6. Texas Tech: Tech boasts one of the Big 12's best guards in Lonnie Edwards, but don't be surprised if Mickey Okafor grabs the Big 12's first-team spot at right tackle by season's end. The Red Raiders return all five starters, and will have to play well to support new faces at every skill position on offense.

7. Kansas: Four of the Jayhawks' starters are juniors and another is a senior, and for all of KU's struggles last season, it did have some success running the ball in spots, even though its 1,615 total rush yards were the fewest in the Big 12. James Sims (742 yards, 9 TDs) returns and KU adds a possible home-run threat in Darrian Miller, but the offensive line returns 97 total starts, 15th-most in college football and second-most in the Big 12. That has to pay off eventually, if not this season.

8. Iowa State: The Cyclones boast the league's best left tackle, Kelechi Osemele, but center Ben Lamaak is gone and ISU might turn to redshirt freshman Tom Farniok as his replacement. Brayden Burris is solid at right tackle, but sophomore Ethan Tuftee, who has very little experience (just five appearances total), enters fall camp as the starter at right guard.

9. Texas: No, I don't know how this happens. But it's hard to deny. Run blocking has been a struggle for Texas, and new position coach Stacy Searels will have to change that for the Longhorns, who have kept quiet about any real depth-chart developments throughout the spring and into fall camp. Tray Allen's health is a concern, but Mason Walters played well in 2010 and David Snow has a lot of experience at center with 19 starts and 39 appearances. If this group can't ascend in these rankings during the season, Texas' turnaround from last season 5-7 campaign will not happen. Texas, though, has the fewest career starts in the Big 12, with 36, which ranks 105th nationally.

10. Kansas State: Kansas State has had the Big 12's leading rusher the past two seasons, but he's gone and so are three offensive linemen, including the unit's best blocker, guard Zach Kendall. Center Wade Weibert and guard Kenneth Mayfield also are gone, leaving gaps in the interior. Senior Zach Hanson joins Manese Foketi and Clyde Aufner on a unit that returns just 42 career starts, second-fewest in the Big 12 and 97th-most in college football.

The Revolving Door: Baylor

June, 20, 2011
I've done it. You've done it.

"Hey, is that guy still around?"

Even with two fewer teams, it's hard to keep track. Our next series, which we did last year, too, takes a look at two key players for every team in the league who are taking their talents elsewhere, returning to campus, or arriving to try to write a legacy of their own.

So really, this series isn't so much for the fans of the teams in the posts, but more for everyone else. It wouldn't be a bad idea to bookmark these.

Today, we wrap up the series with the Bears of Waco.


Jay Finley, RB

Finley emerged as a huge threat for the Bears running game, ending the season as one of the Big 12's most underrated talents. He rushed for 1,218 yards -- fourth in the Big 12 -- and 12 touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Corsicana, Texas, native battled back from an injury-plagued 2009 season to stake a claim as one of the Big 12's best, leaving Baylor with a big hole to fill after being drafted in the seventh round by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Danny Watkins, LT

Watkins was a constant for two seasons at left tackle for the Bears, and had one of the most interesting stories of any player in the Big 12. A former fireman from British Columbia, Canada, Watkins first took up football at junior college in California, and after just a few years playing the game, became a first-round pick for the Philadelphia Eagles. He's the third first-round pick in three years for Baylor and coach Art Briles. Jason Smith went No. 2 overall in 2010 and teammate Phil Taylor was drafted in the first round in 2011.


Robert Griffin III, QB

Griffin answered any questions about lingering effects from his 2009 knee injury, returning as a better quarterback than ever and leading Baylor to its first bowl game since 1994, ending a maddening streak. He threw for 3,501 yards, 22 touchdowns and just eight interceptions while running for 635 yards and eight scores. The Bears have bigger things in mind for 2011 than last year's 7-6 finish, and if they're going to get there, Griffin will be the guy to take them.

Kendall Wright, WR

Wright returns as Griffin's top target after catching 78 balls for 952 yards and seven scores in 2010. He's been the Bears' top receiver during all three of his seasons on the field, and don't look for that to change in 2011, even with the likely rise of Josh Gordon, a bigger target. Wright is just 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, but though he's unlikely to jump over many defenders, he'll run past most. The speedy big-play receiver is apt to beat defenses deep for the big play.


Spencer Drango, OT

Drango was the nation's No. 14 offensive tackle and the Bears' top prospect in the 2011 class. The offensive line looks fairly set for this year, so don't look for the 6-foot-6, 264-pounder to contribute right away, but he'll add good depth and learn behind a good line in 2011.

Phil Bennett, defensive coordinator

Baylor's freshman class didn't have a lot of headline makers, but Bennett made a few by coming to Waco after engineering a top 10 defense at Pittsburgh last season. The coaching veteran has been the head man at SMU and made stops at Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and LSU before landing on Art Briles' staff. Briles made a big effort to bring Bennett in, and we'll see how fast he can shape up a defense that needed a lot of help in 2010.

Click here for more from The Revolving Door.

Lunch links: How you can help Joplin, Mo.

May, 23, 2011
If you're nearby and want to help the people in Joplin, Mo., here's how you can do it. If you're elsewhere, here's how you can donate funds. You can also donate $10 automatically by texting REDCROSS to 90999 or by texting "Joplin" to 864833.

Lunch links: Canada comes calling

May, 11, 2011
We belong in a movie
Try to hold it together 'til our friends are gone
We should swim in a fountain
Do not want to disappoint anyone

Looking ahead and behind at the NFL draft

May, 4, 2011
Sports Illustrated released a list of the top 40 prospects for 2012's NFL Draft, which is a healthy year away from right now.

The Big 12 players on the list?
But how accurate can these lists be a year out from the actual draft? Well, hit or miss, I suppose. Let's take a look back to last year's mock draft for 2011 from Todd McShay back in April 2010, a year before the draft that just occurred over the weekend.

No. 14: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M

Miller made a late charge up the draft boards with his measurables, running a 4.49 40-yard dash at an unfathomable 255 pounds. The Broncos loved it and took him second overall, behind only Heisman winner Cam Newton. A year under Tim DeRuyter allowed Miller to show he was more than just a pass rusher. He can pursue ball carriers and cover, too.

No. 18: Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma

Beal's production was easy to fall in love with, but he couldn't outrun his less-than-ideal size/speed combination. Beal did a ton on the field, but NFL teams didn't like his measurables and lack of a projected position at the next level. He was drafted in the seventh round.

No. 22: Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State

NFL teams seemed to all agree to devalue running backs this year, but Thomas, the No. 2 running back on McShay's list back then, went fifth among running backs and was a second-round pick.

Nowhere to be found on the list, though?

Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, who went 10th overall. The same with Aldon Smith, who was seventh overall. Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins and defensive tackle Phil Taylor were also first-round picks who weren't projected as such a year ago.

Neither Gabbert or Smith had outstanding regular seasons. Taylor didn't either. But once NFL teams start to get a long look at players, they can become smitten. Or, on the other hand, not see a player as one that can help them at all for any number of reasons.

A lot can happen between now and then.
A year ago, Danny Watkins was selected fourth overall in the Canadian Football League draft by the British Columbia Lions.

After this weekend, it's clear the Lions wasted their first-round pick. Watkins stuck around Baylor for his senior year, and on Thursday night, was selected 23rd overall by the Philadelphia Eagles, one of two Bears first-rounders this year.

But according to Baylor, he's not the first player to pull the double dip.

Back in 1986, Mike Schad of Queen's University in Ontario was drafted fourth overall by Ottawa. He was also selected with the 23rd pick of the NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. (For our younger readers, yes, L.A. did have an NFL team once. Two of 'em, in fact. Now, they have to settle for USC being the only pro football team in town.)

Quite the coincidence that both players were selected with the same picks in both drafts: fourth in the CFL and 23rd in the NFL.

Watkins can't begin his career until the NFL lockout is lifted, but he'll do so as just the fourth Canadian first-round NFL draft pick ever.

Schad was the first. Famed offensive line bust Tony Mandarich is still the nation's highest pick ever after being selected second overall by the Green Bay Packers in 1989.

The Carolina Panthers selected Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka with the sixth overall pick in the 1998 draft.

Watkins, a 26-year-old British Columbia native, was pegged by some as the most NFL-ready of the draft-eligible linemen. Here's a bit more on the humorous circumstances surrounding his selection.

Before Art Briles' arrival, Baylor hadn't had a first-round pick in the Big 12 era. After Phil Taylor and Watkins were drafted this year, the Bears have had three in three years. Offensive lineman Jason Smith went No. 2 overall in the 2009 draft.

Wrapping up the Big 12's draft

May, 2, 2011
The NFL draft has come and gone, and I hope you're all prepared for no more NFL anything for awhile. I know I'm not.

Anyway, here's how the Big 12 shook out over the weekend, with a few thoughts to follow.

First round (8)

Second round (2)
Third round (2)
Fourth round (6)
Fifth round (3)
Sixth round (1)
Seventh round (8)

Here's how the Big 12 teams ranked in terms of total draftees:

1. Nebraska - 7
2. Baylor - 4
2. Colorado - 4
2. Oklahoma - 4
2. Texas - 4
6. Missouri - 3
7. Kansas State -1
7. Oklahoma State - 1
7. Texas A&M - 1
7. Texas Tech - 1
11. Iowa State - 0
11. Kansas - 0

And the major conferences (counting where players actually played):

SEC - 38
Pac-12 - 33
Big 12 - 30
Big Ten - 29
ACC - 35
Big East - 22

  • Texas A&M had just one player drafted, but the Aggies will have plenty next year, including a handful of possible first-rounders. Cyrus Gray, Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller could all go very early in 2012, depending on what happens between now and then.
  • [+] EnlargeJeremy Beal
    Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal was drafted in the seventh round by Denver.

  • Interesting that Miller went 245 selections before the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year, according to the media, Jeremy Beal. Also an interesting coincidence? The same team drafted both. I do think Beal will have a productive NFL career, and there's no denying what he did at Oklahoma, but the measurables were never quite there for Beal. What's not measurable? How difficult he is to block. That said, Miller was my vote for the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Good to see some hard-working, perhaps under-respected guys get drafted. This was an important year for that, considering those left over won't be able to get into NFL minicamps until the lockout ends and won't be able to do anything to further their NFL careers besides work out on their own. I'll have a post later today on some of those snubs. There's no guarantee that late-drafted guys like Baron Batch, Scotty McKnight, Jay Finley or Eric Hagg will catch on in the the pros, but I'd be willing to guarantee they'll do everything in their power to maximize what opportunities they get.
  • One of the most interesting selections? Mikail Baker. He wasn't invited to the combine, and played just one full season on defense at Baylor after working as a kick returner and a cornerback in 2009 before a season-ending knee injury. You don't see that kind of impressive athleticism at Baylor traditionally.
  • Let the debate continue: Kendall Hunter vs. DeMarco Murray. Murray getting drafted 40-some spots earlier only intensified that discussion, if you ask me.
  • Also, what's more impressive from Art Briles? That Baylor had four picks, the most in school history since 1996? Or that despite those four picks, Baylor's returning an even better team than last season, when it ended a 16-year bowl drought?
  • Colorado's draft, meanwhile? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Dan Hawkins' coaching job in Boulder.
  • Alex Henery didn't win the Lou Groza Award, but his fourth-round selection makes him the earliest kicker draft pick since 2006. Will that end the state of Nebraska's blood feud against respectable OSU kicker Dan Bailey, who did win the Lou Groza Award? I doubt it. (Save your emails. For the 100th time, I agree, Nebraska fans. Henery > Bailey.)
  • A few guys who went way lower than I thought they would. In order of my surprise level: Beal, Gabbert, Amukamara, Hagg, Hunter.
  • A few guys who went way higher than I thought, in the same order: Aldon Smith, Batch, Gachkar, Baker.

Lunch links: All-access with Blaine Gabbert

April, 29, 2011
You ever play Russian roulette? Time to spin the chamber, Boris.

Draft prank turns to dream for Watkins

April, 29, 2011
There's plenty of tension to go around in the NFL Draft's green room. Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins sat in the middle of it on Thursday night, unsure of what to expect.

The only thing he could control? The location of his phone. And then it rang, just midway through the first round.

"I thought, 'Oh, it’s too early for a team to be calling,'" Watkins said in this video on the team's website.

It was. Former teammate J.D. Walton, who now plays for the Denver Broncos, was on the other line from a Colorado area code, hoping to give his fellow offensive lineman's heart a jolt.

"We were laughing, he was messing with me," said Watkins, projected by most to go late in the first round.

A few picks later, it was still too early, and Watkins' phone rang again.

"I was like, 'Ahhh, J.D., it was funny once. Come on, man.' And I look and I’m like, 'Hm, that’s a weird number,'" he said.

It was the Philadelphia Eagles telling Watkins they wanted to take him with the 23rd pick in the first round.

"I didn’t think anything of it, and I was like, 'Hello?' They were like, 'Is this Danny Watkins?'"

"And I was like, 'Ohhhh, boy. Here we go,'" he said.

The Canadian will go from blocking for Robert Griffin III, one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the Big 12, to blocking for Michael Vick, one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.

But the first thing that came to mind for the former firefighter from British Columbia? Mark it down for a first in NFL draft history.

"I’m going to have to become a Flyers fan," he said.
The last time Texas and Oklahoma didn't have a first-round pick?

That was 1998.

The following year, Kansas State and Texas A&M battled for the Big 12 title, with the Aggies earning a berth in the Sugar Bowl.

Every year since, the Sooners or Longhorns have played for a Big 12 title -- winning nine of 12 championships -- and at least one program had a first-rounder the following April.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Jerry Lai/US PresswireVon Miller, the No. 2 overall pick, was the first Aggie taken in the first round since 2003.
That streak ended on Thursday night. In a new 10-team Big 12, could we see a new champion come fall? Texas or Oklahoma have won every Big 12 title since 2004.

Oklahoma will be a tough out next year, likely to open the season atop the polls. Next year, they're sure to have at least one first-round pick, and perhaps more. Texas struggled to a 5-7 season in 2010 and will start anew with a handful of fresh faces on the coaching staff in 2011.

But Oklahoma and Texas aside, it's impossible to ignore the rise that other programs in the Big 12 have experienced, culminating in a historic night for three programs.

Excusing Texas' last season, this year's first round is more about Big 12 programs building something big than Oklahoma or Texas eroding.

Want to give your program added credibility? Draft picks are second only to wins in doing so. Nights like these schools had will pay off on the recruiting trail in the future.

Baylor topped the list, adding its second and third first-round picks in Big 12 history. Before Jason Smith in 2009, the Bears hadn't had one. The last time two players from the program were picked in the first round in the same year? 1957.

Phil Taylor and Danny Watkins both were drafted earlier than projected, with Taylor headed to the Cleveland Browns and Watkins the Philadelphia Eagles. Along the way, Watkins provided one of the night's signature moments when his five Canadian firefighter buddies cheered him on from the stands with Watkins pointing in their direction from the stage.

Missouri is further along in its own rise, adding a pair of top 10 picks after having none since Justin Smith went fourth overall in 2001. Aldon Smith pulled a surprise, going seventh overall to the San Francisco 49ers, significantly earlier than most mock drafts had placed him, and shockingly, ahead of his quarterback. Blaine Gabbert followed three picks later, when the Jacksonville Jaguars selected him at No. 10.

That gave the Tigers five first-round picks in three years after Smith had previously been the lone first-rounder for Mizzou since the Big 12 began in 1996.

Von Miller went No. 2 to the Denver Broncos, the Aggies first first-round pick since 2003.

Missouri's come the closest of any team in that group to a Big 12 title, reaching the Big 12 title game in 2007 and 2008, where it lost to Oklahoma.

Will either of the three teams eventually reach a Big 12 title? Who knows. But it's clear that all three programs have coaches that are getting them closer and closer.

All three teams are deeper than ever, well-equipped to weather this talent drain. Texas A&M should start the season in the top 15 and looks like a title contender. Despite losing Gabbert, Missouri is better than ever nearly everywhere else. Baylor is building on its first bowl appearance since 1994 and has a great chance to exceed its seven wins from 2010.

Texas and Oklahoma have run the Big 12 on the field for a long time. There are no guarantees in this game, but last night's draft is more evidence that their monopoly could be in jeopardy.
Five years ago, Danny Watkins was a fireman in Canada.

On Thursday, the Philadelphia Eagles made him the 23rd pick in the NFL Draft. Five of his Canadian firefighter friends were at the draft with him, voicing their support.

Like his teammate, Phil Taylor, Watkins went higher than expected and gives the Bears two first-round picks in 2010 after having just one in Big 12 history (2009, Jason Smith).

Watkins is a solid tackle that some have called the safest pick in the draft. From the hockey rink to the fire station in Canada to junior college in California and eventually major college football in Waco, Texas, it's been quite a ride for the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder.

The next step starts in Philadelphia.

Kiper's Big Board, mock get final polish

April, 28, 2011
The lights will be on shortly, but Mel Kiper has released his final Big Board , a list of the top 25 available prospects, leading up to tonight's draft.

Of his first board a year ago, nine of the top 10 prospects are expected to be first-round picks, and Andrew Luck is still in school.

Here's where the Big 12's talent stacked up:

No. 2: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M

Analysis: Miller can impact NFL games early in his career as a pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker, but he also has coverage skills. Heady, big-time athlete.

No. 12: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri

Analysis: Ideal frame, athleticism to consider for 4-3 or 3-4; still developing but a ton of upside. Athletic enough with size to be versatile. Jumps off tape.

No. 14: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri

Analysis: Strong arm, good accuracy, ideal size and physical skills. An underrated athlete. Had a solid but unspectacular pro day. Will go high.

He also submitted his final mock draft before the real thing tonight. Here's where he slotted the Big 12's stars.

No. 2, Denver Broncos: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M

...if you want dynamic upside, it's hard to go wrong with Miller. ... Miller is a smart, explosive, natural pass-rusher with the speed to track down QBs and also drop into coverage, then play the run down the line. Miller is a special talent and is a common pick as the rookie who can provide the most immediate impact.

No. 7, San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri

This time, I think Gabbert lands here. While Jim Harbaugh has taken the dignified route and stated how much he wants to work with Alex Smith, I think it's pretty fair to assume the Niners will be looking for a long-term solution for their new coach. ... Like Newton, this isn't a quarterback you want starting games in 2011, but if San Francisco is patient, Gabbert is a player it can build with.

No. 11, Houston Texans: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri

Smith represents a ton of upside for a defense that really needs to add some pass-rushing help opposite the great Mario Williams. Again, a lot of the problems in the Houston secondary started up front.

No. 30, New York Jets: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor

Taylor is a player that holds up as that immovable anchor against the run, a guy who can eat up blocks and let the linebackers in Rex Ryan's system run free.

No. 31, Pittsburgh Steelers: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Williams is the classic young, talented risk-taker at the cornerback position. He has a ton of natural ability, likes to steal a look into the backfield and turn errant passes into six points going the other way. While some see him ultimately becoming a great cover safety, I think he's a got a shot to be coached into a really good cover corner.

No. 32, Green Bay Packers: Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor

This team must do more to run the ball, must do more to shore up protection and must add depth on the offensive line. Watkins is a safe pick, a guy who helps right away.

Breaking down the offensive draft boards

April, 27, 2011
You've surely seen plenty of mock drafts and draft boards by position by now, but those are all put together by mashing together players' total skill sets.

So what would happen if you broke down those skill sets and re-ranked players in the draft? Todd McShay did exactly that for every draftable offensive player.

Here's a look at what he had to say.

Quarterbacks Insider
  • Missouri's Blaine Gabbert was No. 3 in intelligence and decision-making, behind Greg McElroy of Alabama and TCU's Andy Dalton.
  • Gabbert was No. 1 in throwing accuracy.
  • He's the Big 12's only draftable quarterback, according to McShay, and ranked No. 1 overall on his positional draft board.
Running backs Insider
  • McShay ranked DeMarco Murray as the No. 1 running back in the draft, according to receiving skill.
  • Murray was also No. 1 in pass blocking. Kansas State's Daniel Thomas was No. 2.
  • Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter is the Big 12's top back on his positional draft board. Hunter ranks No. 4. Thomas is No. 5. Murray ranked 10th.
Offensive line Insider
  • Baylor's Danny Watkins ranked No. 2 in pass blocking among draftable guards.
  • Watkins also ranked No. 2 in run blocking among guards.
  • He ranked No. 1 in "toughness" among guards.
  • Watkins was the No. 6 overall offensive line prospect available. Texas' Kyle Hix was his No. 42 available and Missouri's Tim Barnes was No. 50.