Dallas Colleges: Jason Smith
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.
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.
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.
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.
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