Big Ten again shut out of NFL Draft top 10

Big Ten again shut out of NFL Draft top 10
May 9, 2014, 10:30 am
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Vinnie Duber

You have to go all the way back to 2008 to find the last Big Ten product selected in the top 10 picks of the NFL Draft.

That year saw a pair of players picked in the top 10 — most notably Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long, who was the No. 1 overall selection of the Miami Dolphins (Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston was the other, picked sixth by the New York Jets, for those keeping score). But since, no player has been selected higher than No. 11, and that trend continued Thursday night.

In the first round of the NFL Draft, 10 picks were announced without a Big Ten school getting its name read. That had to wait until No. 11 (again), when the Tennessee Titans made Taylor Lewan, another Michigan offensive tackle, their newest addition.

That's not to say that the Big Ten had a bad night. Unsurprisingly, the conference was again overshadowed by the SEC in this department, with college football's strongest conference accounting for a whopping 11 of the 32 players selected Thursday. The Big Ten boasted four, and no conference besides the SEC and ACC (five players) had more guys chosen. When framed in that context, the Big Ten did all right. Fellow power conferences such as the Pac-12 and Big 12 only accounted for a combined five players.

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In addition to Lewan at No. 11, the Big Ten saw the drafting of Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier (No. 15 to the Steelers), Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard (No. 24 to the Bengals) and Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby (No. 31 to the Broncos).

But there's still that nagging feeling that stems from the conference being shut out of the top 10 for sixth straight draft.

The four-player contingent in this year's first round is better than last year, when just one Big Ten product was picked in the top 32. But Big Ten alums are typically plentiful throughout the first round, with now four of the past six drafts boasting Big Ten classes of four or more players. Six were selected in the first round back in 2011.

You might be wondering what all the hubbub is over first-round numbers. As is often the case, NFL starters can be found throughout the draft, and that's a place where the Big Ten has just as much to boast about as any conference. Take the quarterback position, for example. Drew Brees was a second-round pick out of Purdue in 2001. Wisconsin alumnus Russell Wilson is the quarterback of the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, and he was a third-round pick in 2012. And that Tom Brady guy, a former Michigan Wolverine picked in the sixth round in 2000, is the most-famous late-round pick in NFL history.

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But the truth is that college programs like to brag about how many first-round picks they send to the NFL. It's a nice selling point for Illinois, which has produced four first-round picks since 2009 (and others over the past 10 years) despite an often disappointing win-loss record. In fact, every Big Ten school except for Minnesota and Northwestern has churned out at least one first-round pick since 2009 (to get technical, Nebraska hasn't had one since joining the conference, but the Huskers have had a couple since the 2009 line of demarcation we're using).

And top-10 picks are even better than first-round picks. But, of course, no Big Ten school can brag about that. For a conference that's always in competition with the SEC — and the dominance has been so seemingly one-sided that Alabama head coach Nick Saban sparked outrage when he called the Big Ten "good" recently — that kind of stat could be somewhat embarrassing.

But still, it was a fine night for the Big Ten on Thursday. And the numbers that will be even more meaningful are the ones these four players could put up with their new teams.