Gold: What the draft told us about how the NFL views the Pac-12
The NFL and its 32 general managers let the Pac-12 know exactly what they thought of it in the just-completed NFL Draft this past weekend.
Weak, ineffectual, scrawny.
After what was widely considered to be the league’s most successful season in years, NFL executives made it clear that the Pac-12 remains drastically behind the SEC and the Big Ten and still several notches below the ACC and the Big 12. Even with a resurgent USC and Washington and a typically talented Oregon and Utah, the conference managed just 3 1st-round picks, 6 picks in the top 2 rounds and 27 overall.
Those numbers pale in comparison to the SEC (9/17/62), Big Ten (9/20/55), ACC (4/7/32) and Big 12 (6/9/30).
They say diamonds shape diamonds, and that bore fruit in the draft, especially in a 1st round dominated by the SEC (again) and the Big Ten. While the Pac-12 may boast a ruby or two, it was clear the NFL did not see many fine cut stones from out west. Very little clarity, very little color, and overall the kinds of stones you’d find in a jewelry chop shop.
No, actually, that’s wrong. There’s plenty of clarity: While next year’s draft portends great things to come for the Pac-12, the league was reminded once again this year just where it falls in the pecking order.
Especially up front.
NFL Draft Picks by College Conference
SEC – 62
Big Ten -55
Big 12 -30
Pac 12 -27
Sun Belt -9
FCS/Division II -12
— Phil Steele (@philsteele042) April 30, 2023
Maybe it is some solace to Christian Gonzalez and the Oregon Ducks that he is still being talked about as a top-10 talent, even after going 17th in the draft to the New England Patriots, who, by the way, traded down into the spot.
Entering the draft there was talk of Gonzalez being a top-12 lock, with USC wide receiver Jordan Addison, Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid and Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave all being considered as potential mid-to-late 1st-round picks.
Instead, Addison slipped to Minnesota at pick 23 — the 4th of 4 consecutive wide receivers drafted, not exactly a ringing endorsement — Kincaid went a few picks later to Buffalo and Musgrave went in the 2nd round to Green Bay, joined by UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet (pick 52, Seattle) and USC edge Tuli Tuipulotu (pick 54, Los Angeles Chargers).
Where was Washington State’s terrific linebacker Daiyan Henley? Where was Utah’s brilliant cornerback Clark Phillips III? Where were a host of skilled offensive linemen, who helped protect some of the most prolific passers in the entire country?
Henley went in the 3rd round to the Chargers, while Phillips slipped to Atlanta in the 4th round at pick 113. News flash: There were not 112 players in the draft who are better than Phillips.
He was joined in the 4th by the league’s first offensive line selection, teammate Braeden Daniels, who went 4 picks ahead of the 2nd drafted lineman, UCLA’s Jon Gaines II.
It wasn’t so long ago that Pac-12 linemen littered the NFL Draft. The league wasn’t exactly packed with the beef of the Midwest and the deep south, but the combination of brains and brawn was tantalizing to NFL teams.
Times have changed.
Good for Braeden Daniels, who showed up at Utah and was by no means a lock to be a pro. https://t.co/I7W6EwEbsu
— Josh Newman (@Joshua_Newman) April 29, 2023
From 2011 to 2021, the Pac-12 had 1st-round offensive linemen in 10 of 11 years, with 12 1st-rounders in total.
There was USC’s Tyron Smith in 2011 and Stanford’s David DeCastro in 2012, Oregon’s Kyle Long in 2013 and Stanford’s Andrus Peat in 2015. Then came Stanford’s Joshua Garnett in 2016 and Utah’s Garrett Bolles in 2017, followed by UCLA’s Kolton Miller in 2018 and a pair of Apple Cup rivals in 2019, when Washington State’s Andre Dillard and Washington’s Kaleb McGary both went in the 1st. USC’s Austin Jackson went early in 2020, but not as early as Oregon’s Penei Sewell and USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker in 2021.
The only year in which a Pac-12 hog wasn’t selected in the 1st: 2014, when UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo was drafted with the first pick of the 2nd round, 33rd overall.
The past 2 years? Zero 1st- or 2nd-rounders.
That’s a problem. It’s a problem when some of the league’s best linemen — nationally recognized stars like USC’s Andrew Vorhees and Brett Neilon, Oregon’s Andrew Forsyth, Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu and T.J. Bass, UCLA’s Jon Gaines and Atonio Mafi and Washington State’s Jaxson Kirkland — don’t garner the respect they deserve.
Can’t believe these guys went undrafted:
RB Sean Tucker
RB Keaton Mitchell
WR Rakim Jarrett
WR Jalen Cropper
IOL Emil Ekiyor Jr.
IOL Jaxson Kirkland
EDGE Andre Carter II
EDGE Lonnie Phelps
LB Ivan Pace Jr.
CB Eli Ricks
S Ronnie Hickman
S Brandon Johnson
— UTTMFB (@UpToTheMinuteFB) April 29, 2023
It’s a problem when both the NFL’s best talent evaluators believe only 6 of the Pac-12’s finest are deemed among the top 80 pro-eligible players in the country.
It seems as if the Pac-12’s now 7-year College Football Playoff drought has translated to the next level.
The conference better get back there if it going to silence the doubters — and turn NFL drafters into believers once more.