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Column: Analyzing an NFL Draft that brought more parity than you expected

And a Big Ten that’s, well, nicely rounded. 

2022 NFL Draft - Rounds 4-7 Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

When all was said and done Saturday, the Georgia Bulldogs achieved what no program had in the modern draft era: finishing the weekend with 15 players drafted. It was a storybook end to a season that saw the Bulldogs’ first national title in 40+ years and a defeat of their bogeyman, Alabama.

The mark broke Ohio State’s record of 14 players selected in the 2004 NFL Draft (which LSU tied in 2020, when Joe Burrow was taken No. 1-overall). It’s also an indication of a shift in the direction this draft took overall which, in some ways, is a reflection of a college football landscape that might be changing more than we realize.

Some other shocking facts include:

  • Ohio State was not the top team in the Big Ten with just six players drafted in seven rounds. (Of course, two were first-round receivers, so take it with a grain of salt)
  • A Group of Five school — Cincinnati — had nine players drafted, trailing only Georgia and LSU
  • Penn State (the top program in the Big Ten by draft picks) had eight players drafted, edging out Alabama
  • Michigan had the fewest players drafted (5) of any program that made the College Football Playoff this year, despite having two first round picks, including the second-overall pick in Aidan Hutchinson
  • Notre Dame had just two players taken in the draft. Texas had none

Beyond individual programs, when it comes to conference themes, the SEC ran away with things as they’ve done in recent years:

  • SEC: 65 players drafted
  • Big Ten: 48 players drafted
  • Big 12: 25 players drafted
  • Pac-12: 25 players drafted
  • ACC: 21 players drafted

The gap between the SEC and Big Ten (yes, I’m lumping them together) and everyone else has grown into a gulf. That trend reflects the College Football Playoff this season (when the SEC and Big Ten were the only Power Five conferences represented) TV ratings and revenue (where the Big Ten is actually tops, followed by the SEC) and recruiting rankings (where the Big Ten and SEC hold five of the top-six spots for the 2022 class).

Moreover, in a trend that is really good for the conference at large, it’s not just Ohio State anchoring the Big Ten anymore. A dozen Big Ten programs saw multiple players drafted, and Northwestern was the only Big Ten team without a selection in this year’s draft — though it’s possible the Wildcats are still riding high from two first round selections last year, and they’re projected to have another first rounder in 2023 with Peter Skoronski.

The disparity between Ohio State and everyone else when it comes to the conference is dwindling and, while that might seem scary, it behooves the Ohio State team that can run the table and benefit from a strong schedule.

Further, the types of players drafted have bucked once and for all the decades-outdated reputation of the Big Ten for lacking speed. In fact, seven receivers from six Big Ten schools were taken in the draft, including three of six selected in the first round (well, 3.5 if you want to partially claim Jameson Williams). It’s a testament to how deep this receiver class is that Purdue’s David Bell fell to the Cleveland Browns in the third round. Yes, to repeat, the consensus First Team All-American receiver and former Big Ten Freshman of the Year fell to the third round.

When it comes to the others in the Power Five, we’ve known the Big 12 has been on the decline for awhile. Oklahoma, the pride of the conference (for the time being) netted out with seven players, but it would take the 32nd pick in the second round for the first Sooner to come off the board. However, what’s become salient this season is just how much the ACC was relying on Clemson as its anchor in recent years. The Tigers, for what it’s worth, had two picks last weekend.

The Big Ten West alone had almost as many players taken (20) as the whole of the ACC. While we’re on the subject, the Big Ten East beat out the Big 12 and Pac-12 with 28 players selected.

Which brings us to one of the other stories of the first round, when no Big 12 players were taken. As it turns out, Cincinnati, which boasted the No. 4-overall pick in Sauce Gardner, is going to be a much needed addition to the struggling conference.

Despite the Big 12’s struggles, the first round brought more parity than we’ve seen in a long time. The top-six picks represented five different conferences, including the AAC and Pac-12. In all, 25 different programs had players drafted in the first round. Beyond Gardner, other non-Power Five picks included:

  • Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa)
  • Tyler Smith (Tulsa)
  • Cole Strange (Chattanooga)

The only schools with multiple players taken in the first round? Georgia (5), Ohio State (2), Michigan (2) and Alabama (2) — no surprises there.

Overall, the SEC boasted 12 first round selections from seven schools, while the Big Ten had seven picks from five programs. Rounding things out, the Pac-12 had four and the ACC three. And as mentioned, the Big 12 got a big fat zero. It’s a big deal, though, to see a sizable portion of players coming from outside the Power Five. Perhaps, like Cincinnati being part of the CFP this year, it means more of a chance for parity in college football moving forward.

What does all this mean for Ohio State? The downward trend in draft picks is reflective of a down season, just as Georgia’s cornucopia of selections reflects an outstanding one. Of course, Penn State has been taking steady steps to climb the ladder of the Big Ten East, and this solid draft — which included a first round pick Jahan Dotson — might be indicative of a formidable foe for years to come.

However, as alluded to, the major takeaway of the draft, when it comes to the Big Ten, is that the conference is a competitive and well-rounded one — and one that, both collectively and with individual programs like Ohio State, is poised to compete with the best in college football.