opinion: NFL Draft statistics show how Big Ten football faltered in last decade
The Miami Dolphins selected Michigan left tackle Jake Long with the first overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Five picks later, the New York Jets scooped up Ohio State’s Vernon Gholston with the No. 6 selection.
Since then, it’s been a rough road for the Big Ten.
The conference hasn’t placed a player in the top 10 since then, a drought that underscores the Big Ten’s precarious position in college football’s battle for conference supremacy.
That dry spell is expected to continue this week when the NFL Draft begins Thursday night - no Big Ten players are projected to go in the top 10, a consensus shared by almost all draft analysts.
Eight players from the SEC, seven from the Big 12 and five from the ACC have earned top-10 nods since Gholston’s selection. Is the recent draft history an anomaly or emblematic of the Big Ten’s slide? Consider the following statistics from the past 20 years: From 1991 to 2000, the Big Ten produced 21 top-10 picks, SEC schools produced 19 and Big 12 schools 13. In the decade that followed, the conferences went in opposite directions.
From 2001 to 2010, the SEC strengthened its position, sending 24 players into the draft’s top 10. The Big 12 produced 20 top-10 players in that time. The Big Ten had 11.
To recap: from one decade to the next, the Big Ten’s share of the top-10 picks fell by almost half.
Should top-10 draft picks be too narrow a snapshot of the SEC’s rise, look at the conference-by-conference breakdown of first-round draft picks over the same time period. The Big Ten’s didn’t necessarily slide outright, but the SEC has taken a larger share.
From 1991 to 1995, NFL teams selected 25 Big Ten players in the draft’s first round and 24 from SEC teams. In the past five years, 2006 to 2010, the Big Ten again had 25 first-round picks, but the SEC had 36.
In five-year chunks over the past 20 years, the Big Ten stayed stagnant in terms of first-round picks - 25, 26, 27 and 25 - while the SEC made the biggest gains: 24, 32, 31, 36.
The talent gap helps explain why SEC schools have won five consecutive national championships, why Big Ten schools have won only one in 13 years and why the conference went 1-3 in head-to-head bowl games against SEC opponents this past season.
It was after the Big Ten compiled a 1-6 record in the 2008 bowl season that it commenced an expansion process that resulted in the addition of Nebraska to the conference.
How do the numbers move with the Cornhuskers aboard? Interestingly, perhaps ominously, they show similarities to the Big Ten trends in the NFL Draft. In the 10-year draft period from 1991 to 2000, Nebraska produced five top-10 picks and eight first-rounders. In the 10-year period from 2001 to 2010, the Huskers had one top-10 pick - Detroit Lions fans know him well - and three first-rounders over that time.
As many as six SEC players could be drafted in the top 10 in the week ahead while the Big Ten gets shut out again. The SEC's grip on top talent in recent years is clear. There's not much the Big Ten can do about those figures for now, but its challenge in the years ahead is clear.