Big 12 Football: Is 2021 its worst NFL Draft showing ever?

For the first time in league history, the Big 12 failed to produce a first-round selection in the NFL Draft.

In the 2021 NFL Draft, several individual schools such as Alabama, Penn State, and Florida produced multiple first-round picks, while the Big 12 set a mark of futility unknown to the conference since its first players were draft-eligible for the 1997 draft.

The Big 12 had zero players taken in the NFL Draft’s first round for the first time in league history, stretching back to the 1997 draft.

The Crimson Tide had six players taken in the 2021 NFL Draft — equalling a record previously set by the Miami (Fla.) Hurricanes. For other conferences, the SEC had 12 players, the Big Ten had seven players, and the ACC had six players selected in this year’s first round.

Even the American Athletic Conference, a non-power conference, had two selections in this year’s first round — Tulsa’s Zaven Collins at No. 16 to the Cardinals and Houston’s Payton Turner at No. 27 to the Saints.

What’s to explain the dearth of first-round NFL talent for the Big 12 right now?

Schools like TCU, Baylor, and Oklahoma State were relatively down in 2020, while schools like Oklahoma and Iowa State returns a good amount of talent for the 2021 season. In addition, there were a lot of sophomores and juniors named to the 2021 All-Big 12 team — of the 29 players on either offense, defense, or special teams, only seven were seniors (who also had the option to return for an extra year of eligibility, to boot).

It could be the ebb and flow of talent for Big 12 schools, too, that explains the 2021 showing. Five Big 12 players went in the 2020 first round, which was the most for the league since the 2012 NFL Draft.

Several times in recent years, the Big 12 has had only one player selected in the first round, like when Baker Mayfield of OU was taken at No. 1 overall by the Browns in 2018 and when Patrick Mahomes was selected at No. 10 overall in 2017.

The 2010 NFL Draft was the high-water mark for the Big 12, when nine conference players went in the first round. Five of the first six selections were Big 12 players, including the first four picks, headlined by OU’s Sam Bradford at No. 1, Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh at No. 2, OU’s Gerald McCoy and Trent Williams at No. 3 and No. 4, and OSU’s Emmanuel Ogbah at No. 6.

At least seven Big 12 players went in the draft’s first round for three years in a row, from 2009 to 2011.

It’s difficult to call this the worst draft showing in Big 12 history, mainly because it’s only a snapshot of the first 32 picks. Each year, players taken in the later rounds can end up having a significant impact on their NFL teams. It’s only one night, and these players haven’t seen a snap of NFL football yet, but the PR hit is a bad one for the Big 12 as a whole.