The number of underclassmen leaving college early and declaring for the NFL draft is at an all-time high.
While the official list of early departures will be released this weekend, the NFL's unofficial list is over 90 players strong. That will shatter last year’s record of 73.
Yet the Big 12 is practically nonexistent on that list. Only Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro, Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk and Oklahoma State wide receiver Josh Stewart have declared early.
At first glance, that might indicate the Big 12 lacked talent in 2013. As ESPN's Jake Trotter notes the number of early departures from the Big 12 "pales in comparison to other leagues. The SEC alone has 28 players leaving early. The Pac-12 has 25. Even the ACC has 10."
For the record, four players from the Big Ten declared early.
Amaro is the only surefire first-round selection of the three early departures. B/R's Matt Miller, CBSSports and NFL.com's panel of draft experts have Amaro being taken somewhere in the mid- to late-first round in their recent mock drafts.
|Name||School||Matt Miller (B/R)|
|CB Justin Gilbert||Oklahoma State||Round 1, Pick 10 (Detroit Lions)|
|TE Jace Amaro||Texas Tech||Round 1, Pick 21 (Green Bay Packers)|
|CB Jason Verrett||TCU||Round 1, Pick 25 (San Diego Chargers)|
Does that, by itself, mean the Big 12 was low on NFL talent? Not necessarily.
It's worth considering who experts believe is a first-round talent regardless of classification. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, a Thorpe Award finalist, is projected to go off the board in the first round by draft experts, as is TCU cornerback Jason Verrett. Gilbert and Verrett are both seniors.
Besides, declaring early doesn't mean an athlete is NFL-ready. As Miller tweets, the record number of draft-eligible sophomores and juniors indicates there may be a lot of bad information being fed:
110 players at the Senior Bowl, 96 underclassmen and only 256 draft picks. Lot of wake up calls coming via bad information.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 16, 2014
Other than the SEC, which continues to be a leader in NFL talent, all other major conferences in college football are projected to have anywhere from two to six players drafted in the first round, per the mock drafts cited.
Of course, there's a lot of time between now and draft day. Stocks can fall and rise quickly. Still, considering 2013 was viewed as a "down year," the Big 12 is generally on par with the rest of major college football in terms of perceived first-round talent.
For that matter, down years are typically a result of turnover. The Big 12 had 22 players drafted last year, the same number as the Big Ten. (The ACC had 31 players drafted, but 11 came from Florida State.)
Among those who moved on to the NFL were West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and receiver Tavon Austin; Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, receiver Kenny Stills and lineman Lane Johnson; Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro; and Baylor receiver Terrance Williams.
Those are some big names who are making an immediate impact in the pros. Many of them were seniors when they left.
So what the Big 12 may lack in early departures this year, it could make up for next year—especially at the quarterback spot. David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest writes that every Big 12 team will return a quarterback who started in 2013.
It starts with Baylor's Bryce Petty, who could have left early but decided to return for his senior year. He could be one of the first quarterbacks taken in next year's draft. The Bears' leading receiver, Antwan Goodley, is coming back for another year as well.
Similarly, Texas got a boost when defensive end Cedric Reed, running back Malcolm Brown and cornerback Quandre Diggs announced earlier this month they would be returning for their senior seasons.
These are just a couple of examples, but there are some quality players coming back.
Between the players returning and the seniors who are departing, the Big 12 was hardly void of talent this year.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football.