2011 NFL Draft: Power Ranking the College Conferences By Draft Talent
As we quickly approach the end of the NFL season, it's time to start looking ahead to every football fan's favorite offseason event: the NFL Draft.
You've all seen plenty of mock drafts so far, including a few of my own, so I won't load you down with another one of those, but I will help you prepare for April's festivities in a different sort of way.
The college football regular season may be over, but bowl season is just around the corner, which means that everyone is starting to gear up for the last hoorah of great college football before many of today's stars head off to the NFL (providing that labor talks improve, fingers crossed).
So then, let's break down the conferences with the best draft talent, so you know which games to keep your eyes on and which games to, well, avoid.
11. Sun Belt Conference
Now we all know that the Sun Belt Conference is down there with the MAC under "FBS conferences that no one cares about." But every now and then great talent comes out of the Sun Belt and heads for the NFL.
This is not one of those years.
In all of my searching, there was really only one player in the entire Sun Belt Conference that seemed like quality draft talent, and that is Troy wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan, who appears to be a mid-round selection at best.
Troy always manages to produce some surprises, but it seems like the Sun Belt will spend another year at the bottom of this list.
10. Mid-American Conference
Following in the tradition of the Sun Belt Conference, the MAC doesn't have much draft talent to go on, boasting perhaps two or three prospects worthy of being taken during the Draft.
They ultimately get the bid over the Sun Belt simply because there is more potential in this draft. Temple has a player or two with promise and you never know what is going to come out of Kent State.
9. Conference USA
He may not end up going out for the draft this year, but Case Keenum makes all the difference in this one.
Conference USA usually boasts some draft talent every year (although many, like Shawnbrey McNeal last year, fall too far), but Keenum may be their only bet this year and, should he go, he could end up being a steal.
The injury scares a lot of people off, but Keenum has talent, no doubt about that.
8. Mountain West Conference
The Mountain West Conference is lucky that Boise State will be stepping in to fill the talent void that will be left by TCU.
TCU makes up most, if not all, of the real professional prospects coming out of the MWC with OG Marcus Cannon and underrated quarterback Andy Dalton likely entering the draft this year.
There is some fringe talent bouncing around the rest of the conference, but not enough to put it above our next conference, which is...
7. Big East
...the Big East!
In another year or so, this will be a different story (mostly because of UConn running back Jordan Toddman, who doesn't seem to be headed for the draft this April).
For now, though, the Big East is nothing more than a few faces. Sure you have guys like Robert Sands and Noel Devine out of West Virginia, or Jonathan Baldwin and Jabaal Sheard out of Pitt, but the Big East really lacks top-end defensive talent, as well as a solid group of mid-range prospects.
There will be good players coming out of the Big East, but not many, and that may be it for them.
6. Western Athletic Conference
Surpise! Just kidding...
I considered putting the Big East here, but, after due consideration, it just seems like the WAC fits here, doesn't it?
There are plenty of legitimate prospects coming from the big schools, like Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua from Nevada, Titus Young from Boise State, and Brandon Burton coming from Utah, but the WAC really lacks full-conference depth in terms of draft talent.
Keep your eyes on the WAC, though, because there are certainly a few draft sleepers sitting around in there.
5. Big Ten
This is where things start to get complicated, because the top five conferences really have a lot of talent and are quite similar in terms of talent make up.
The Big Ten ends up at No. 5 simply because it lacks full conference depth. Teams like Minnesota, Indiana and Northwestern don't have much to offer in the way of NFL talent.
The other teams, though, have some real star power, including guys like Ryan Kerrigan, Adrian Clayborn, and Cameron Heyward. The Big Ten is lacking a bit in offensive power, though.
4. Atlantic Coastal Conference
Boy, it really is getting hard to differentiate at this point.
The thing that is keeping the ACC down here is the fact that it doesn't have a traditional reputation like the SEC, Pac-10, and Big 12 of producing NFL quality talent.
That having been said, though, the ACC is boasting a lot of big players this year, from Robert Quinn (DE, North Carolina), to Anthony Costanzo (OT, Boston College), to Ras-I Dowling (CB, Virginia).
There is a lot to like about the ACC this year, and I am really tempted to move it up, but it just seems barely below the top three.
3. Big 12
With guys like Prince Amukamara, Von Miller, Nate Solder, Aaron Williams, and Jeremy Beal all expected to go in the first round, what is there not to like about the draft talent prospects coming out of the Big 12 this year?
It has a lot of high and mid level talent, and the conference is deep with it.
The only thing holding it back is the fact that, well, the SEC and the Pac-10 just seemed to dominate the draft boards this year. It isn't anything that the Big 12 did wrong. It just came up a tad bit short in the end.
This is another one of those cases where it really has nothing to do with how great the conference is. It just doesn't quite have...enough.
The Pac-10 boasts the consensus No. 1-overall draft eligible player in Andrew Luck, but it has really dominated draft talk this year, from all schools and on both sides of the ball.
The Pac-10 has a top quarterback (Andrew Luck), a top wide receiver (Ronald Johnson), a top offensive lineman (Tyron Smith), top running backs (LaMichael James or Jacquizz Rodgers), a top fullback (Owen Marecic), and that's just on the offensive side of the ball.
On defense, the Pac-10 boasts guys like Akeem Ayers, Stephen Paea, and Rahim Moore. There's more than enough talent in the Pac-10 to go around, and it is poised to put at least six to eight guys on teams in the first round. That's just impressive.
Honestly, did you see anyone else here?
Being a Stanford student, I desparately wanted to make the case for the Pac-10 to be at the top, but the more I looked, the more I couldn't deny the dominance of the SEC.
I haven't broken down a lot of film this year, but the stuff I really have looked at and liked has all come from the SEC. From Patrick Peterson to AJ Green, there is no conference that has more and better talent from top to bottom than the SEC.
The SEC is poised to place the most people on NFL teams this year, with tons of top and mid level talent at practically every position. It more than earn this spot on the list.