Does the 2016 NFL draft have the potential to be the B1G's best in 20 years?
I know, I know. I can hear you already.
“Why are you taking so much stock in a mock draft?”
But I’ll be honest. When I saw Todd McShay’s two-round Mock Draft 4.0, it got me thinking. He tabbed a total of 15 B1G players in the first two rounds, none of whom were major surprises at their respective spots.
In case you haven’t noticed, that hasn’t happened in the B1G in recent memory. In fact, the B1G only had 15 players selected in the first two rounds one time in the last 20 years. Ironically enough, that 2003 season was just like McShay’s mock draft. Six B1G players went in the first round and nine went in the second.
So with that in mind, the question is worth asking. Can this be the B1G’s best draft in the last 20 years?
I should specify why 20 years is the stopping point.
In 1996, the B1G did something that I don’t know if it will ever do again. It produced five of the first nine draft picks. In total, eight B1G players were drafted in the first round and five were taken in the second. Four B1G schools were represented in the first round and six B1G schools had players selected in the first two rounds.
It’s pretty impressive:
- 2. Kevin Hardy, Illinois DE
- 3. Simeon Rice, Illinois LB
- 7. Terry Glenn, Ohio State WR
- 8. Tim Biakabutuka, Michigan RB
- 9. Rickey Dudley, Ohio State TE
- 14. Eddie George, Ohio State RB
- 23. Jeff Hartings, Penn State OG
- 30. Andre Johnson, Penn State OT
- 34. Amani Toomer, Michigan WR
- 35. Mike Alstott, Purdue FB
- 42. Tony Banks, Michigan State QB
- 43. Muhsin Muhammad, Michigan State WR
- 52. Bobby Engram, Penn State WR
Kudos if you remembered that Illinois had two of the top THREE players overall. In the entire 1996 draft, nine B1G players became Pro Bowlers.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that the B1G’s 2016 class, while loaded, isn’t reaching that feat.
That brings us to the competition. The group previously mentioned — the B1G’s 2003 class — also had 15 players selected in the first two rounds. The problem was that the B1G’s top three picks that year didn’t live up to their high selections.
Michigan State WR Charles Rogers went No. 2 overall to the Lions and is considered one of the bigger draft busts ever. Penn State DT Jimmy Kennedy was taken 12th overall and played nine seasons in the NFL, but started only 30 games and played for six different teams. The Bears picked Penn State DE Michael Haynes at No. 14, but he didn’t play in another game after the 2005 season.
Even though that B1G class produced a couple of solid NFL players in Dallas Clark and Larry Johnson, it racked up just three total Pro Bowl appearances. The quantity was there in 2003, but the quality wasn’t.
That’s always the debate when examining a draft class. Some would say that for a team or a conference to have a solid draft, it’s based on strictly what happens in the three-day period. Others would argue that we should wait until four or five years to evaluate a class.
If that’s the case, then the B1G’s 2011 class is in the running. The six B1G first-rounders and four second-rounders were impressive, though not unheard of. But it’s hard to argue with what the top of that class did on the field:
In case you forgot, 2011 was stacked with B1G talent that’s currently thriving in the NFL:
- 11. J.J. Watt, Wisconsin DE
- 16. Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue DE
- 18. Corey Liuget, Illinois DT
- 20. Adrian Clayborn, Iowa DE
- 30. Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin OT
- 32. Cameron Heyward, Ohio State DE
- 47. Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin TE
- 48. Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State C
- 57. Mikel LeShoure, Illinois RB
- 61. Jonas Mouton, Michigan LB
Remember how the three top picks in 2003 either didn’t make it to the end of their rookie contracts or weren’t resigned? Well, Watt, Kerrigan and Liuget each earned extensions with the teams that drafted them for more than $10 million per season. Add in Heyward, who signed a six-year, $59.25-million deal last year, and that’s even more impressive.
Can the 2016 group accomplish that feat? Sure, the potential is there. Joey Bosa might not become J.J. Watt, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he, Jack Conklin, Ezekiel Elliott and any one of the other 12 projected early-round B1G picks became franchise players.
That’s what the draft is really all about — finding franchise players. That obviously doesn’t have to come in just the first two rounds.
Some would argue that seven B1G first-rounders, plus arguably the best quarterback of all-time in Tom Brady, would make the 2000 class the one to beat. Who could forget the likes of LaVar Arrington, Plaxico Burress and Ron Dayne?
Of the first 19 players selected in the 2000 draft, 13 of them were Pro Bowlers. Of the six non-Pro Bowlers in that group, three came from the B1G. On top of that, only one B1G player was selected in the following 60 picks after the first round. Brady was eventually taken in the sixth round, and he was one of six B1G Pro Bowlers in the 2000 class.
But the 2000 B1G draft class wasn’t quite as successful as the 2006 group, which was loaded with even more franchise players:
- 5. A.J. Hawk, Ohio State LB
- 8. Donte Whitner, Ohio State S
- 17. Chad Greenway, Iowa LB
- 20. Tamba Hali, Penn State DE
- 25. Santonio Holmes, Ohio State WR
- 30. Nick Mangold, Ohio State C
- 98. Owen Daniels, Wisconsin TE
- 100. Michael Robinson, Penn State RB
- 135. Rob Ninkovich, Purdue DE
That’s nine franchise players in a draft class, seven of which were Pro Bowlers. In my eyes, that is the B1G’s best draft since 1996.
Some might argue that the 2012 class that had 41 B1G players selected, including Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins, is the best during that stretch. But that argument loses weight when you consider the B1G didn’t have a player selected in the first 22 picks.
The bar is still the 2006 group. And yes, it’s within reach this year.
I do expect the B1G’s 2016 class to have 15 players go off the board in the first two rounds, just like the 2003 class. That would cover one draft class metric. I also expect this year’s group to surpass the 41 total players selected in 2012.
Will it prove to be the best in 20 years? Only time will tell if it can match the dominance of the 2006 group.
But it can definitely happen.