When the dust from the NFL Draft weekend finally settled, nearly three dozen players from 12 B1G programs had something to celebrate. 35 players from the conference had been selected to move to the professional ranks.
Only two teams failed to send a player to the next level: Maryland and Rutgers.
Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t.
Both programs went through significant changes last year. D.J. Durkin and Chris Ash cut their teeth as head coaches in the B1G, implementing new systems in an effort to rebuild. Neither inherited much NFL-caliber talent.
That’s kind of how it works in these situations. After all, Durkin and Ash were brought in after their predecessors – Randy Edsall (Maryland) and Kyle Flood (Rutgers) – were terminated because of lack of competitiveness on the field. They weren’t given the keys to a factory known for churning out professional football prospects.
And even if they were, there’s no guarantee the draft would’ve gone any different for the Terrapins or Scarlet Knights.
Following Urban Meyer’s first season at Ohio State, the Buckeyes had just three players selected in 2013 NFL Draft. There were no first-round picks. Jonathon Hankins was the first off the board, going to the New York Giants in the second round as the 49th overall pick.
Jim Harbaugh’s first draft class endured the same fate. In the 2016 draft, Only three Wolverines were selected. Devin Funchess was the first Michigan player to be selected, getting picked up by the Carolina Panthers with the 41st pick in the second round.
Most programs would be happy with those numbers. But for Ohio State and Michigan, those totals are far from what’s expected. And those low draft numbers didn’t last long. Last year, Ohio State had 12 players drafted. A few days ago, Michigan had 11.
Churning out NFL prospects by the dozen might not be a realistic possibility at Maryland or Rutgers. There are only a handful of schools capable of doing that on a consistent level. But don’t expect this one-year setback to turn into a drought.
It could end as early as next year for both programs.
Maryland linebacker Jermaine Carter, Jr. decided to return for his senior season after flirting with the NFL Draft. After recording 106 tackles, nine tackles for loss and six sacks in 2016, a solid campaign in 2017 could really catapult his draft stock.
In Piscataway, Janarion Grant is potential threat at receiver and as a return specialist at the professional level. Obviously, the outlook for Grant is dependent on his recovery from a broken ankle that ended his season after four games last fall. But Grant’s speed and vision – which resulted in two special teams touchdowns a year ago – would be an asset for several teams at the next level.
Even if both coaches lacked recognizable NFL-caliber talent headed into the season, it’s unlikely Durkin and Ash wouldn’t develop another guy into a legitimate prospect. They learned how that process works from some of the very best.
Durkin was an assistant coach under Meyer at Florida and landed a job as the defensive coordinator at Michigan on Harbaugh’s staff. Ash also had a stint with Meyer as defensive coordinator at Ohio State. Before that, he was on Bret Bielema’s staff at Wisconsin and Arkansas.
That’s pretty good first-hand access. And both are already putting that knowledge to good use on the recruiting front.
In each coach’s first full recruiting class, the amount of talent coming is a big improvement. Durkin had more success with his 2017 class, signing eight recruits with a four-star rating, per 247 Sports’ composite rankings. While Ash didn’t have quite that much success, he was able to nab three four-star recruits for the class.
Developing those highly-touted recruits into NFL-ready players is typically a smoother transition. You can look at the 19 B1G players who were selected last weekend that were either four-star or five-star recruits heading into college.
On the front end of this process, Durkin and Ash are already making headway. That’s one positive moving forward.
Failing to have any players selected in the draft isn’t an ideal look for Durkin or Ash. Especially as both are trying to build a brand in a top-heavy B1G. It’s far from the end of the world, though. Though it was disappointing, it will be a one-time blip, not a long-term issue.
Maryland and Rutgers won’t have the same problem in the 2018 draft.