It’s not just New Year’s Day that’s tortured the Big Ten in recent years. Draft Day also has provided angst for Jim Delany.
The 2013 draft presented a nightmare scenario for the conference. It took 30 picks before a Big Ten player was selected – Wisconsin center Travis Frederick to the Cowboys – and the next two days didn’t generate marked improvement. In all, only 22 Big Ten players were drafted, the league’s worst showing since 1994.
The Big Four of Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska had a combined 10 players drafted. As the Big Ten wilted, the SEC flexed its muscle with a record 63 draft picks, nearly one-fourth of the 254 players taken. Twelve were taken in the first round, including three from Alabama.
This all occurred in a year when the first overall pick came Central Michigan. M-A-C!
As the Big Ten’s stature and national reputation came under fire, so too did its presence on Sundays. But Thursday night represented a step in the right direction. It’s still been six years since the conference had a top-10 pick – the MAC’s had two in as many years – but four first-rounders softened the blow.
Michigan’s Taylor Lewan (11th to Tennessee), Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier (15th to Steelers) and Bradley Roby (31st to Denver), and Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard (24th to Cincinnati) all went on Day 1 in the NFL’s first May draft.
Of the 30 players invited to attend the draft at Radio City Music Hall, five hail from the Big Ten – Lewan, Shazier, Roby, Ra’Shede Hageman (Minnesota) and Cody Latimer (Indiana).
The SEC led all conferences with 11 first-round picks. Texas A&M and Louisville were the team leaders with three, but the Buckeyes were close behind, with Carlos Hyde and Jack Mewhort expected to go Friday night in the second and third rounds.
The 2014 draft is the 19th time Ohio State’s had multiple players taken in the first round.
It wasn’t a surprise to hear Shazier’s name called. At 15 to Pittsburgh was a bit unexpected. Most analysts pegged him later in the draft and there wasn’t much chatter involving Pittsburgh.
“What we needed was a defensive playmaker, and he fits the bill in that regard,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “Not only in terms of his skill set, but also what he did on the field. He was a highly productive football player. He gets after the quarterback and has made plays in coverage as well. We needed a defensive playmaker.”
Denver drafted a player at different position, but Roby can also be best described as a defensive playmaker. There were murmurs about his off-field troubles catching up to him, and when TCU’s Jason Verrett was picked 25th by San Diego, a team Roby had visited and been linked to, the trepidation appeared accurate.
Instead, the reigning AFC champions grabbed Roby with the second-to-last pick of the first round.
“I did not have any indication [Denver would pick me],” Roby said. “I did not come on a visit. But I think it will be a great place for me.
“I am not a bad guy. In both situations, I never committed a crime. I’m not a bad guy. You won’t have to worry about me off the field. These two incidents taught me about being aware when you are in public.”
Hyde, Mewhort, Hageman, Latimer and Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska) are projected to be the Big Ten’s Day 2 picks.
“The SEC is going to have the most draftees. I would think at least a dozen more than any other league,” NFL Network’s Mike Huguenin said last week. “I think the ACC will be second. The Big Ten and Pac-12 will be vying to have the third-most selections. No matter who you pull for in the Big Ten, you should be happy Urban Meyer and James Franklin now are coaching in your league. Those two are going to make every coach in the league pay more attention on the recruiting trail, and that is going to pay off Saturdays in the fall and on draft day.”