On the surface, the NFL Draft didn’t treat the Big 12 well this year. The conference produced 26 total picks, tying the ACC for last among the Power Five leagues.
On the other hand, on a per-team basis, the Big 12 averaged 2.6 picks per squad. That put the conference ahead of the ACC and on par with the Pac-12. As such, the talent drain supposedly plaguing the Big 12 may be a little overblown to this point.
That doesn’t mean there’s not some truth to it, though. The 2017 class from the Big 12 looks a little light on NFL-caliber players.
Power Five Conference 2017 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch
ACC I Big 12 I Big Ten I Pac-12 I SEC I Notre Dame
Here are the 25 standouts (in alphabetical order) from the Big 12 most likely to draw the interest of scouts on the next level.
Mark Andrews, WR/TE, Oklahoma (So., 6-5, 244)
The Sooners are counting on Andrews to replace some of the receiving production leaving the program with Sterling Shepard’s graduation. The size and athleticism of the redshirt sophomore gives defenders fits in one-on-one matchups, and he has shown he can beat defenses going over the middle and playing outside.
Orlando Brown, OL, Oklahoma (So., 6-8, 357)
After redshirting in 2014, Brown won the starting left tackle gig for the Sooners a year later. Another year in Norman might help polish the rough edges on Brown’s game just enough to motivate the big fella to move on to the big leagues.
Jordan Burton, OLB, Oklahoma State (Sr., 6-2, 215)
Burton came to Oklahoma State from junior college as a safety, but Cowboys defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer turned him into a disruptive outside linebacker. Burton notched 98 tackles last season as a result. His background as a defensive back should sell itself for pro teams looking for linebackers who can also cover.
KD Cannon, WR, Baylor (Jr., 6-0, 180)
This should be the season Cannon makes the leap from “Corey Coleman’s sidekick” to “legitimate superstar.” The Baylor wide receiver is aptly named, given his explosiveness.
Josh Carraway, DE/OLB, TCU (Sr., 6-4, 250)
It only seems like Carraway has been a Horned Frog for eight years. He actually has another year of eligibility left, which is bad news for the rest of the Big 12. His frame makes him an intriguing prospect as a 3-4 outside linebacker who can potentially spin down as a pass rusher on third downs.
Jordan Evans, ILB, Oklahoma (Sr., 6-2, 233)
Evans stepped in for the Sooners at inside linebacker two years ago when returning starter Frank Shannon was lost for the season. Even with Shannon back in action a year later, the ultra-athletic Evans held on to the job all year. With leaders such as Zack Sanchez and Eric Striker now gone, Evans has a chance to solidify his resume by becoming more of a vocal presence in the locker room.
Kyle Fuller, OL, Baylor (Sr., 6-5, 310)
Spencer Drango’s graduation means Baylor head coach Art Briles will rely on Fuller to anchor the Bears’ offensive line.
Travin Howard, LB, TCU (Jr., 6-1, 190)
A junior, Howard will likely need another year learning under Gary Patterson before he heads off to the big leagues. Patterson understands slowing modern passing games about as well as any defensive strategist alive, and he passes that wisdom on to his players. Eventually, that will earn Howard, who tallied 105 tackles as a sophomore, a shot at the next level.
Blake Jarwin, TE, Oklahoma State (Sr., 6-5, 248)
Tight ends may be dying out, especially in pass-happy leagues like the Big 12. But the Cowboys have a good one in Jarwin, however, a member of the All-Big 12 first team last season.
Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State (Jr., 6-5, 223)
A former five-star recruit, Lazard’s combination of size and receiving skills will have NFL talent evaluators making the rare trek to Ames. Count on Cyclones first-year head coach Matt Campbell making Lazard the focal point of an offense bereft of playmakers.
Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor (Sr., 5-9, 200)
Baylor’s robust passing stats get all the pub, but Linwood’s power running keeps defenses honest. His durability may raise some questions among scouts, but watching him run for nearly seven yards a pop last year will still keep Linwood on most draft boards.
Patrick Mahomes II, QB, Texas Tech (Jr., 6-3, 219)
This might be a year early for the Red Raiders’ junior quarterback. His athleticism and arm strength are intriguing, though. By the end of the season, Mahomes might turn out to be the Big 12 QB NFL teams want most.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (Sr., 6-1, 212)
His small stature won’t do Mayfield many favors when draft day comes. However, his impact on the OU program is tough to ignore. That may spark some interest from the NFL.
Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma (So., 6-1, 226)
An ugly off-the-field incident in which he punched a female OU student during his freshman year will raise red flags around Mixon for some NFL teams. When it comes to his on-the-field profile, however, Mixon has all the attributes of the all-around running backs now populating rosters around pro football: size, speed, shakes and an ability to catch the ball coming out of the backfield. This is likely his final year in Norman.
Tyler Orlosky, OL, West Virginia (Sr., 6-4, 295)
West Virginia’s center earned a spot on the All-Big 12 second team in 2015. This year, he’ll lead a veteran offensive line in Morgantown.
Steven Parker, DB, Oklahoma (Jr., 6-1, 208)
Yet another possible early entrant from the Sooners. Following an off-and-on freshman campaign in 2014, Parker grew into arguably OU’s best defender last season. He’s solid in coverage and run support, and he might be the top defensive player in the Big 12 this year.
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma (Jr., 5-10, 234)
A battering ram of a running back, Perine burst onto the national scene as a freshman when he set the NCAA record for rushing yards in a game. While splitting time with Mixon last year, Perine continue to pound out yards on the ground and developed as a blocker. He already has nearly 500 carries through just two seasons at OU.
Kent Perkins, OL, Texas (Sr., 6-5, 320)
The Longhorns’ dry spell in April likely won’t end next year. Charlie Strong gradually began turning the program over to his own recruits last season, so the number of draft-eligible contributors on the roster at this point is miniscule. Perkins is one of the few exceptions among the holdovers from the Mack Brown era, and he’ll have a shot to hear his name called with a strong 2016 campaign.
Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State (Jr., 6-5, 235)
Rudolph definitely has the size that NFL franchises covet in their quarterbacks. OSU’s field general showed flashes in his first two seasons in Stillwater of the other tools he’ll need to play at the next level. Probably not enough to leave early, but a big year in 2016 could send him shooting up draft boards.
Seth Russell, QB, Baylor (Sr., 6-3, 220)
A neck injury short-circuited what was shaping up to be a fantastic year for Baylor’s quarterback. That will scare off some teams, but a healthy – and productive – 2016 will once again renew interest in Russell.
Fish Smithson, DB, Kansas (Sr., 5-11, 190)
Getting noticed by the pros at a program like Kansas probably feels like swimming upstream, but Smithson’s penchant for making plays all over the field will probably garner a look at the next level.
Jordan Sterns, DB, Oklahoma State (Sr., 6-0, 200)
A tackling machine at the safety position, Sterns’ all-around game will attract his fair share of attention from NFL scouts.
Jordan Thomas, DB, Oklahoma (Jr., 6-0, 187)
Zack Sanchez’s penchant for big plays put him in the spotlight last year, but Thomas’ play was equally important to the Sooners’ improvement in defending the pass. If he continues on his upward trajectory, Thomas will have a tough call to make at the end of the 2016 season.
Charles Walker, DL, Oklahoma (Jr., 6-2, 200)
The entire nation found out just how important Walker was to OU’s defense in 2015 when a concussion sidelined him against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners’ defensive front struggled to stand its ground against the Tigers’ punishing run game as Deshaun Watson and Co. repeatedly went after Walker’s replacements. Given Walker’s injury history, a healthy season this fall will almost assure he’s heading for the draft next spring.
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State (6-0, 205)
Another potential early entrant from OSU. Washington is continuing the long line of talented receivers to come through Mike Gundy’s program. He came into his own last season as a deep threat, averaging 20.5 yards per catch.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.