Two-hundred-fifty-nine players heard their names called over the weekend during the NFL Draft. Forty-four of them were from the Big Ten, second-most among all conferences.
The SEC broke its own record from 2019 with 65 draft picks, but let’s stick closer to home and focus on the Big Ten.
After seeing its streak of consecutive years with at least one draft pick snapped in 2019, Khalil and Carlos Davis got the Huskers back on the board in 2019 and Nebraska extended that streak this year with two more picks — offensive linemen Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok.
Jaimes went off the board to the Los Angeles Chargers with the 15th pick of the fifth round (159th overall), becoming the highest-drafted Husker since 2016 when Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine went in the third round and Alex Lewis went in the fourth. The Dallas Cowboys selected Farniok with the 10th pick in the seventh round (238th overall).
Nine different Big Ten teams had players selected before Jaimes went off the board. In total, 12 different Big Ten teams had at least one draft pick with Rutgers and Michigan State the only two who got shut out.
Unsurprisingly, Ohio State led the Big Ten with 10 drafted players, though Michigan was right behind the Buckeyes with nine. Penn State was next with six, then Iowa with four, then Northwestern with three including two in the first round. Wisconsin also had three while Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue joined the Huskers with two draft picks apiece. Indiana and Maryland each had one.
In terms of the first round, the talent was spread around with seven players at six different positions. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields got things started at No. 11 (Chicago), Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons heard his name with the next pick (Dallas) and Northwestern offensive tackle Rashawn Slater gave the Big Ten three straight picks (Los Angeles Chargers). Michigan pass rusher Kwity Paye — 21st to Indianapolis — was one of two first-round edge rusher picks in the Big Ten as Penn State’s Odafe Oweh went 31st to Baltimore.
Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II (yes, Northwestern had two first-round picks) went 26th to Cleveland and Minnesota wideout Rashod Bateman followed him at 27 to Baltimore. The Ravens took four Big Ten players in total including those two in the first round, the most of any franchise. The Cowboys, Chargers, Steelers, Washington Football Team and Broncos each drafted three Big Ten players as well.
NFL decision-makers apparently didn’t hold the decision to opt out against elite players as Parson, Slater and Bateman all went in the first round despite choosing not to play during the 2020 season.
Here’s the breakdown of picks by round: seven in the first, four in the second, nine in the third, two in the fourth, 11 in the fifth, five in the sixth and six in the seventh.
The strongest positions were cornerback and linebacker with six picks apiece including one each in the first round as detailed above. Five players listed as offensive guards heard their names called while three tackles and two centers did so as well, giving the Big Ten 10 offensive line draft picks. Six defensive linemen got drafted (four ends, two tackles) and if you add the six linebackers and three edge rushers, the Big Ten had 15 front seven draft picks. Of the seven defensive back picks, only one was a safety. Michigan’s fullback (end of fifth round) and long-snapper (end of sixth round) both got drafted as well.
Four wide receivers, three tailbacks and two tight ends joined Fields to give the Big Ten nine picks from the skill positions.
As a whole, the Big Ten did quite well in the 2021 NFL Draft, which shows how much talent the league has had the last couple of years. It also demonstrates the disparity in talent between the Big Ten East (26 draft picks) and West (18); Ohio State and Michigan combined had the same number of picks as the entire West division.
Scott Frost and Nebraska still have a lot of ground to make up to truly compete in the Big Ten, but the talent appears to be on the rise and with Cam Taylor-Britt and perhaps a couple of others on the NFL radar, Husker fans might have a reason to tune into the draft a bit early than they have in the last few years.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.