Even as the spread offense has made its way to the Big Ten, fans within the conference’s footprint love their “big uglies”. But is the lingering memories of the “three yards and a cloud of dust” days nothing more than nostalgia or is the Big Ten still a leader in producing blue chip NFL prospects?
55 offensive linemen have been drafted in the first round since 2001 – the last year for which a first round offensive lineman is still active in the NFL. Tally them based on their collegiate conference, draft position and NFL starts and you can make a table like this:
|Conference||Draft Picks||Avg Pick||Years*||Starts||Starts/Year|
(*”Years” is taken as years since the draft, not years in the league)
A quick explanation of the methodology. Every situation is different and so no two careers play out in the same way. That being said, the starts/year column attempts to boil it all down to a single number. The years column is a simple counter from the draft to the present that does not stop if a player’s career is cut short. This gives credit to players that are able to start early in their career and rewards longevity. The system doesn’t account for performance beyond the ability to start games so a player like Robert Gallery isn’t docked for being a bust at left tackle since he has been able to stay useful as a guard.
The strength of the Big Ten’s ability to produce NFL offensive linemen shows through in a number of ways. A total of nine former Big Ten offensive linemen have been selected in the first round of the NFL Drafts between 2001 and 2011, tied for second most with the Big XII behind the SEC’s 13. However, the Big Ten leads all conferences with 773 NFL starts since 2001. The conference also boasts one of the highest average draft positions among those first round picks and the 14.6 starts per year number leads the way over the other conferences that have placed more than three offensive linemen in the first round in that time.
There are never any guarantees with any individual draft pick but Big Ten offensive linemen have been relatively safe picks over the last eleven years. Let’s hope the trend continues with Riley Reiff.