On Thursday, the 2017 NFL Draft kicked off with the first round. As is now custom, there were no Texas Longhorns selected, and only one player from the Big 12 Conference.
This is a problem.
It’s a problem for the Longhorns because it illustrates the lack of talent in the program recently — running back D’Onta Foreman will likely be the only pick this year, the second straight year that Texas will have only player selected. In 2014, the ‘Horns had the nation’s longest draft streak snapped when Hendricks Award winner Jackson Jeffcoat slid entirely out of the seven rounds.
Since safety Earl Thomas was picked by the Seahawks in the first round in 2010, fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro was the only first-round selection from Texas, back in 2013.
On the offensive side, there hasn’t been a Longhorns offensive player selected in the first round since Vince Young in 2006. An offensive lineman out of Austin hasn’t been picked at any point since 2008.
The hope is that these problems quickly correct themselves as the talent from the recent classes matures and becomes draft eligible, but there are also some larger problems.
The biggest is the talent drain from the Longhorns and the Big 12 Conference as a whole — three of the first six picks in the draft came from the state of Texas, the Metroplex, in fact, but only one of them attended an in-state school and none of them attended Texas.
Those players — Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, and LSU safety Jamal Adams — were all illustrative of the ongoing issues with Texas football.
Garrett had family ties to the Aggies and never seriously considered the ‘Horns, so it’s hard to chalk that one up as a loss, but the coaching change in late 2013 played a large role with Adams and Thomas, who both profiled as guys who had a high likelihood of ending up in Austin in a more normal recruiting cycle.
Adams recently admitted that Mack Brown’s lack of job security was a major reason why he picked LSU. Thomas never considered the Longhorns after Brown was fired.
Charlie Strong’s success in the 2015 and 2016 classes in landing top prospects in the state ameliorated some of the long-term concerns, so a quick look at one early mock draft reveals Malik Jefferson at No. 12 as the only Texas product in the first round other than SMU wide receiver Courtland Sutton, a player who was universally overlooked by big schools.
However, the 2017 class, another transition year, may end up looking a lot like this draft — only four of the top-20 prospects elected to remain in the state, an absolutely devastating result for Texas and the rest of the Big 12.
Local product Sam Ehlinger, the early enrollee quarterback who grew up a Texas fan, was the highest-rated commit for the Longhorns at No. 20 in the Lone Star State.
Even Texas A&M struggled to find much success, with linebacker Anthony Hines the only signee among those prospects.
So expect a re-hash of this discussion during the 2020 and begin preparing for that unpleasantness now.
As a conference, the Big 12 is largely doomed in the recruiting sense unless TCU and Baylor can experience a resurgence or Oklahoma State suddenly starts translating success in evaluation to more success among top players, which isn’t likely.
That leaves new head coach Tom Herman and the Longhorns facing the highly competitive in-state recruiting landscape with the 2018 class, which could be crucial for the program’s future.
So far, there are only three players committed among the top 24 players in the state, with none of those recruits particularly large misses for Texas. Two are safeties, a position where the ‘Horns are in a good spot with other prospects, and the third is another one of Bruce Matthews’ kids who is predictably following all his older siblings to College Station.
And the crucial battleground in the state — the city of Houston and surrounding areas down to Angleton, the hometown of the state’s No. 2 player, BJ Foster — is an area where the staff should have a great deal of success after spending two years at Houston.
In fact, 12 of the top 15 players in the state are from the greater Houston footprint.
If recruits start committing from the Houston area, this class could eventually emerge as one of the top groups in the nation.
In such a scenario, the short-term future of the Texas program would appear much more promising and the 2021 and 2022 drafts would feature much more celebrating than concern.
After the last few years, that would be a pleasant change of pace.