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First-round draft drought hits historic level for Texas

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For the first time in the modern era, the Horns haven’t had a first-round pick for four straight years.

NFL: NFL Draft-City Views Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

“Longhorn nation, we’re baaaack.”

The confident declaration from Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger following the Sugar Bowl win over the Georgia Bulldogs only marked one way in which the Horns are back in the national spotlight as a football program.

Beyond maintaining and even elevating the level of play on the field, one major next step for Texas is to once again produce first-round draft picks. When the first round ended in Nashville late Thursday evening, the Longhorns didn’t have a player selected for the fourth consecutive season, the school’s longest such stretch since the last streak without a first-round draft pick ended in 1964, concluding a seven-year period without a first-round draft pick.

In other words, it’s the only time in the modern era, which began in 1970 with the merger of the AFL and NFL, that Texas has gone four years without a first-round draft pick.

By contrast, Baylor, Houston, TCU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and UTSA have all produced first-round draft picks during that stretch. Yes, even the Roadrunners, a program that didn’t even exist a decade ago and started play in 2011.

And the last first-round selection for Texas barely made the cut — defensive tackle Malcom Brown was selected by the New England Patriots with the final pick of the first round in 2015. Since safety Earl Thomas was selected with the 14th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the only first-round pick from Texas other than Brown was safety Kenny Vaccaro in 2013.

Of course, this streak ending isn’t as embarrassing as failing to have a player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, the only time at least one Texas product wasn’t selected since 1938. That ignominious distinction was magnified by the fact that defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat won the Ted Hendricks award as the nation’s top defensive end, making him the only Hendricks award winner between 2002 and 2013 who wasn’t selected. Only three others failed to go in the first round. Unsurprisingly, each of the five winners since Jeffcoat were all selected in the third round or higher.

Last year, another sad streak ended when Connor Williams became the first offensive lineman from Texas selected since Tony Hills in 2008. So there’s that.

Overall, the fact that two major streaks of success ended within a five-year stretch is a sign of where the program has been and where it still remains, at least in regards to the NFL Draft.

Will Texas have a first-round pick next year? Not unless wide receiver Collin Johnson or safety Brandon Jones can play themselves into the top 32 picks. Since Johnson is currently ranked as the No. 2 wide receiver with a projected range of rounds 1-3 by WalterFootball.com, there’s a possibility that he could stop the streak.

Because that streak exists and may continue to exist a year from now, the Longhorns aren’t truly back until the program is once again producing first-round selections on a consistent basis. Until then, Texas is just damaging the league’s reputation for producing top talent.