Pac-12 winners, losers, trends and takeaways from the 2020 NFL Draft

Had the NFL Draft been governed by Little League rules, it would have been called after the first round.

Oh, mercy.

The SEC accounted for 15 first-round picks, a draft record and one less than the other Power Five conference combined.

And the beating didn’t end there.

*** Total picks in the top-three rounds:

SEC: 40 (also a record)
Big Ten: 17
Pac-12: 12
Big 12: 12
ACC: 8

*** Total picks for all seven rounds:

SEC: 63 (not a record, but close)
Big Ten: 48
Pac-12: 32
ACC: 27
Big 12: 21

Sure, the SEC has more members than the Pac-12 and Big 12. But adjust for the number of teams, and the Mercy Rule is required here, as well.

*** Picks per team (all rounds):

SEC: 4.5
Big Ten: 3.4
Pac-12: 2.7
Big 12: 2.1
ACC: 1.9

On a relative basis, the Pac-12 fared better than the Big 12 and ACC.

But this space is focused on the Pac-12, and from that perspective, we have three takeaways:

1) Let’s avoid sweeping conclusions from the SEC’s draft dominance.

It has owned the draft for more than a decade, and no right-thinking football observer would dispute the depth of talent in the conference.

The 2020 totals are but one component of a broader canvass that frames the Pac-12’s challenges.

Other pieces to that equation include the expanding resource disparity, ominous recruiting trends — so many top West Coast prospects leaving the footprint — and the lack of playoff berths compared to other Power Fives.

2) Within the 2020 draft totals, however, is something that speaks to a yellow alert:

Stanford: two players drafted
USC: two players drafted
Washington: two players drafted

Those schools have helped power the Pac-12 over differing draft timeframes: Washington recently, Stanford in the first half of the 2010s, and USC over the decades.

If their pipelines to the NFL are dry in any given year, the overall quality of play in the conference likely will be mediocre.

3) One other matter of concern for the conference seems worthy of mention here:

USC offensive tackle Austin Jackson was the only lineman selected in the top-three rounds.

Put another way: Of the top-100 prospects available in the 2020 draft, as defined by the NFL, only one played on the line of scrimmage in the Pac-12.

The SEC had five linemen picked in the first round.

The Big Ten had six picked in the top-two rounds.

The Big 12, which isn’t known for its play at the line of scrimmage, had three linemen picked in the top 100.

Of all the challenges facing Pac-12 football — from the lack of exposure on the Pac-12 Networks to the nine-game conference schedule to the resource gap — the lack of elite offensive/defensive line talent, both within the recruiting footprint and on the team rosters, is as significant as any.

For our money, it’s No. 1.

To the draft winners and losers …

Winner: Star system. Of the 32 players picked in the first round, 21 received four- or five-star ratings. That’s a fairly high hit rate considering there are relatively few four/five-star players out of the total number of recruits in a given year.

Loser: Running backs. It used to be the glamour position in the NFL. No longer: Only 16 running backs were selected — just over two per round. And the first off the board, LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, was the final pick of the first round.

Winner: SEC West. Based on selections made by NFL talent evaluators, the division was as loaded as it appeared during the season: Alabama, Auburn and LSU combined for 11 first-round picks — more than twice the total of the Big Ten and Big 12 (five each).

Loser: ACC Coastal. Seven teams combined for just 11 picks, and four came from one school: Miami. The other six teams produced seven selections. It was essentially a talent wasteland.

Winner: Utah. The Utes led the Pac-12 with seven picks, and nobody else was close. Over the past two years, Utah has 12 selections — just off the pace set by the blue bloods. No coaching staff in the conference does a better job identifying talent that fits the system, and then developing that talent.

Loser: Pac-12 North. Each division generated 16 selections, but the tilt was unmistakable at the top of the draft: The North had just two players picked in the first three rounds (Oregon QB Justin Herbert and Cal S Ashtyn Davis), while the South had 10 high-round selections.

Winner: Cal. The Bears had three players picked (Davis, S Jaylinn Hawkins and LB Evan Weaver), which was more than Washington, Stanford and USC. Other than Utah, no program does a better job on the development side.

Loser: Arizona. The only program in the conference that didn’t produce a draft pick, and this was hardly the Wildcats’ first shutout: They have been blanked three times in the past eight drafts. It’s a tough gig — a basketball school in a college town without a deep well of local talent. But the Wildcats have done themselves no favors with their in-state recruiting strategy in recent years.

Winner: Mike Leach. He gone, but the legacy lives on: Washington State won six games with one draft pick, continuing a trend of doing more (winning) with less (NFL talent) than just about any program in the country. In the past five seasons, the Cougars have 43 wins. In the past five drafts, they have seven selections.

Loser: USC. The Trojans had two picks — two! That’s their lowest total since 2002 and only half the number of selections as Temple. Yes, USC had a small senior class and many juniors opted to return. But that’s exactly the point, folks: The player development has been lacking.

Winner: Justin Herbert. He went sixth to the Chargers, as expected, and in our view will be a better pro than many believe. Combine the Pistol formation (sub-optimal for his skills) with a mediocre cast of receivers (all those drops) and the ground-and-pound style favored by Mario Cristobal, and Herbert’s talent wasn’t quite maximized.

Loser: Jacob Eason. He wasn’t ready for the NFL (everyone knew it), left school anyhow (his prerogative) and dropped to the middle of the fourth round (no surprise). The past six months — the past three years, in fact — have been wholly forgettable. We wish him well in the next chapter.

Winner: Austin Jackson. Nice to see Jackson land in the first round after donating bone marrow to his sister last summer and playing at less than his best physically.

Loser: ASU tailback Eno Benjamin. Fell all the way to the seventh, which was mystifying. We view Benjamin as a better prospect (better hands, better burst, more durable) than Utah tailback Zack Moss, who went in the third round.

Winner: Arizona Cardinals. For drafting Benjamin.

Loser: L.A. schools. It’s not a one-team problem in a two-team town. UCLA, which has generated more draft picks over the decades than Florida State, Auburn and Clemson, isn’t carrying its weight, either. The Bruins (three) and Trojans (two) combined to produce as many draft picks as, um, err, Minnesota.

Winner: Pac-12 receivers. Not a plentiful source of high-end talent in recent years, the position more than held its own this weekend: ASU’s Brandon Aiyuk, USC’s Michael Pittman and Colorado’s Lavish Shenault (all three previewed here) were gone in the first 42 picks and accounted for three of the conference’s first five selections.

* Coming Monday: Our preview of the top Pac-12 prospects for the 2021 draft.

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