Big 12 Quarterbacks and the N.F.L. Draft
By Paul Myerberg // Apr 14, 2012
Here’s the theory floated by The Big Lead’s Jason McIntyre: Pull back the throttle on the Robert Griffin III hype machine, because while he had a superb junior season, his numbers were inflated significantly by the poor brand of pass defense played in the Big 12. The same could be said of former Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has rocketed up N.F.L. draft charts, as well as former Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, wrote Jason. As evidence, he points to the fact that not one Big 12 team ranked in the top 30 nationally in pass defense.
Jason also notes how the Big 12 has largely failed to put a top-tier quarterback into the N.F.L. since the league was formed in 1996. There’s no debating that point: Brad Smith and Chase Daniel were all-timers at Missouri, but neither has made their mark as a quarterback on the next level — though Smith has carved out a niche as a do-everything wide receiver. Jason White, Zac Robinson, Chris Simms and so on down the line: it’s a long list.
The argument holds water, but it’s not because pass defenses in the Big 12 aren’t as stout as those found in the SEC. In a good number of instances, Big 12 quarterbacks struggle on the next level because few spent their college years in a pro-style system; as a result, many find it hard — if not impossible — to relearn on the fly, under pressure and scrutiny, even the basic skills needed to be an N.F.L. quarterback.
Vince Young is a great example. The physical gifts were nearly unparalleled. As a runner, he moved the chains as well as any quarterback in recent N.F.L. history. But in a pro-style system, even one tweaked to fit his skill set, Young was a round peg in a square hole. A perfect fit for the spread offense at Texas, he’s not a pro-style N.F.L. quarterback.
Where I think Jason’s argument hits a slight snag is in his belief that Griffin, Tannehill and Weeden are overvalued as draft prospects because of the weak pass defenses in the Big 12. You need to ask the question: Were Big 12 quarterbacks good because Big 12 pass defenses were bad, or were pass defenses bad because the quarterback play was so good?
A little from both columns, to be honest. It’s true that only one team, Texas, at 41st, ranked among the top 50 teams in the F.B.S. against the pass. Only two, Texas and Texas Tech, ranked among the top 70. Four teams ranked among the bottom 20: Baylor, Kansas, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. This does point to the idea that Big 12 quarterbacks feasted on opposing defensive backs during conference play.
One potential issue with Jason’s argument is that of the top 30 pass defenses in college football last fall, only three played against a Big 12 offense: Rutgers played Iowa State, Florida State played Oklahoma and Miami (Fla.) played Kansas State. Holding up Iowa State and Kansas State as examples of the Big 12 as a whole doesn’t work; the Cyclones finished 73rd nationally in passing, the Wildcats 108th.
But Oklahoma did finish fifth, averaging a hair less than 350 passing yards per game, but was held to 199 yards, a touchdown and a pair of interceptions in a win over the Seminoles in Tallahassee. So we have that evidence at our disposal. Is it enough to back up Jason’s claim?
No, but neither is the lack of evidence enough to put holes in his theory. We’re stuck in the middle, though the fact that Big 12 quarterbacks have historically not translated well to the N.F.L. might lead some to slow down their praise of the conference’s three top draft prospects.
Another thing we know: the N.F.L. doesn’t fool around. Daniel and former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell put up serious numbers in the Big 12, but neither was drafted. N.F.L. front offices do more leg work when evaluating a prospect — on the field and off — than you can possibly imagine. On a team’s checklist, college production comes farther down the list than you’d think. So if teams love Griffin, it’s not because he tore up the Big 12; it’s because they think he can do the same in the N.F.L.
Tags: Baylor, Big 12, Florida State, Iowa State, Kansas State, Miami (Fla.), Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech
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