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News / Sports / College

Pac-12 posts an impressive haul in NFL draft

43 total players drafted before conference breaks up

By JOSH DUBOW, AP Pro Football Writer
Published: April 30, 2024, 5:34pm
2 Photos
Chicago Bears No. 9 draft pick wide receiver Rome Odunze, left, and No. 1 draft pick quarterback Caleb Williams, right, hold up jerseys as they pose for a photo during an NFL football news conference in Lake Forest, Ill., Friday, April 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y.
Chicago Bears No. 9 draft pick wide receiver Rome Odunze, left, and No. 1 draft pick quarterback Caleb Williams, right, hold up jerseys as they pose for a photo during an NFL football news conference in Lake Forest, Ill., Friday, April 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) Photo Gallery

The final season of the Pac-12 turned out to be as big a hit in the NFL draft as it was on the field.

The conference that is breaking up with 10 schools joining new leagues next season produced a record haul over the draft weekend led by No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams of Southern California.

The Pac-12 produced six of the top 15 players and eight overall first-rounders, trailing only the 11 from the SEC. It was the best total for the Pac-12 since it had nine first-rounders in 2015.

The conference had 43 total players drafted after failing to get more than 28 in the previous three drafts, setting a record for the conference in the seven-round era that started in 1994. The previous high was 39 Pac-12 players picked in 2015. Washington, which was the first Pac-12 team to make the playoff since the 2018 season, led the way with 10.

The Pac-12 had the second most players taken overall, trailing only the 59 for the SEC — which was the lowest total for that conference since the 2018 draft when 53 players were taken.

But it’s a far different story when looked at through the lens of 2024 conference affiliations with Pac-12 holdovers Oregon State and Washington State each having three players taken. The rest get divvied up to other major conferences, along with the moves of Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12 to the SEC.

The SEC still leads the way thanks to boosts from its newcomers with 73 picks, followed by the Big Ten with 69 thanks to the 27 draftees from Washington, Oregon, UCLA and USC.

In all, 55.3% of players drafted over the weekend finished their college careers at schools that will play in the SEC and Big Ten next season.

The top five individual schools were the top five teams in the final College Football Playoff rankings with national champion Michigan leading the way with 13 — the fourth most for any school in the seven-round era.

Texas was next with 11 after making it to the semifinals, with national runner-up Washington and semifinalist Alabama at 10. Florida State, which finished fifth in the final CFP rankings, also had 10 draftees.

There were 11 teams that played in the Power Five last season that had no players who finished their college careers at the school drafted over the weekend.

Syracuse, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech of the ACC; Indiana, Nebraska and Northwestern of the Big Ten; Arizona State and Colorado of the Pac-12; Baylor and Oklahoma State of the Big 12; and Vanderbilt of the SEC had no players picked.

This draft marked the end of the Power Five era that began with the dissolution of Big East football following the 2012 season. In the 11 drafts in that era, the SEC dominated the first round with 116 players picked — nearly doubling the total of 63 from the second-place Big Ten. The ACC had 56, the Pac-12 had 50 and the Big 12 had 26.

Alabama led the way individually with 33 players drafted in the first round during that span, followed by Ohio State with 24, Georgia with 19, Clemson with 16 and LSU with 15.

DOUBLING UP

LSU and Washington both had quarterbacks and receivers from their high-powered offenses go in the top 10 of the draft.

LSU’s Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels went second to Washington and his star receiver Malik Nabers went four spots later to the New York Giants. Washington quarterback Michael Penix and receiver Rome Odunze then went off the board at No. 8 and 9 to Atlanta and Chicago, respectively.

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This was the first time in the common draft era than any school had a quarterback and receiver go in the top 10 of the same draft.

The Tigers also had another receiver, Brian Thomas Jr., go off the board at No. 23 to Jacksonville, marking the fourth time since 1967 that a college had a QB and two receivers taken in the first round of the same draft. Alabama did it in back-to-back years in 2020 and ’21, and LSU did it previously in 2007.

The Bears ended up with both Odunze and No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams, becoming the fourth team in the common draft era to take a QB and receiver in the same first round and the first to do it with two picks in the top 20.

The other teams were the 2010 Broncos (Demaryius Thomas 22nd and Tim Tebow 25th), the 2004 Bills (Lee Evans 13th and J.P. Losman 22nd) and the 1968 Lions (Greg Landry 11th and Earl McCullouch 24th).

HIGH-SKILLED

The Falcons made a surprising choice to draft Penix less than two months after handing a four-year, $180 million contract to Kirk Cousins in free agency.

The pick follows selections made by general manager Terry Fontenot of tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth pick in 2021, receiver Drake London eighth in 2022 and running back Bijan Robinson eighth last season.

Atlanta was the first team in the common draft era to take an offensive skill position player in the top 10 in four straight drafts.

PROTECT THE PASSER

The importance of the passing game was evident by the six QBs that went off the board in the first 12 picks as teams recognize the need for an elite passer.

They also stressed the importance of protecting them with nine offensive linemen being taken in the first round for just the fourth time since at least 1967. The only year with more in the common draft era came in 1968 when 10 offensive linemen were taken.

The eight tackles selected in the first round led by No. 5 pick Joe Alt to the Chargers tied a record set in 2008 and there were 55 offensive linemen taken overall, edging out defensive backs (54) for the most players taken at any position.

Wide receivers and defensive linemen were next with 35, followed by linebackers with 31, including several edge rushers designated at the position.

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