Sunday, May 19, 2024
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2024 NFL Draft winners and losers: Nick Saban puts every position in the pros, Colorado shut out again

With the 2024 NFL Draft wrapped, there’s no time wasted looking ahead to 2025, but the process of picking up the pieces from the seven-round extravaganza includes some highlights and lowlights for the biggest programs in college football

It was a banner weekend for the reigning champion Michigan Wolverines, who had seven players selected in the first three rounds and led all schools with 13 selections. It makes sense that the culmination of a three-year run that included three Big Ten titles, three College Football Playoff appearances and a national championship included some star power at the top of the depth chart. And that CFP success tracks with 2023 playoff participants Texas (11), Washington (10) and Alabama (10), all finishing with double-digit selections in the draft. 

The SEC once again led all conferences with 59 picks in the 257-player draft, but the Pac-12 had the second-most at 43. That headline is met with some melancholy, however, with the historic West Coast league losing 10 schools this summer to the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC. 

If you want a further breakdown of the 2024 NFL Draft by conference and school, we’ve got you covered. But to dive a little bit deeper than the player is to reveal some interesting storylines and developments coming out of the weekend. And while most of our takeaways are more directly tied to the current state of these programs, we begin with an incredible note on one of the game’s greatest coaches who just recently announced his retirement. 

Winner: Nick Saban 

The NFL Draft production from Tuscaloosa under Saban set a new standard in college football. Alabama has produced 133 draft picks since 2009, the most of any program in that span, and the Tide have had at least seven draft picks for 13 straight years (2012-present). Having 10 or more players drafted has become a notable water mark in recent years; the Crimson Tide have hit it in five of the last eight drafts (2017, 2019, 2021, 2023 and 2024). 

But if we’re going to accept Nick Saban’s Alabama as the most prolific producer of pros, how about also celebrating Saban as a coach who sent every position on the depth chart to the next level. 

With the selection of kicker Will Reichard in the sixth round, Saban’s time at Alabama has now produced an NFL Draft pick at every single position — all three levels of the defense, the offensive lines, certainly running backs and wide receivers have all been steady spots to find future pros. In the last six years, though, he’s rounded out the punch card with punter JK Scott (fifth round, 2018), long snapper Thomas Fletcher (sixth round, 2021), and now Reichard as the first kicker drafted from a Saban-led Alabama team. Reichard’s steady leg proved to be a key piece of Alabama’s success in recent years, and that must have had an impact on the current coaching staff as Kalen DeBoer worked quickly to replace him with Lou Groza Award winner Graham Nicholson from the transfer portal via Miami (Ohio). 

Winner: Texas 

Steve Sarkisian has orchestrated what seems to be the proper blend of elite high school recruiting with instant-impact transfer portal additions to produce one of the most talented rosters in the country. Texas finally had its breakthrough moment — dare I say “back?” — in 2023 with its first Big 12 Championship since 2009 and an opportunity to compete for the national title in its first-ever College Football Playoff appearance. 

The success on the field was validated yet again this weekend with the Longhorns setting a new program record with 11 NFL Draft picks. Five came in the first two rounds, tied with Alabama, Georgia and Washington for the most, and having five in the first 52 picks was the best of any program. Seven of the 11 picks were on offense, including the running back duo of Jonathon Brooks (first round) and Keilan Robinson (fifth round). That’s back-to-back years now in which Texas has produced two running backs in the draft, following Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson in 2023. 

But it’s with an eye to 2024 that we both celebrate Texas’ success in the draft and yet acknowledge the work that’s been done year-over-year by Sarkisian’s staff to help the Longhorns prepare for life in the SEC. As we know, there are future NFL Draft picks on almost every team you’re going to play. While Texas has lost four NFL Draft-bound running backs over the last two years, it has an extremely capable replacement ready with former five-star prospect CJ Baxter ready for a breakout sophomore season. 

The pass-catching exodus to the draft was also notable, but that’s where Texas used the portal to bring in players like Isaiah Bond, Amari Niblack and Matthew Golden to make sure there’s no drop off in production. Sustained success at the highest levels of college football means not only collecting future pro talent by the bushel, but replenishing and developing every single offseason. So while Texas has set a new record in 2024, the outlook says the Longhorns will be near the top of these lists frequently moving forward. 

Loser: Power Four schools shut out 

Not every school is going to be Alabama with handfuls of draft picks every single year, but it does end up drawing attention when a power-conference school is shut out from the NFL Draft. Context is important in each of these cases, and there are plenty of situations in which players would rather be undrafted free agents (with the ability to pick their destination) than a late-round pick. But after adding up all the draft picks from power conferences, the schools left without a 2024 NFL Draft include: 

How this NFL Draft absence impacts each program differs wildly. Indiana, Northwestern and Syracuse are all in the midst of coaching transitions, while Arizona State, Colorado, Georgia Tech and Nebraska are still on Year 2 of a new tenure. Some programs like Arizona State, which signed Jayden Daniels out of high school, do have some claim to helping guide the first-rounder to his ultimate destination, but that’s not the way we count NFL Draft picks by school. And speaking of the transfer portal, Colorado getting shut out is notable, not for Deion Sanders-related reasons, but as a reflection of that program’s roster health. This now marks three years in a row the Buffs have not produced an NFL Draft pick. We do expect that to change in 2025 with Shedeur Sanders among the top quarterbacks that will be draft eligible next season. 

Winner and Loser: Ohio State 

The Buckeyes only had four players picked in the 2024 NFL Draft, which was a notable step down; every draft since 2016 included at least six selections from Ohio State. You could read that as a knock on coach Ryan Day and the state of the program, falling in line with the same number of picks as Big Ten foes Iowa and Illinois, but the buried storyline in Ohio State’s lack of picks is the same reason why many are picking the Buckeyes to win the Big Ten in 2024. 

Running back TreVeyon Henderson, wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, cornerback Denzel Burke, the pass rush combo of Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau, and defensive lineman Tyleik Williams were all eligible to enter the 2024 NFL Draft. If they had, it would have given the Buckeyes a pick count much closer to the Alabama or Washington than Iowa or Illinois. So while Ohio State doesn’t get to roll out a long draft roster to compete with the top programs in the sport on the draft pick scoreboard, Day instead returns a team with a half-dozen players that absolutely could be playing on Sundays but instead have chosen the pursuit of title contention in Columbus. The way NIL and eligibility rules have extended careers create all kinds of examples where schools aren’t racking draft picks but keeping future pros longer, but nowhere else in the country was there as much high-end talent choosing to return than at Ohio State.  

Loser: Conference balance in the draft 

We mentioned earlier the cruel irony of the Pac-12 backing up one of its best on-field seasons in 2023 with a 2024 NFL Draft showing for the ages, finishing second only to the SEC, with conference members about to splinter. But if we were to rearrange the conference count, the consolidation of pro-producing programs into the Big Ten and SEC becomes even more apparent. 

If you arrange the schools into their conferences for 2024, then 140 of the 257 picks in the 2024 NFL Draft came from either the Big Ten or the SEC. Programs like Washington, Oregon and USC don’t always line up with the Alabama’s and Georgia’s of the world, but they are among the top NFL-producing schools in the country in the modern era and now bring that talent to the Big Ten. The SEC is also getting a boost from Texas and Oklahoma, which combined accounted for 14 of the 31 picks from the Big 12, which finished fifth among the power conferences in draft picks this year. 

In fact, of schools that had six or more players selected, only Florida State (10), Notre Dame (7) and Clemson (6) will not be a Big Ten or SEC program in the 2024 season. The two super conferences have long enjoyed an edge when it comes to the NFL Draft, but after this summer’s realignment, the gap is only going to widen.  

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