May 25, 2024

Why Big Ten is poised for strong showing in 2025 NFL Draft, Iowa may have easy answer to QB conundrum


Last week’s NFL Draft was a bit light on Big Ten talent; the conference finished third behind the SEC (59) and Pac-12 (43) with 42 selections throughout the weekend. This, of course, takes into account last season’s conference construction where USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington — schools joining the Big Ten in 2024 — were still Pac-12 members. 

Perhaps more glaring was the lack of Big Ten players selected in the first round. Only Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy were selected within the top-10 picks, while only four Big Ten players were picked on Thursday overall (Penn State’s Olu Fashanu at 11 and Chop Robinson at 21).

When broken down by team, Michigan led the nation with a school-record 13 draft choices, but Penn State was the only other Big Ten school of the 15 to have at least five players chosen. This is a good thing. In reality, it’s a sign of the talent returning to the conference and the those joining it this summer.

Ohio State only had four players chosen this year (the same number as Illinois and Iowa), not because the Buckeyes didn’t have NFL talent, rather because they kept most of it. Washington, Oregon and USC combined to have 25 players selected, including five first-round picks (one of UCLA’s two players chosen was a first-round pick as well). 

Then there’s Michigan. The Wolverines had 13 players from last year’s championship team selected, but you could argue they have better players returning who will be drafted earlier next season. To the chagrin of Texas fans who spent the last month telling me they’d be leaving for Austin, Kenneth Grant and Mason Graham remain in maize and blue, as does Will Johnson. All three could be first-round choices next season.

We recently compiled the “way-too-early” 2025 NFL Mock drafts for an episode of the Cover 3 Podcast. Seven of the top 32 players will play in the Big Ten next season. The first three “picks” of the second round would also be Big Ten players.

If we break it down by top 50, here’s how it looks by conference.

Granted, this is an imperfect science. At this point of the process, most mock drafts will be filled with recognizable names from power-conference schools, but it’s still an excellent indication of where the Big Ten will stand next season from a talent perspective.

As the numbers show, the narrative that the Big Ten and SEC are pulling away from the rest of the country isn’t simply a narrative. Of the top 50 players on the consensus board, 74% play in the Big Ten or SEC. The results are evident in the NFL Draft as well as on the field.

Speaking of the NFL Draft …

While Ohio State only had four players taken in this year’s draft, it’s still the Big Ten’s leader in names selected. Here’s how the schools stack up with total picks in the last 10 NFL Drafts. As you can see, the four newcomers to the league have been pretty successful at landing and developing NFL talent themselves.

This league isn’t about to get easier by any stretch of the imagination.

Connecting the dots

Iowa needs a quarterback. Anybody who watched the Hawkeyes offense could tell you that, but they really need a quarterback. Cade McNamara is not fully healthy and is practicing in a limited capacity. He won’t be ready to go until the summer, at the earliest. Regardless, he’s had season-ending injuries each of the last two seasons.

Deacon Hill, who started most of last season and performed unspectacularly in McNamara’s absence, is in the transfer portal.

That leaves Marco Lainez as the lone quarterback taking snaps right now. His entire college career to this point has consisted of him completing 2 of 7 passes for 4 yards. OK, fine, he’s also rushed for 51 yards, but you get the point. Needing serviceable bodies at the QB position, the Hawkeyes are certainly in the market for a transfer QB.

If I had to bet on a likely outcome, I’d look at Brendan Sullivan. Sullivan was viewed as the likely favorite to win Northwestern’s starting QB job this fall but made a surprising decision to enter the portal. Sullivan is from Michigan, and when he was still a three-star prospect going through the recruitment process, one of the schools that offered was Western Michigan. Western Michigan’s head coach at the time? Current Iowa offensive coordinator Tim Lester.

Big Ten odds and ends

  • While I’m surprised the Rutgers staff feels confident enough in Athan Kaliakmanis to name him the starting QB this early, I respect Greg Schiano and his staff for finalizing a decision this early instead of dragging it out. Doing so allows last year’s starter, Gavin Wimsatt, to enter the transfer portal if he wants to find a spot elsewhere. Coaches too often know who their starter is but delay the process to prevent players from hitting the portal. It’s understandable because you always want depth, but some players get screwed over in the process.
  • Former Nebraska QB Jeff Sims has transferred to Arizona State. I’ll admit, when it was announced Sims had transferred to Nebraska last season and won the starting job, I wasn’t overly optimistic. For all Sims’ talent, I felt he was too mistake-prone while at Georgia Tech. That trend continued in Lincoln, where he lost his job to Heinrich Haarberg and then watched the Huskers bring in star five-star prospect Dylan Raiola.
  • Deion Sanders has caught a lot of heat for how he’s gone about turning over Colorado’s roster since taking over last year. Still, while the methods may differ, Colorado is hardly the only program flipping its roster in the portal. Have you seen what Jonathan Smith’s first offseason at Michigan State has looked like? According to the 247Sports database, the Spartans have seen 39 players enter the portal since Smith took charge, and the Spartans have added 15 via the portal. At times, spring practice probably felt more like a freshman orientation than football.





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