NFL Draft preview: Why the Pac-12 needs a big weekend in Cleveland – The Denver Post

If the mock drafts are correct — and they occasionally are — Alabama will have more first-round picks than USC, Oregon and Washington combined, the SEC will double the number of Pac-12 selections, and the conference on the West Coast will once again be left behind on one of the grandest stages in sports.

If the head coaches, recruiting directors and reams of anecdotal evidence are correct — and they often are — then what happens in Cleveland this week won’t stay in Cleveland.

The results of the NFL draft will zip through the college football talent pipeline to the eyes, ears, hearts and minds of the top high school prospects across the country.

The results will be blasted out through social media channels, splattered all over school websites and made crystal clear in phone calls and text messages with recruits.

How can the Pac-12 build on its stellar showing in the NCAA Tournament? An upside surprise in the NFL Draft would be a good place to start.

“Some (college teams) are selling the NFL draft so hard, it feels like they’re trying to get them out of the school before they even get them into the school,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “But the process of what happens this weekend will be in the minds of recruits …

“There’s that cycle of, if you want great players to come into your program, you have to show them that you can help great players improve and live that NFL dream.”

Signing day, game day and draft night are inexorably linked.

When the talent flows, they form a virtuous circle.

When clogs form, they create a vicious cycle.

At the moment, the Pac-12’s pipeline needs a plumber.

Too many elite prospects are leaving the West Coast for programs that produce the most College Football Playoff berths and NFL draft picks, from Alabama and Clemson to Oklahoma and Ohio State.

The Pac-12 hasn’t sent a team to the CFP in five years and claims just two of the 28 total berths over time.

Its success at the mouth of the talent pipeline is lagging, as well”

First round draft picks 2018-20:

SEC: 34
ACC: 16
Big Ten: 16
Pac-12: 10
Big 12: 9

Total draft picks 2018-20:

SEC: 180
Big 10: 121
ACC: 100
Pac-12: 95
Big 12: 67

The Pac-12’s draft production has been remarkably consistent, with no more than 36 and no fewer than 30 selections in each of the past five years.

It was last above that range in 2015, when it churned out 39 total picks and a conference record nine first-round selections.

That record-breaking haul just happened to follow the best season of the expansion era. In the fall of 2014, Oregon made the playoff; Arizona reached the Fiesta Bowl; four teams won at least 10 games; and six teams were ranked in the final AP top-25 poll.

The virtuous circle was on full display, with success on the field in the fall of ’14, a record-breaking draft haul in the spring of ’15 and then one of the deepest recruiting classes in conference history in the winter of ’16.

Four teams were ranked in the top-25 nationally by 247sports that year, and six made the top 30.

By comparison, only two teams made the top 25 in the just-completed recruiting cycle, and only three landed in the top 30.

“There are a number of factors why players choose a school, but a huge piece is they want to compete on the biggest stage and develop into NFL prospects,” said Spencer Harris, USC’s director of player personnel. “But you have to develop them, and put in the resources to do that, including hiring the right staff.”

Harris has a unique perspective, having worked for two of the Pac-12’s premier programs in recent years. He was Washington’s assistant director of player personnel during the 2016 playoff run under coach Chris Petersen.

“(Steve Sarkisian) had done a good job recruiting talent, although not at the level of USC, Ohio State or Alabama. Our big sell there when coach Petersen took over was that you didn’t have to be a five-star player to get drafted. Coach Pete had a long history of developing players. So we sold that to build momentum in recruiting.”

These days, programs sell their NFL draft success simultaneously across multiple platforms.

USC began planning its social strategy more than a month ago. Using the hashtag #TrojanMade, the school is counting down the days until the event with periodic tweets highlighting its current prospects and historical success. (Only Ohio State has produced most first-round picks than USC.)

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Stanford, too, has produced a steady stream of social content focused on its 2021 draft class, which could be the largest in the Pac-12 by Saturday afternoon and features several high-round candidates.

“For us, that’s a huge selling point,” Shaw said. “These guys are walking into the NFL with legitimate opportunities to start, and they have a Stanford degree. Those are powerful things for us.”

Cast aside rooting interest, and the greater good becomes clear this week in Cleveland. A victory for one team is a victory for all in the collective fight to fend off recruiting raids from power programs in the Power Five.

The draft is the end of the pipeline, and the beginning.

“To get the Pac-12 back to national relevance starts with recruiting and keeping the West Coast kids at home,” Harris said.

“Then you turn those high school prospects into draft picks, and that success builds momentum in recruiting so you can get the kind of top-five classes you need to compete for the national championship.”

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