Does in-season success equate to draft day glory?

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Former Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro poses for the ceremonial picture with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Vaccaro appeared in 51 games for Texas in his four year career.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

As the bridge from college football to the pros, the NFL Draft is the ultimate measuring stick for prospects entering the world of professional football. The importance of this event has grown exponentially as the sport becomes more competitive, which is considered a reflection of college football’s dominant programs. It is obvious to say then that the best players are picked in the draft and the elite few are selected in the earliest rounds. But does that mean the schools with the most players drafted, especially in the first round, are typically the best?

In all logical manners of thought, the answer should be yes. Think of the schools that have dominated college football during its different eras. The Miami Hurricanes lit up the draft board for years during the program’s dominant runs in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s. Notre Dame, especially during its elite years under head coach Lou Holtz in the late ’80s - early ’90s, constantly supplied NFL talent. Even in current times, with the college football landscape laden with skilled players, there are a few select programs that supply large numbers of players. Alabama is the best example — the Crimson Tide has won three of the past four national championships and has had 11 players in the first round of the draft during the past four years, the most of any school.

However, does a program’s draft-day success always follow a prolific season? Not necessarily, history tells us. For instance, the 2010 NFL Draft featured many Oklahoma players. Four Sooners were drafted in the first round, three of whom were among the first four overall picks. Interestingly, this followed a season in which the crimson and cream went a disappointing 8-5, its worst record under coach Bob Stoops since 1999. We see something similar with the 2005 Florida State Seminoles, who had four players selected in the first round following an 8-5 season.

Conversely, there have been many instances when great teams’ draft performances do not mirror their on-field accomplishments. Since the Bowl Championship Series was implemented in 1998, only three national champions saw three or more players go in the first round. Two teams — the 2000 Oklahoma Sooners and the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes — had none. 

Following Texas’ 2005 historic 41-38 title-game victory over USC, the first round of the draft secured teams for two Longhorns. After Texas reached the championship game in 2009, the luck reached just one. 

With this said, what should be made of this year’s Texas draft class, which is the first in four years to leave Austin with a bowl victory and at least one sure-fire first round pick in safety Kenny Vaccaro? Considering the fluidity of the NFL Draft and the lack of concrete correlation between good drafts and good teams, the answer is little. Instead, as Texas won nine games for the first time in the post-Colt McCoy era, we should recognize that this will be the first Texas class since 2011 not leaving with its tail tucked between its legs. Whether the speedy Marquise Goodwin goes in the third or defensive end Alex Okafor goes in the fourth is irrelevant in the big picture. After Texas’ three-year hiatus from prominence, it is good enough just to hear Goodwin, Okafor and Vaccaro’s names on programs like the NFL Network. Here’s hoping it’s a sign of Texas football’s return to prominence, even if it isn’t a logical thought.