Since head coach Art Briles took control of the program, Baylor has produced 18 NFL Draft picks, including a handful of first rounders. The Bears had at least one top-100 draft pick each of the last five years, but that streak was snapped with the 2014 class, despite having five draft total picks. However there is an excellent chance for Baylor to have multiple top-100 draft choices in the 2015 NFL Draft class.
A year ago, Baylor was unranked entering the season and picked to finish middle of the pack in the Big 12 before going 11-2 in 2013, including the first BCS bowl appearance in program history. But the Bears won't be sneaking up on anyone in 2014 as Briles' crew will likely start the season ranked in the top-15 with one of the top offenses in the country, including a passing attack that returns several playmakers. Quarterback Bryce Petty might have the most production of any passer this season, but his NFL future isn't easy to predict, largely due to the offense he runs at Baylor. Nonetheless, he has several traits that make him an appealing specimen for NFL scouts.
Baylor's top NFL Draft-Eligible prospects to watch in 2014:
1. OT Spencer Drango, RS Junior (6-5 | 315 | 5.10 | #58)
One of the top offensive linemen in college football, Drango has an impressive NFL skill-set as the game appears to come very easily to him, showing similarities to Dallas Cowboys' 2014 first rounder Zach Martin in some areas. The Bears starting left tackle the last two seasons, he has an easy kickslide with a wide base and the fluid lower body movements to properly protect the pocket from speed or power rushers. Drango is always alert and rarely caught off guard with a high football IQ and overall awareness to process situations quickly. He has the stone hands to jolt with little resistance, displaying the balance to handle defenders and stay off the ground. Drango has very few holes to his game, but Nov. 2013 back surgery is a bright red flag and definitely something to monitor. If healthy and there are no long-term concerns, he has the overall ability to compete to be the top tackle drafted when he goes pro.
2. DE Shawn Oakman, RS Junior (6-8 | 285 | 4.92 | #2)
A freakish specimen on the hoof, Oakman is just scratching the surface of who he can be as a football player. He started his collegiate career at Penn State, but several off-field issues and poor academics led to his dismissal by then head coach Bill O'Brien. Tabbed as angry and troubled, but not a bad kid, Oakman transferred to Baylor, sitting out the 2012 season, and played a part-time role in 2013, finishing among the Big 12 leaders in tackles for loss (12.5). While leverage will always be an issue due to his height, he plays much lighter than he looks with burst off the ball to rush the pocket and the coordination to drop and play comfortably on his feet in space. According to Briles, Oakman has a “chance to be dominant” and if he takes the next step in his development in 2014, he has legitimate talent to be considered an early first round pick, projecting best as a five-technique in a 3-4 scheme.
3. QB Bryce Petty, RS Senior (6-2 | 230 | 4.74 | #14)
The most intriguing quarterback prospects for the 2015 class are the underclassmen, but Petty leads the senior group and has a chance to be a top-32 pick less than a year from now. He has more than enough arm strength to make every throw, displaying excellent timing within Baylor's pass-happy, shotgun offense. Petty has little experience under center or with his three, five and seven step drops and needs to improve his pocket presence to feel pressure while keeping his eyes downfield. He is reminiscent of a younger, more athletic version of Brandon Weeden, coming from a spread offense that relies on a lot of quick, one-read plays that make it easy to identify single match-ups. Petty led the Big 12 in passing last season with 4,200 yards, 62% completions and a 32-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio and should only improve on those statistics in 2014.
4. WR Antwan Goodley, RS Senior (5-10 | 225 | 4.52 | #5)
Baylor has had a wide receiver drafted each of the last three years and Goodley will likely extend that streak in the 2015 NFL Draft. A stockier version of former Bear Kendall Wright, he is a balanced athlete who tracks the ball well and does a nice job in contested situations. Goodley lacks elite straight-line speed and is unpolished in several areas, but has easy acceleration off the line of scrimmage with dangerous ability after the catch, immediately looking to create with the ball in his hands. Coming off a highly productive junior season (71 catches, 1,339 yards, 13 scores) he has taken full advantage of Baylor's pass heavy offense and the Big 12's suspect secondary play, allowing him to win in one-on-one situations. While he isn't quite the prospect Wright was a few years ago, Goodley has the natural talent and competitive hunger to have a role in the NFL.
5. WR Levi Norwood, RS Senior (6-1 | 195 | 4.52 | #42)
Baylor's second-leading receiver from a year ago, Norwood stepped up in 2013 when Tevin Reese was sidelined with an injury, recording career-highs with 47 catches for 733 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also the team's primary punt returner, averaging 9.6 yards per return with two scores. Norwood is a string bean with a skinny body type and very limited muscle tone and growth potential, but is a tougher ballcarrier than he looks. He catches the ball well with his hands and is at his best using his straight-line speed to get vertical with vision and determination to be a threat when he has the ball in his hands. Coming from an athletic family, Norwood's father, Brian, is an associate head coach on Art Briles' staff and two of his brothers played college athletics at a high level – Gabe was a starter on George Mason's 2006 Final Four team and Jordan was a blue chip recruit at Penn State and is currently earning a paycheck in the NFL. Norwood has a limited route tree with some clear tightness in his breaks, but like his brother Jordan, Levi has the professional approach and enough ability to have more than a cup of coffee at the NFL level.