Popular opinion holds the Southeastern Conference as the preeminent power conference in college football. Considering the past five BCS champions have come from the SEC, there is clear logic behind that stance.
But in terms of producing marquee NFL Draft picks, there has been no greater farm system the past two years than the Big 12.
The SEC and Big 12 have each produced 17 first-round picks over that time, exceeding the number of picks coming out of the other so-called power conferences -- Big Ten (eight), ACC (six), Pac-10 (five) and Big East (four).
Undeniably the loss of Nebraska and Colorado to the Big Ten and renamed Pac-12 weakens the conference's talent pool. In addition, the rapid decline of the Texas Longhorns has hit the conference hard. Mack Brown's ability to recruit is proven, but the program has seemingly fallen on hard times when it comes to development.
It is the Longhorns' archrival, in fact, that has emerged as the Big 12's top breeding ground for talent in the Class of 2012. Oklahoma, rated the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason coaches poll, is again loaded.
It might raise a few eyebrows that four of NFLDraftScout.com's top 10 pro prospects from the conference for the 2012 draft play for Texas A&M -- this on the heels of a draft in which former A&M pass rusher Von Miller was selected by the Denver Broncos with the second overall pick.
Top 10 Big 12 prospects for 2012 NFL Draft
|Landry Jones has all the physical tools, which offsets his lack of experience. (Getty Images)|
Having produced more impressive statistics than Andrew Luck and possessing a better natural skill set than Matt Barkley, it is easy to see why the 2010 Sammy Baugh winner enters the season as the Big 12's elite prospect, despite the fact that he has only one full season as a starter under his belt. Jones emerged from Sam Bradford's shadow last year, leading the country in passes attempted (617), completed (405) and passing yardage (4,718) while finishing second in touchdowns (38). Perhaps the biggest knock is that Jones is not Bradford. He doesn't have the former No. 1 overall pick's rare accuracy or poise in the pocket. He does, however, have the physical tools to emerge as a legitimate high first-round pick and should only get better with more experience.
2. *Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State, 6-1, 212
Physical and deceptively fast, Blackmon proved to be a virtually unstoppable force last season, easily outpacing the country's other wideouts in averaging a gaudy 148.5 yards per game and scoring 20 touchdowns, despite missing the first game of the season due to a suspension. Some question whether Blackmon is a product of a potent OSU offense -- he won't run as fast for the stopwatch as you would like, but his strength, hands and competitiveness are all top-notch.
3. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M, 6-4, 220
Considering that he only held the starting quarterback job for half of last season, it might be premature to rate Tannehill as the No. 1 senior QB prospect, but the physical skills are undeniable. More importantly, Tannehill seemed to improve game by game in former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman's pro-style West Coast offense. An all-conference receiver earlier in his career, Tannehill has shown the selflessness, work ethic and intelligence to remain at quarterback as a pro, perhaps even overtaking the Sooners' much more hyped Jones as the top quarterback in the conference.
4. Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M, 6-3, 215
A physical receiver very much in the mold of Atlanta Falcons first-round pick Julio Jones, Fuller enters his senior campaign having already eclipsed the school record for career touchdowns (28), including 12 last season. Like Jones, he'll need to show greater consistency as a route-runner and hands-catcher. Also, his timed speed is a question mark. The son of the former Texas A&M and San Francisco 49ers standout of the same name, Fuller enters the fall as NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated wideout.
5. Markelle Martin, FS, Oklahoma State, 6-1, 195
An intimidating hitter with a knack for making big plays in big games, Martin enters his senior campaign first on the depth chart at strong safety for the Cowboys but atop NFLDraftScout.com's free-safety rankings due to his combination of size, speed and athleticism. Enjoyed two of his best games in bowl matchups against Arizona and Ole Miss to finish the past two seasons, totaling a combined 13 tackles, four pass breakups and an interception returned 62 yards (vs. Arizona) in those contests.
6. Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M, 5-10, 200
The Big 12's leading returning rusher, Gray enters the 2011 season having rushed for at least 100 yards in seven consecutive games. While a bit smaller than scouts prefer in a featured back, Gray is a tough runner with good lateral agility to elude and reliable hands out of the backfield.
7. Levy Adcock, OT, Oklahoma State, 6-5, 322
Over half (nine) of the Big 12's 17 first-round picks over the past two years have been players on the offensive and defensive lines, so the conference clearly develops big men. Adcock could be the next big thing, as he allowed zero sacks last season, earning first-team all-conference accolades in his first season as a starter. Adcock started all 13 games at right tackle, but moved to the blind side against Oklahoma and saw a lot of action there against Arizona in the Cowboys' Alamo Bowl win. He has size, athleticism and upside, but is far from a finished product.
8. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma, 5-11, 187
Broyles has eclipsed Sooners records for catches (266), receiving yardage (3,429) and receiving touchdowns (35) in a career, but is only NFLDraftScout.com's third-rated wideout -- in the conference. What he lacks in size, Broyles makes up for with strong hands, reliable route-running and good speed. The fact that he'll likely be moved inside to the slot could push him into the second or third round, despite the fact that he's on pace to challenge NCAA records for most receptions and receiving yards, as well.
9. Coryell Judie, CB, Texas A&M, 5-11, 188
The last of four Cowboys on this list and the only defensive player, Judie emerged as a star cornerback and kick returner in 2010 after having signed with the Aggies as a juco All-American. Athletic and instinctive, Judie snared four interceptions last season and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Opponents might be less likely to test him in 2011.
10. Travis Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma, 6-2, 233
He suffered a broken foot during Oklahoma's first practice in pads this summer. Lewis could struggle to add to his impressive career statistics or boost his pro stock this season. Fortunately, the three-time all-conference pick has shown toughness and versatility throughout his career, so missing the first six weeks of the season might not hinder him greatly. Though undersized, Lewis' instincts, athleticism and open-field tackling make him one of the better weak-side linebacker prospects in the country.
Four others to keep an eye on:
1. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State, 6-4, 216
2. Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri, 6-5, 242
3. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas, 6-4, 260
4. Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas, 6-5, 295
5. Marcel Jones, OT, Nebraska, 6-6, 320
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter at @RobRang.