The NFL draft is all about procuring the best talent from college football. And what happens at the draft tells so much about not just the past college football season, but the upcoming one as well.
Granted, the best college football players don't always turn out to be great pros and some Canton enshrinees had very pedestrian college careers. But taken with totality through history, the NFL draft provides a very good indication on the relative strength of college football conferences and programs. You don't win championships -- at any level -- without talent.
So it should come as no surprise that for the ninth year in a row, the SEC led all conferences in total draft picks. This not so coincidentally mirrored the SEC's dominance in college football. In those nine years, the SEC won seven consecutive BCS titles (from 2006-2012) before finally vacating the perch the past two seasons.
But the SEC's two-year national title drought may not be coming to an end this next season, and that's among several interesting revelations from the 2015 NFL draft:
1. The SEC's talent advantage is shrinking
Despite leading all conferences with 54 players taken in the draft, the SEC got there not so much with top-end talent but with many second-day role players who may or may not make it on the Opening Day roster. The Pac-12 and the ACC had more first-round picks (nine each) than the SEC. And the Pac-12 led all conferences with 25 picks in the first three rounds, three more than the SEC. (And keep in mind that the Pac-12 has two fewer programs than the SEC's 14.)
Using the methodology Draftpoints, with draftees weighted based on where they were selected, only four SEC schools were ranked in the top 15, topped by Florida at No. 4. That the Gators grossly underachieved despite considerable talent under Will Muschamp is no secret -- and hence why he was canned after four years. But overall the SEC just isn't consistently recruiting and developing the best players as it did in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
This trend is expected to continue and therefore it would not at all be a surprise if the SEC fails to win the national title for a third straight year and miss out on the championship game for a second consecutive season.
2. Florida State has a rough road ahead
First, let's just acknowledge that the Seminoles' two-year run of 27-1, with one national title and another national semifinal appearance, was no fluke. FSU led all schools with 11 draftees, including the top pick quarterback Jameis Winston, and dwarfed everyone in the aforementioned Draftpoints system.
And not only just that the Seminoles were as good as advertised, they actually dominated a conference that was considerably underrated by college football pundits. The ACC finished second overall to the SEC with 47 total draftees and tied with the Pac-12 with nine first-rounders. The top three schools according to Draftpoints all came from the ACC - FSU, Miami and Louisville -- with Clemson checking in at No. 12.
The bad news for the Seminoles here, of course, is that most of Jimbo Fisher's great hauls in 2011 and '12 is gone and there's a daunting rebuilding project ahead. Never mind replacing Winston at quarterback, Fisher will have to find replacements for nearly half of his starting lineup in 2015.
3. TCU and Baylor will dominate a weak Big 12
Neither TCU nor Baylor made the inaugural College Football Playoff field despite finishing as co-champions of the Big 12. While not having a conference title game was a factor, that they dominated a soft conference didn't help, either.
Both TCU and Baylor will have a vast majority of their starters returning, with only two players taken in the draft from each school (though one was Baylor QB Bryce Petty). But while both teams relied heavily on underclassmen last year, their Big 12 opponents clearly did not possess an abundance of talent. Only two Big 12 players were taken in the first round, seven in the first three rounds and 25 overall -- all dead last among Power 5 conferences.
The perception that the Big 12 is a weak conference surely won't be bolstered by the draft and that will influence the selection committee's decision at the season's end. Either TCU or Baylor might need to run the table to avoid another playoff snub.
4. Pac-12 is the most balanced and competitive conference
Oregon was favored to end the conference's decade-long national title drought, only to be denied by Ohio State in the national title game. But the Ducks had to battle through an absolute gauntlet as the Pac-12 has proved to be the toughest conference from top to bottom.
In the 2015 Draft, the Pac-12 led with picks in the first round and also the first three rounds (despite having two fewer teams than the SEC, ACC and Big Ten). In terms of Draftpoints, the Pac-12 placed six schools in the top 15, more than any other conference. And Arizona isn't even among them as the Wildcats didn't have a single player drafted since the bulk of their starters will return from a team that won the Pac-12 South last year and played in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Pac-12 is surging in this armed race with its old standard-bearer returning to the national championship race. USC had two first-round picks in the draft, pushing its all-time total to 79 and overall draftees to 489 -- both No. 1 in the history of NFL draft. But with the Trojans unchained from NCAA sanctions and having a full complement of scholarships for the first time in four years, they already reloaded with the nation's top-ranked recruiting class this spring.
5. Ohio State has a good chance to repeat as champions
The Big Ten had a pedestrian draft, with three first-round picks, 15 in the first three rounds and 35 overall, all placing fourth among Power 5 conferences, only ahead of the Big 12. The school that performed best in the draft is Ohio State, with five players selected, the highest being WR Devin Smith going in the second round.
This is all great news for the defending national champions, who will be shortlisted for the playoff once again.
The Buckeyes already return a team with at least 15 starters, including Heisman candidate RB Ezekiel Elliott and a trio of quarterbacks that all could be starting for another FBS program. They do not face a stiff competition in the Big Ten especially with their archrival Michigan wallowing in mediocrity. The Wolverines, though still the winningest program in college football history, just went a school-record five years without a first-round pick and has had only one first rounder since Jake Long went No. 1 overall in 2008.
Help is on the way for Michigan, though, via the NFL. Jim Harbaugh will turn the fortunes of his alma mater around and reboot the rivalry. It's just a matter of when -- but maybe not in 2015.