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Do NCAA Top Conference Awards Mean Anything to the NFL?

May 13th 2014 17:46
So here is a baffling scenario that was played out in the 2014 NFL draft: two of the NCAA’s top conferences (Big 12 and SEC) had two players voted co-defensive players of the year in their conferences but one went undrafted and one went late in the seventh round.

Are those conference awards meaningless? Or is non-football information on prospects much more important in NFL draft war rooms than we all can imagine?

The players involved in this scenario are:

Jackson Jeffcoat DE Texas – picked up as an undrafted free agent by Seattle

Pros:
- 2013 Ted Hendricks Award winner
- Tied for Third in FBS sacks with 12
- Big 12 Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year
- Excellent speed and athleticism showcased at the Combine

Cons:
- Questionable effort at times
- History of injuries
- Needs more strength, especially in lower body

Michael Sam DE Missouri – picked 249 overall by St. Louis

Pros:
- Tied for 8th in FBS sacks with 11.5
- SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year
- High motor player
- Very little injury history
- Great lower body strength
Cons:
- Poor overall Combine performance (although improved at pro day)
- Mostly senior season production
- Quick but not fast

So, has the program at Texas deteriorated so much that Jeffcoat and his teammates were deemed untouchable in the draft? Or has the Big 12 dropped off that much in overall quality that their co-defensive player of the year isn’t worth drafting?

Michael Sam was more of a one hit wonder, but he was co-defensive player of the SEC. Isn’t the SEC commonly thought of as the premier conference of the NCAA? That alone should really count for more than a late seventh round pick, shouldn’t it?

Do NFL decision-makers ignore all stats and conference awards when making their draft decisions? That makes the only thing left to determine the quality of a prospect the performance results at the NFL Combine and pro days. Well Jeffcoat was a multiple top performer in his “events” and still went undrafted. Sam solidly improved on his poor Combine showing at his pro day.

So are the non-football qualities of players much more important than we all think? The common fan doesn’t have access to draft day war rooms, so perhaps that non-football information may move prospects up and down the draft boards much more than we think. In these cases, maybe that’s the only type of information they gave weight to.

In Jeffcoat’s case there was little in the media about any big warning signs of character or anything like that, so what teams had against him will remain an industry mystery. Surely a pedigreed (father Jim was a 15-year NFL veteran) from a premiere football school like Texas should get more attention. In Michael Sam’s case it could only be the extra media following he would get being a very rare openly gay athlete and even rarer openly gay football player.

SEC and Big 12 teams may need to re-think their recruitment strategies if they want to land future top prospects. Apparently being the co-defensive players of their conferences and among the top 10 sack leaders of a given season isn’t enough to garner a player much draft love for a defensive player. Given the extreme attention given to pass rushers in an era of the pass-happy NFL, it's very puzzling why these two players were so down-graded.

Follow on Twitter @chatnfl

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