Regardless of when Carson Wentz is selected, this much is clear: a North Dakota State quarterback is coming to an NFL stadium near you. Historically, Fargo, N.D., isn’t a hotbed for soon-to-be NFL studs. And North Dakota State is a rarely tapped resource, too — per Pro-Football Reference, Wentz would be the 31st Bison ever to appear on an NFL roster.
Over the past decade, 319 players have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft — the New England Patriots were stripped of a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft because of the Spygate scandal. Using Pro-Football Reference’s draft finder, here’s how that first-round pool looks when broken down by power conferences:
- ACC: 51 players (16 percent)
- Big Ten: 39 players (12.2 percent)
- Big 12: 42 players (13.2 percent)
- Pac 12: 12 players (3.8 percent)
- SEC: 78 players (24.5 percent)
An overwhelming majority of players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2006 played in power conferences. Worth noting, then, is the churn rate, or the percentage of players who wash out of the league. Fifty-seven of the aforementioned players (17.9 percent) weren’t on NFL rosters last season, meaning power conferences had a 74.3 percent retention rate. Non-power conferences had an 83.7 percent retention rate.
There may not be as many highly regarded prospects from smaller schools, but if drafted, they might have a better shot at sticking around. Here are three players from non-power conferences that could make a splash next season and are perhaps deserving of a first-round draft pick.
William Jackson III, CB, Houston
The Houston product led the country in pass breakups (23) and passes defended (28), while accounting for five interceptions. He saved his collegiate opus for the final game of his career, logging a career-high 10 tackles and two interceptions in the Cougars’ win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl.
Jackson has speed to burn: His 4.37 40-yard dash time ranked third among cornerbacks. Additionally, his length can give receivers fits, and he has a terrific knack for breaking on the ball and jumping routes.
“Jackson is definitely a first-round draft pick,” an AFC scout told the Houston Chronicle. “He’s a shutdown guy, for sure.”
Jackson put forth the third-highest grade in coverage among cornerbacks, per Pro Football Focus, and contributed significantly in Houston’s run defense.
Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech
Lost in Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds’a NCAA record-breaking season was Dixon, who logged 87 career touchdowns, the second most in college football history. He racked up 4,480 yards on the ground on a 5.6-yards-per-carry clip, and added 972 yards receiving, 11 per reception and essentially shattered every school record at Louisiana Tech.
The Arkansas native touts a blend of open-field speed (ran a 4.58 40-yard dash) and bruising power; according to NFL.com, he averaged nearly twice as many yards per carry after first contact (3.3) than before it (1.7).
“Dixon has all the traits of being a quality, three-down starter in the NFL,” NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said.
Defenders have difficulty corralling him in behind the line of scrimmage and in the open field; Pro Football Focus ranked him second among running backs last season in elusive rating, a ranking exemplified by the 16 missed tackles he forced on receptions, tops in his class.
Kyler Fackrell, LB, Utah State
Thanks to an influx of data and an elevated degree of assessment, the notion that large sack totals equates to individual dominance on the field has been rendered hollow. Enter Fackrell, who only logged four sacks last season, but was one of the most undervalued edge rushers in the country.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Mesa product is as athletic as they come at his position — it’s worth noting that he lettered in basketball, football and volleyball in high school — and possesses an innate ability to squelch running attacks in the backfield.
“He’s just long and athletic with elite pass-rush skills,” Utah State Coach Matt Wells told the Salt Lake Tribune. “He’s shown he can play the field and boundary linebacker positions in our defense and rush the passer with tremendous success. He also has an ability to drop into pass coverage.”
With a 4.72 40-yard dash time, he has little difficulty running down receivers or running backs on screen patterns, or staying with receivers in coverage.
Last season he logged 12 quarterback hits and 29 hurries, per Pro Football Focus, and would be a great pickup for any team looking to bolster its pass rush.