Minnesota Gopher Football: Gopher NFL Draft Picks Few and Far Between

It's NFL draft day, and for NFL fans and draft junkies this is Christmas, Hanukkah and Festivus all rolled into one. If you're a college football fan, it's a chance to see where players from your favorite school are going to get drafted. Maybe it's a first round pick on day 1, maybe it's a 2nd or 3rd rounder on day 2, or maybe, it's in the latter rounds on Saturday.

For Gopher fans the NFL draft has become just another lonely day, as a Gopher draftee seems almost as rare a sighting as a Minnesota bowl win these days. We've come to ignore the 1st round all together, and feel fortunate if there's any Gophers taken in rounds 2 or 3. Rounds 4-7? Most years, but usually just one or two guys. This year is no different, and might in fact be the worst year for graduating talent we've seen leave Dinkytown in recent memory. By my count we had 14 seniors graduate last year, and quarterback Adam Weber is the only guy with a chance of being drafted. And if teams saw what I saw the past four seasons he started (or they could just ask me. I'm here. Free advice for the taking!), they'd know that if he can't complete simple timing patterns in college he's not going to complete them in the pros. Good kid, hard worker, but yeah. Still, IF Weber goes it's not going to be until late on Day 3.

For anyone who has followed this team at all the past decade or so, it's not surprising that the subpar results on the field (save for a few good years under Mason) wouldn't yield a lot of NFL talent. But perhaps you'd be surprised to see just how little NFL talent this program has churned out in the past decade or so. NFL.com has a list of every drafted Gopher player (like, ever), and Rivals.com posted a story this week that shows the number of drafted players and 1st round picks for every D-1A school since 2000. From that NFL.com list, here's a list of every Gopher draft pick since 1990...

YEAR RD SEL # PLAYER POS TEAM
2010 3 87 Eric Decker WR Den
2010 5 167 Nate Triplett LB Min
2008 6 173 Dominique Barber FS Hou
2007 3 77 Matt Spaeth TE Pitt
2006 1 21 Laurence Maroney RB NE
2006 5 153 Anthony Montgomery DT Wash
2006 6 198 Greg Eslinger C Den
2006 7 242 Mark Setterstrom G StL
2005 4 109 Marion Barber RB Dal
2004 5 162 Thomas Tapeh RB Phi
2003 5 152 Michael Lehan DB Cle
2002 4 123 Ron Johnson WR Bal
2002 6 178 Matt Anderle -- SD
2002 7 229 Greg White DE Hou
2001 1 24 Willie Middlebrooks CB Den
2001 4 103 Karon Riley DE Chi
2001 4 113 Ben Hamilton C Den
2001 6 199 Adam Haayer T Ten
2000 4 118 Tyrone Carter FS Min
2000 6 171 Thomas Hamner RB Phi
1998 6 179 Lamanzer Williams DE Jax
1998 7 215 Ryan Thelwell WR SF
1996 4 123 Chris Darkins RB GB
1996 6 188 Craig Sauer LB Atl
1992 4 106 Sean Lumpkin DB NO
1991 5 119 Chris Thome C Min
1991 11 287 Mike Sunvold -- TB
1991 12 321 Mark Drabczak -- NO
1990 1 19 Darrell Thompson RB GB
1990 5 113 Jon Melander G NE
1990 10 266 Eddie Miles LB Pitt
1990 11 297 Jon Leverenz -- Wash
1990 12 324 Ron Goetz -- Min

As you can see, the Gophers haven't had a first round pick since Maroney (and he's one of only three first rounders since 1990), their last second rounder was a kicker(!) back in 1988, and Eric Decker last year and TE Matt Spaeth in 2007 are the only two Gophers drafted in the third round since 1976. Seriously, 1976.

That list gives the details, while below is a chart from the Rivals article that I reconfigured to list from most draft picks to least for B1G schools (not including Nebraska) in the 11 years worth of drafts since 2000:

BIG TEN
School Draft picks First-rounders Last first-rounder
Ohio State 73 16 2009 (CB Malcolm Jenkins*)
Michigan 49 9 2010 (DE Brandon Graham)
Wisconsin 46 8 2007 (OT Joe Thomas)
Penn State 44 10 2010 (DT Jared Odrick)
Iowa 39 4 2010 (OT Brian Bulaga)
Michigan State 33 4 2003 (WR Charles Rogers)
Purdue 33 2 2008 (TE Dustin Keller)
Illinois 22 2 2009 (CB Vontae Davis)
Minnesota 20 2 2006 (RB Laurence Maroney)
Northwestern 16 2 2005 (DT Luis Castillo)
Indiana 10 0 1994 (WR Thomas Lewis)

Ohio State, by the way, had more players drafted from 2000-2010 than any D1-A school, and had the second most first-round picks. Michigan, despite their struggles in the Rich-Rod Era, still finished tied for 10th in the nation with 49 drafted players, and Penn State's 10 first rounders was good enough for 10th nationally as well.

As for the Gophers, not that you needed further confirmation that the program is struggling...but yeah, this would be further confirmation. Not only has Minnesota failed to consistently recruit good players, but they've generally failed to "coach 'em up" once they get on campus. What I find interesting, however, is how the Rivlas list closely reflects the records in the Big Ten over that span, which would be 1999-2009 (since the draft is obviously the year AFTER the season):

Big Ten records from 1999-2009

Ohio State 108-31
Wisconsin 96-45
Michigan 91-45
Penn State 84-49
Iowa 81-54
Purdue 74-62
Michigan St 70-64
Minnesota 70-66
Northwestern 64-69
Illinois 53-77
Indiana 43-85

Interesting, no? While there's obviously not a direct correlation between future NFL talent and collegiate success (look at the Rivals link at how many kids the ACC has sent to the pros since 2000. Granted, a chunk of that was thanks to Miami's juggernauts of the early Aughts, but still, the ACC has somehow been average-at-best on the field yet continue to crank out pro prospects), these lists look pretty similar. And yes, this is not conference records, but overall record including bowl games, which is how the Gophers are above .500 (thank you Glen Mason school of soft scheduling!).

My hope is that with Jerry Kill here, we'll start moving up both of these lists in the near future. Obviously the Gophers success on the field trumps their players getting drafted (I would trade one Rose Bowl berth- not even a win, just playing in the damn game- for 10 years of zero Gophers getting drafted. Heck, 20 years! 30! Take as many as you want I just want to see Minnesota in Pasadena!!!!), and I know Coach Kill could definitely care less about how many kids he sends onto the pros (well maybe a little, considering that kind of thing does help recruiting), but selfishly, it'd still be nice to have draft day mean something, and to look forward to watching Minnesota football players go from success on the gridiron to getting drafted in the NFL. That would be a lot better than what we've had lately- disappointment in college resulting in another boring, Gopher-less NFL draft. Although I suppose it could be worse- we could be Indiana.

The first round of the 2011 NFL Draft starts at 8 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, April 28th and SB Nation has everything you need to prepare for it - NFL mock drafts, draft projections, scouting reports, the full NFL draft schedule and more. Check it all out at SB Nation's NFL Hub and our NFL Draft blog Mocking the Draft.

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