By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Facing the explosive pass-intensive offenses in the Big 12 Conference requires teams to find and develop defensive backs who can cover the talented receivers in the league.
The first two Big 12 players selected in Thursday night’s first round of the 2014 NFL Draft were cornerbacks. Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert was selected by the Cleveland Browns with the eighth overall pick and TCU’s Jason Verrett went to San Diego at No. 25.
Gilbert’s selection gave the Big 12 a top 10 pick for the sixth consecutive NFL Draft. Since 2009, the Big 12 has had 14 players selected in the top 10.
Gilbert was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award presented to college football's best defensive back in 2013, as well as a consensus All-American. As did Verrett, Gilbert had the option to forgo his senior year and enter the 2013 NFL Draft.
"I knew I made the right decision coming back, because I didn't have the year that I wanted to have my junior year," Gilbert said. "To come back and be around these guys that I came in with - I knew the heart that they have to go out every day and play on Saturday for each other. That's just something that I wanted to continue to be around. Coming back for another year, it couldn't hurt me, it could only do me right."
The NFL covets outstanding cornerbacks and Gilbert was the first corner drafted. The Browns traded down from No. 4 to No. 9 then traded back up to No. 8 in order to select Gilbert.
Here’s what ESPN.com wrote about Cleveland drafting Gilbert: “(He) has above-average size, elite speed and excellent ball skills. In addition, he is electric with the ball in his hands and adds value on special teams as a kick returner with six career returns for touchdowns. However, Gilbert comes with some boom/bust factor, as he displays some tightness, allows too much separation and can be disinterested in run support at times.”
At Oklahoma State, Gilbert also was an outstanding kick returner, averaging 26 yards per kickoff return with six for touchdowns.
Gilbert is the sixth Cowboy since 2009 to be drafted in the 1st round, a total that leads the Big 12. He’s also the third Oklahoma State player in the last five years to be a top 10 pick and the school’s 19th overall first-round selection.
Verrett was measured at 5-9 ½ and 189 pounds, which might be undersized by most NFL standards. But he proved he could top bigger receivers. Last season he had 14 pass break-ups and in his TCU career he had nine interceptions.
Jon Gruden of ESPN said that Verrett did a great job covering “some of the great receivers in college football.”
Verrett also will play for the same team that drafted former TCU All-American running back LaDainian Tomlinson. He is the first TCU defensive back to be selected in the first round since Jim Shofner by Cleveland in 1958.
Verrett is the 11th first-round draft pick in TCU history and the highest selection from the defensive side of the ball since Pro Football Hall of Famer Bob Lilly was taken with the 13th overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 1961.
2014 Big 12 NFL Draft Selections
8. Justin Gilbert, CB (Oklahoma State), Cleveland
25. Jason Verrett, CB (TCU), San Diego
49. Jace Amaro, TE (Texas Tech), New York Jets
69. Charles Sims, RB (West Virginia), Tampa Bay
88. Will Clark, DE (West Virginia), Cincinnati
104. Jalen Saunders, WR (Oklahoma), New York Jets
114. Aaron Colvin, CB (Oklahoma), Jacksonville
153. Cyris Richardson, OG (Baylor), Buffalo
154. Jeremiah George, LB (Iowa State), New York Jets
186. Lache Seastrunk, RB (Baylor), Washington
197. Demetri Goodson, CB (Baylor), Green Bay
202. Tavon Rooks, OT (K-State), New Orleans
238. Will Smith, OLB (Texas Tech), Dallas
240. Tevin Reese, WR (Baylor), San Diego
242. Corey Nelson, OLB (Oklahoma), Denver
245. Trey Millard, FB (Oklahoma), San Francisco
248. Ahmad Dixon, SS (Baylor), Dallas