It’s been quite a while since a Big Ten quarterback was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
To find the last time it happened, you have to go all the way back to 1995, when Penn State’s Kerry Collins was the No. 5 overall pick, a first-round selection of the Carolina Panthers. In fact, just two Big Ten quarterbacks have been first-round picks in the past 25 years, with Illinois’ Jeff George preceding Collins as the No. 1 overall pick in 1990.
This year’s first round was no different, with no Big Ten signal-callers getting to join Roger Goodell on stage Thursday night at the Auditorium Theater.
But there’s plenty of reason to believe that 2015 could be the final year of the Big Ten’s first-round drought when it comes to the most important position on the field.
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Next season, it's expected the streak will come to an end. And potentially in a big way, as Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Ohio State’s Cardale Jones all could be first-round selections, depending of course on how their respective 2015 seasons go.
Cook led the conference in passing yardage last season, completing 58.1 percent of his passes for 3,214 yards, the only Big Ten QB to surpass 3,000 yards through the air. Twenty four of his completions went for touchdowns as he guided one of the most prolific offenses in the country. And he left a pretty great final impression at the end of last season in the Cotton Bowl, leading Michigan State to a 20-point fourth-quarter comeback in a stunning win over Baylor.
Hackenberg’s sophomore season was somewhat of a disappointing follow-up in wake of his fantastic freshman campaign in 2013. The Penn State quarterback threw 15 interceptions and was under constant pressure as the Nittany Lions allowed 44 sacks. But despite all that, his 2,977 passing yards were the second most in the Big Ten. Plus, NFL scouts have been drooling over Hackenberg’s pro potential for years already.
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Jones might be as low as third on the Buckeyes’ quarterbacking depth chart when the season begins, but he might also be the Ohio State QB that pro teams want the most. Even if he’s used sparingly this season behind J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller — though of course, Jones could still win the job, too — that likely won’t matter to NFL teams, who would love to have the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jones. He displayed in three eye-popping postseason wins to guide Ohio State to a national championship his remarkable ability to throw the ball 70-plus yards down the field and run over defenders with his massive frame.
Even though Big Ten schools have produced Super Bowl winners over the past decade in Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson and exported a Heisman winner in Troy Smith, NFL teams have stayed away from drafting the conference's quarterbacks in the first round. But this year could be the last in that long stretch.
One NFL Draft website, WalterFootball.com, has Cook, Hackenberg and Jones all going in the top 10 of next year's draft.
Next year, when it comes to pro-bound quarterbacks, all eyes could be on the Big Ten.